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NOODLES-EXT-FeatureSize.jpg Nancy Luna
Noodles & Company to require guests to wear masks starting July 22 at more than 350 company units.

Panera Bread, Noodles & Company join Starbucks on requiring customers to wear face masks

Both fast-casual restaurant chains announce policies where guests can remove masks only when seated; Similar policies have been announced by Starbucks, Walmart and Kroger

Following the lead of top retailers and restaurant industry chains like Starbucks and Walmart, fast-casual-brands Noodles & Company and Panera Bread have announced plans to formally require that all guests wear masks when entering each restaurant.

Noodles, based in Broomfield, Co., said the new policy goes into effect at company-owned locations Wednesday, July 22 — even in jurisdictions that do not require masks in public.  While seated inside or outside the restaurant, the requirement will not be enforced.

Panera Bread's nationwide policy went into effect last week. 

"To ensure the safety of our associates and guests, masks are required at all times, except while seated and eating or drinking," the company states on its website. "If any customer does not have or want to wear a mask for any reason, we will happily serve them via Panera Curbside, Delivery or Drive-Thru."

Panera's customer mask policy is similar to the one enacted by Starbucks. It went into effect July 15, the day after the Centers for Disease Control took a stronger position on wearing face masks. 

"We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said in a statement. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”

Since dining rooms began to reopen, many chains and independent restaurants have been asking customers to wear masks when entering the building.

But enforcement has been challenging as some diners have refused to wear masks. 

Still, sometimes signage doesn't work. Restaurants have reportedly reclosed because it became too difficult to get diners to comply to wearing masks, according to a Business Insider report.

Most restaurants post signs on doors indicating if they have a mask policy for guests. Oftentimes, the signage points to mask mandates within their jurisdictions. 

McDonald's masks are "available for customers in municipalities where they are required," according to its COVID-19 safety protocols. Yum Brands said its banners, Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut and The Habit Burger Grill, "require guests to wear masks in jurisdictions where it’s mandated."

With coronavirus cases and hospitalizations jumping in dozens of states, many large corporate chains such as Starbucks, Walmart and Kroger have expanded their COVID-19 safety protocols  in recent weeks to include mandatory masks for guests.

Noodles said the mask requirement starts July 22 and applies to the company's 374 company-owned stores.

"Our top consideration in every decision we make is to care for our team members and guests by ensuring their safety and wellbeing,” CEO Dave Boennighausen, said in a statement. “With this enhanced safety measure, we know it will bring even more peace of mind to those visiting our restaurants.”

Noodles said the policy is another step the chain is taking to keep guests and team members safe during the crisis.

“Guests will be allowed to remove face coverings when seated in restaurants with open dining rooms or patios, where the company has implemented social distancing between tables and increased sanitizing after every guest visit,” the company said.

For those who are still leery of dining out, Noodles said it is offering free delivery through July 31 for orders of $15 or more placed through the company’s digital channels. The offer is valid at 382 locations.

The company said digital sales have escalated to the point that stores sales are approaching pre-COVID levels. Digital sales are up 138% in the second quarter, compared to the first quarter.   

“The company's successful navigation of the past few months, as noted in our recent announcement, indicates how loved the Noodles & Company brand is, how well our food travels, and how confident our guests are that they can expect delicious meals prepared safely, quickly and consistently from our amazing team members throughout the country,” Boennighausen said.

For our most up-to-date coverage, visit the coronavirus homepage.

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @fastfoodmaven

Update: This story has been edited to include more details.

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