hosting a covid-safe small gathering

Four young adults eating dinner outdoors on the patio.

With ever-changing public health restrictions, entertaining during a pandemic has proven to be challenging and even impossible at times. The good news is, many regions are starting to allow limited outdoor visiting and, speaking for most Canadians, we are here for it!

So, in anticipation of the small gatherings to come, we have put together some of our top tips for getting the most of your outdoor spaces for entertaining and fun, pandemic-style.

This should go without saying, but before you send out any invitations, always check your region’s restrictions and follow them to the letter. Limit the number of people to only the number allowed and try to stick those who live in the same household or are within the same cohort or bubble. And remember, if restrictions prevent you from having visitors, nothing says you can’t “entertain” your household (or just yourself) in style!

Get in the Zone
Make your outdoor spaces a reflection of your indoor spaces, with comfy furniture, accessories, lighting, and art. Just as you would indoors, create activity zones or “rooms” for dining, conversation, relaxing, and play. Whether you are starting from scratch or sprucing up your existing set-up, here are some stylish and functional ways to bring the indoors out.

Create a Conversation Area
There are many options for creating a comfortable conversation area outdoors, from a cozy grouping of classic Adirondack chairs to a spacious, indulgent sectional. And who’s to say you can’t have both? In addition to a larger conversation area, or if you’re working with a tiny back yard or balcony, create an intimate space for one or two with a couple chairs, a glider, or a hammock.

Think about what you most want to use your space for—and how you’ll use it—and choose what works best for your family. To accommodate social distancing, it’s best to err on the side of too much seating than not enough and to have pieces that can be moved apart, if needed.

Designate a Dining Area
When the weather is nice, take advantage of your “second dining room” by eating as many meals as possible al fresco. Not only is it more fun, everything seems to taste better outside—from morning coffee to late night s’mores. To encourage more meals in the great outdoors, invest in a sturdy, comfortable dining set with an easy to clean table and padded or sling chairs.

Again, be sure there’s plenty of room to spread out when guests arrive or consider setting up several small café style tables instead of one big table. A separate table or picnic blankets for the kids can also free-up some space at the table and give the adults a little more room to distance.

To get the most enjoyment out of your evening meals, especially early or late in the season, make sure your dining area is well lit with string lights or lanterns. If mosquitoes are a concern, consider getting a mosquito trap and remove all standing water from the area, rather than tenting the table.

Ready Your Recreation Area
Aside from areas set aside for sports and play, there’s plenty of opportunity to create seating areas for backyard recreation and entertaining. Bar-height table sets, for example, are a great way to recreate the feel of your favourite pub or watering hole. To extend the patio season and create a warm ambiance, choose a table with a built-in fire insert, like the Perrymount, above. Paired with its matching chairs, it's the perfect set for enjoying cocktails, casual meals and snacks, and family game nights.

You can also easily transform your backyard into a fresh air movie theater with just a little imagination and some surprisingly affordable tech. To get started, you’ll need a projector, speakers, and some sort of screen. A white sheet or a blank wall will work in a pinch but won’t give you the sharpest picture. If you prefer something less rustic, Amazon carries a 60 x 120-inch non-crease projector screen for under $20 that can be easily attached to a wall or fence with hooks. To keep you and your guests comfortable, provide a few cozy chairs or a selection of quilts, pillows, and throws. And don’t forget the popcorn—in individual bowls or boxes, of course!

Food and Drinks al Fresco
Turns out, anything you can eat inside, you can eat outside. If we had to choose, though, all meals would involve some grilling. Not only is the food always a hit, the chef gets to stay outside with the guests and put on a bit of a show.

To make your grilling go as smoothly as possible, have everything ready before you go out, including the side dishes—you don’t want to be running back and forth. For food safety, your oven’s keep warm feature can be used to hold warm foods at the optimal serving temperature, while cold foods, desserts, and condiments should be kept in the fridge right until you are ready to plate.

Whether you are grilling or preparing the meal inside, one thing you should avoid is serving family-style with a set of common utensils or allowing guests to serve themselves from a buffet. It’s best to either plate the meals before serving or designate one person to serve guests one-at-a-time from a separate table near the eating area.

An attractive arrangement of meats, cheeses, bread and fruit displayed in a lined cardboard box.

Another great option for lunch or a light dinner is to serve individual charcuterie trays or “grazing boxes.” Served in a small, lidded box, grazing boxes contain a beautiful arrangement of cold meats, cheeses, fruits, nuts, sweets, crackers, dips—really, anything your heart desires—and are meant to be eaten by one person. Search grazing boxes on Pinterest for inspiration or check out local grazing box/charcuterie businesses for ready-to-go options.

As far as drinks are concerned, single-serve beverage containers are easier to deal with and monitor than mixed drinks or an open bar. If you choose to serve mixed drinks or wine, have one person do all of the opening and pouring, and try to limit the amount that is consumed, as alcohol lowers social inhibitions and can make people less diligent in their social distancing.

To save yourself multiple trips into the house, fill a decorative tub or cooler with ice and stock it with canned or bottled beverages and water. Place a bottle of hand sanitizer nearby in case guests help themselves.

Have Fun and Stay Safe
Setting up a handwashing station in a prominent spot of the yard will visually remind guests to keep their hands clean and keep them from going in and out of the house. Simply equip a small table or bar cart with a large water jug (preferably with a spigot), foaming soap, and a stack or roll of paper hand towels. Be sure to provide a small flip-top garbage can, as well, to keep paper from blowing around the yard. Place a few bottles of hand sanitizer around the seating areas, as well, and anywhere drinks or food are served.

Cool temperatures and bugs can cut the party short or force guests inside, and we don’t want either of those things to happen. To make the outdoors a little more tolerable, keep several warm throws or blankets on hand, as well as insect repellent and citronella candles or torches. TIP: After the party, wash and dry the throws to get them ready for next time.

If rain is in the forecast, and open-sided pergola or umbrella will do the trick, but not if it forces your guests to snuggle close to stay dry. To keep you and your guests safe, it might be best to ask for a raincheque to come together on a sunnier day.

Most importantly, always follow the guidance of your local health authority for distancing, mask-wearing, and gathering size. Indoors or out, try to maintain a physical distance of two metres (or 6 feet) from anyone outside your household. When visits are permitted, keep them short but sweet to minimize the risk of exposure. And remember, although you may be fortunate to be vaccinated, others may not be, so don’t let your guard down.

Stay safe and enjoy your summer!


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