When the Regime says it's time for a meal, the prisoners will rush to the canteen, grab a Food Tray with food and head to the benches. When meal time is over, the prisoners will leave their dirty food trays behind. These will be cleaned by the Cooks if there is a Sink nearby. Otherwise they will be disposed of and clean ones bought after every meal.
Female prisoners having babies will instead have their meals in the Nursery.
In the Food Distribution view of the Logistics menu, you can assign which kitchens should serve which canteens and nurseries, and which canteens should serve which cell blocks. This can be used to distribute the prisoners over various canteens nicely without having masses of them all at the same place.
Logistics will also show the supply and demand of a canteen. If demand is much greater than supply, that means that not enough prisoners are being fed. If supply is much higher than demand, then more trays of unfinished food will be left around, leaving more trays to clean after the eating time is done in the regime.
- Make sure to have enough tables and benches or chairs so your prisoners can eat under good conditions. They can be placed back to back to save space, as shown in the image to the right.
- Leaving a hallway between the tables and benches allows cooks to move faster when serving meals and cleaning up the mess afterwards.
- As eating is only possible during eat regimes, you will always have many prisoners rushing to the canteen at once. Keep in mind that you will need enough space in the canteen if your prison grows. Instead of making a big canteen it is much safer against riots and mass murder to use the food logistics and make a small canteen for every cell block. One kitchen can provide many small canteens.
- Setting up different regimes for the different risk categories is a possible way to further reduce simultaneous traffic at the canteens.
- Allow easy access to the canteens, by having big enough doors in all directions (best in "Door Mode: Locked Open"), as this will further reduce the chaos.
- Increasing the number of Serving Tables will increase the amount of food that can be given to the prisoners.
- Canteens have a tendency to become battlefields, so it's a good idea to station a few Guards or Dog Handlers there.
- Prisoners keep staying in the canteen while designated meal time, even if they finish eating. So you may think to set small toilet sections in it to avoid prisoners' "leakage" problems (it tends to lead to a huge rampage).
- The game says that the canteen is "where your prisoners will take their afternoon tea". However, despite Introversion Software being a British company, there is no tea time for prisoners. The canteen will always serve meals.
- The standard Bench|Table|Bench layout is not the most space-efficient, seating 8 prisoners in a 4x3 area. Although you will need one of this layout for the room to be considered a "canteen", prisoners are known to eat while on sofas. Hence, having 4 back-to-back wide sofas, encompassing a 4x2 area, will seat 8 prisoners, with added comfort to boot.
A canteen in a staff-only area becomes a staff canteen, used by guards during their break. Staff canteens are not stocked by your prison's kitchens, but from the outside with prepackaged staff meals. However, Food Trays are still needed and handled as usual by cooks. Note: Due to a bug staff canteens may run out of trays from time to time, preventing your guards from having dinner and thus getting them pissed off. Buying a new serving table seems to solve the issue (dismantle and replace will not).
- As all canteens, staff canteens should not be located too far from the next kitchen. This helps reducing walking time whenever cooks replace the food trays.
- Place your staff canteen in the same room as your Staff Room, so your guards can eat and rest in the same place.
- Your staff needs a Toilet, too.