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Particularly in the last year, we’ve seen a worldwide increase in highly communicable diseases like the flu and others. While all industries have been scrambling to figure out new and inventive safety measures to protect their staff and customers, self-serve restaurants have been implementing effective safety measures for years. 

Sneeze guards have emerged as one of the most popular methods to decrease opportunities for disease to spread. The see-through, physical barriers they create are very effective at stopping respiratory droplets in their tracks. Buffet-style restaurants have actually been using these for a long time and refer to them as food shields. Because restaurants have been using food shields for so long, customers won’t notice if a few extra are installed for heightened safety precautions. Let’s explore why- now more than ever — sneeze guards are vital to the success of any self-serve restaurant. 

Restaurant Sneeze Guard Requirements

Sneeze guards should be used in every setting that they can help reduce the transmission of airborne illnesses. Although laws don’t require sneeze guards to be used in all public settings, they are required in certain places. When their use is mandatory, there are additional requirements

Sneeze guards must be used in the following locations:

  • Restaurants with buffets
  • Cafeterias (school and hospital)
  • Food carts
  • Self-serve fast food restaurants

NSF and FDA Guidelines

The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) require that all food on display (which includes buffets) be protected by cases or sneeze guards. Since there are no federally established requirements, exact rules vary from state to state. However, there are a few guidelines that apply nationwide: 

  • Sneeze guards for buffets must blend in with the surrounding decor. It cannot distract or take away from the overall aesthetic. (As you can imagine, finding colorful food shields to match their surroundings isn’t always possible, which is why the clear plexiglass barriers are such a great solution.)
  • Barriers must be tall enough for men and women of average height, which means they must be at least five to six feet tall. There are exceptions for places where the average height is lower, like grade schools. 
  • Whether you install a sneeze guard for the counter, condiments, or anything else on the buffet, it cannot be movable or adjustable. Portable sneeze guards do not provide adequate protection. They need to be secured on all sides if they’re going near the buffet. 

3 Reasons Self-Serve Restaurants NEED Sneeze Guards

Restaurants can implement sneeze guards in many ways. From order and pickup windows to bathrooms, the opportunities spread across the board. Aside from their different uses, sneeze guards are truly essential for self-serve restaurants for three main reasons:


Sneeze guards are a dependable way to keep foods and surfaces clean. As has been the case for many years, placing regulation-sized food barriers across all buffet lines keep customers from touching food or contaminating it with respiratory droplets. 

Placing a sneeze guard at the restaurant counter or host stand so that it is flush with the edge of the surface prevents customers and staff from exchanging respiratory droplets and prevents customers from spreading more germs by putting their hands on and leaning up against the counter. 


Glass used to be a popular choice for food barriers at buffet-style restaurants, but now, as plexiglass sneeze guards gain popularity, more and more self-serve restaurant owners realize that this new material is the most affordable and durable option available. Plexiglass with a steel frame is tough enough to withstand the foodservice industry’s hot, hectic environment. This type of sneeze guard is:

  • Cheaper to buy upfront
  • Cheaper and easier to maintain
  • More durable than glass. 

Customer Experience

Sneeze guards are a noninvasive way to protect food on a buffet line from contamination and to protect employees and customers from spreading germs when they interact. Finding ways to protect customers, food, and staff, while maintaining a good customer experience is essential. 

Plexiglass sneeze guards are the ideal solution to increase safety without diminishing the excitement of going out to a restaurant. After implementing sneeze guards, customers and staff can still look each other in the eye at the counter, and customers can still view all the food available on the buffet line. 

Types of Sneeze Guards for Self-Serve Restaurants

  • Freestanding Sneeze Guards: These can be moved to any spot where they’re needed most. If that spot changes from one minute to the next, that’s okay. All you have to do is move the barrier. Its aluminum brackets keep it completely stable. 
  • Pass-Through Sneeze Guards: Whether an employee sits at the beginning of the buffet to accept payment or at the end of the buffet, a pass-through sneeze guard is a perfect solution for this scenario. This type of barrier allows minimal contact during the payment process.
  • Countertop Sneeze Guards: Although these take up a little extra space, they’re incredibly secure. They’re available in various sizes and shapes so that you can fit them in wherever possible. 
  • Hanging Sneeze Guards: These are a great space saver and help preserve the customer experience. They can be hung from the ceiling, which allows their height to be adjusted at any time. 

Do Your Food Barriers Need an Upgrade?

Whether your current sneeze guards are new or old, now is a great time to go through your current collection to check if you have enough and if the ones you have are in good, working condition. Functional plexiglass food barriers are an absolute necessity at every buffet. Even if you already have a few, you can always use more. Customers and employees like to see that the businesses they work for and frequent care about their health and safety. Show your appreciation by stepping up your sneeze guard game.

At Sneeze GuardEZ, we offer a number of buffet solutions. Whether you need standard or customized options, we have everything you need. Visit our website to browse our selection of sneeze guards today.