The other weekend, we should have been jet setting to the Mediterranean to celebrate our dear friend Gigi’s birthday—her 50th. We had big plans: a trip to Capri, Italy, friends traveling from all over the world, boats chartered, lunches planned, custom invitations ordered… but all that was put on hold until at least Summer 2021 due to COVID-19.
So instead, we hosted a mico-birthday party at home in Southampton, NY. Given the public health and personal safety issues associated with any sort of gathering right now, we had to innovate for this socially-distanced celebration.
In order to help everyone feel safe, even before arriving, we made sure there was a well communicated plan. That started with sending out a Paperless Post digital invitation with all of the details of the evening. We also sent a reminder several days later asking guests to please stay home if they had been exposed to someone with COVID-19 symptoms or had felt symptoms themselves within the preceding 48-hours.
With guests’ minds put at ease, all that was left to do was implement all of the stated precautions and measures that we’d described in our communication to guests!
But before we get into those, it’s worth noting that all of the steps that were taken to ensure our get-together was safe, can be incorporated into your next gathering, whether it be a minimony wedding, micro-birthday party, or other socially distanced special occasion. We also want to note that you absolutely don’t need a hired staff to pull off a memorable socially-distanced get-together. We found it helpful, but everything from serving food to keeping guests’ drink glasses fresh can be accomplished by a couple of diligent hosts.
We wanted to minimize contact guests might have with others, starting with their arrival. That meant we eschewed valet parking. (We recognize this is a very “Hamptons Problem” in terms of party amenities to sacrifice for the greater good, and that for most hosts, this won’t be an issue!) All guests parked on their own then made their way around up the driveway and into the yard.
The next step was a little trickier to navigate. What do you do to greet a loved one when you are avoiding physical contact and urging guests to do the same? We asked our good friend and the founder and director of Beaumont Etiquette, Myka Meier.
“Contactless greeting of your guests may be important right now,” Myka says. “For social events with friends, make sure you as the host set the tone when welcoming guests by saying something like ‘Welcome! You know I would love to give you a big hug, but for now we’ll pretend,’ and mimicking an air hug or something similar.”
After exchanging socially distant greetings, guests were directed to a sanitization station immediately upon entering the party area. We debated giving every guest their own small hand sanitizer bottle, but we instead took Myka’s advice again!
“If you are considering putting small hand sanitizers around the party, instead, have little stations at relevant areas where people will need access,” she says. This way people don’t have to worry about keeping track of a small bottle all evening, and will always have access to sanitizer when they need it.
As far as the festivities went, everything was outside and many wore masks except for when they were eating or drinking. Once again, we turned to Myka for protocol on how to handle this subject.
“If you require masks to be worn,” she says, “be sure to tell guests ahead of time, and be sure to have extra masks for guests just in case.”
Thankfully, we had no mask-related issues—everyone wore theirs respectfully, and the extra masks we’d bought as a precaution never saw the light of day.
When guests needed to use the restroom, we designated the bathroom closest to the party as the one they should go to, and made sure it was stocked with disposable hand towels and Lysol wipes so guests could sanitize between uses.
We avoided table settings, and instead put out lounge furniture around the lawn at a safe distance. Any dining chairs we left out, we removed from around a table and put them distanced in small groupings to discourage congregation.
However, if you want to stick to more traditional table settings, Myka suggests you “have small brown paper bags on hand for people to place their mask inside during meal times, because setting a mask on a dining table is a no-go—it places a potentially germ-ridden item on an eating surface.”
She also recommends spacing out your seating more than normal, even by removing every other chair from your usual table configuration, “so the meal will be socially distanced and guests who are not comfortable dining near others will not have to worry about eating too close.”
We hired servers to run the food stations—featuring the birthday girl’s favorite items—because traditional buffet-style serving seemed like it would invite additional contact. The servers changed their gloves every half hour as a precaution, and any items that would have ordinarily been passed, were instead handed to guests on a plate just for them. (For bonus points, use high-quality, environmentally friendly disposables whenever possible.)
Of course, it was a party, so there were opportunities for guests to get too close to one another outside of dining. We attempted to limit these incidents as well. The bartender we hired gave guests a fresh glass for each drink, and we made sure to keep an eye on everyone who was imbibing. Speaking from personal experience, if you are serving alcohol at your event, inhibitions get a bit relaxed after a few cocktails. That’s why we preemptively set an end time for our party.
Normally, we would only list a start time on an invitation. But in this case, to limit contact—and prevent people from getting too comfortable to maintain social distance after a few too many trips to the bar—we made it clear in writing that the birthday party started at 6pm and ended at precisely 9pm. It felt harsh at first to list a hard end to the party, but the guests all understood and respected the decision.
Myka reminded us that part of being a good host is ensuring not just the enjoyment but the well-being of your guests. “Good etiquette while being a host means thinking about your guests and their needs first and foremost,” she says. “Do a run-through ahead of your event asking yourself what would make them most comfortable, and if there is a new protocol put into place due to the pandemic, thinking ahead about how to communicate it clearly.”