Eating in Museums and Art Galleries

Apart from the The Southern Museum of Food and Beverage in New Orleans and the Australian Museum in Sydney, you don’t hear of many museums which allow food and drink into exhibition spaces.

Call me old fashioned but I don’t like to see people eating and drinking as they wander around the museum – it isn’t really good practice, particularly when there are touch screens and objects on display which will be handled by thousands of hands. I guess when museum staff are so brainwashed about the correct procedures for caring for collections, it is not helpful having mixed messages within the museum or art gallery space.

I’m not saying that visitors should have to buy food from the Museum Cafe, but surely most large museums  have appropriate designated spaces set up for visitors to eat (preferably near a handwashing facility or bathroom) which can accommodate families and ensure that objects in the galleries have greater protection and  longevity.

In addition, there are risks and/or  OH and S concerns around having food near the objects. Some examples that come to mind are:

  • The risk of spills and wet patches being hazardous to other visitors or damaging electronic equipment or  the objects on display.
  • Consider the risk of a visitor bringing peanuts/or peanut butter sandwiches (or any allergen) into the gallery space triggering an anaphylactic reaction in an “at risk” visitor who touches the same screen or object.
  • The diminished aesthetic value of the museum space when rubbish generated by visitors is left behind in the galleries.
  • The implications for pest management in the galleries which is already an issue in many museums.

A quick Google search of websites of some of the most popular museums in the US and UK shows most have stated clearly that  “no food or drink” can be taken into the museum. To assist visitors, museum websites should clearly state their policy on eating and drinking in the museum. This can be reinforced by front of house staff as visitors arrive. It’s important to make things easy for visitors – telling them about onsite cafes and nearby food outlets and pointing out the designated eating areas onsite which do not include the galleries themselves.

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