“Hearst Magazines and Verizon Media may earn commission or revenue on some items through the links below.”
After more than a year spent distancing, we're all itching to socialize now that vaccines are widely available and the number of COVID infections is decreasing. But what exactly will post-pandemic entertaining look like? Some people are still (understandably!) wary of close contact, shared grazing tables—or shared anything, really—while others are ready to dive in, break bread, and toast each other with gusto.
Nearly one-third of Americans say they’ve already started to socialize, according to recent research from the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index. Another 29 percent say they will once they, or everyone in their circle, are vaccinated; 21 percent say when officials say it is safe, and 20 percent say they just don’t know.
Even though a growing number of people are ready to party, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still suggests intimate, small gatherings as opposed to large ones. All this lingering uncertainty has everyone wondering what’s the best and safest way to entertain post-pandemic in a way that ensures everyone is comfortable and has a good time—hosts included.
Here’s a hint: Smaller is better. At least right now. “There’s soaring interest in more intimate gatherings at the moment,” says Rebecca Gardner, founder and creative director of event and interiors collective Houses and Parties. “The good news is, small parties feel meaningful, allowing you more time and space to connect and attend to beautiful details.” But that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice elegance or sophistication. “I want to wear sequins, dance on the table, and find my shoes in the bushes on Sunday morning, but it’s been quite a year, and most of us are happy to tiptoe into it first,” adds Gardner.
Another benefit of small gatherings is that the details have a chance to shine. "The intentional gathering is back,” says Melissa Ippensen, special event designer at the historic Barnsley Resort in Adairsville, Georgia, home to a steady stream of elegant affairs that she says have become more intimate in the post-COVID world. “Now more than ever, people treasure togetherness, so events have become more personal. Things like guest place settings and personal decor touches are factoring into each gathering more than ever. The small details are enhanced because just coming together is a true delight!"
One easy way to minimize lingering concerns about post-pandemic parties is to host a party outdoors. “Al fresco dining puts everyone at ease and allows for guests to space out but still be part of the community,” Ippensen says. Let your guests know ahead of time, so they know what to expect. “Offer a wrap on the back of a chair if the night gets chilly, have a few lovely market umbrellas to provide shade, and tell the group to pack flats, not heels." Being outdoors shouldn’t make you feel restricted to backyards and courtyards, however. “Everyone is bored with their own patio, so move dinner to a park or a local peony farm—anywhere new and exciting,” Gardener suggests.
Even outdoors, the elegance of a plated dinner is back. ”Forget family style! Forget buffets! Let's dress up and sit down!” Gardner says. But think beyond just a salad and entrée. “We’re seeing station-style food deconstructed to accommodate small plates and more courses," Ippensen says.
You also want to consider the placement of tables and chairs. “A good rule of thumb post-COVID is to place tables about 10 to 12' apart,” says Marielle Shortell, founder of Hestia Harlow, which curates rent-and-return table settings. Pre-pandemic, 24" was normal for each place setting, but “depending on the event and comfort level, this can be stretched farther,” Shortell says. Keep groups to no more than six at a 60" round or an 8' rectangular table.
Whether you’re soiree is indoors or out, making a dance floor feel 100 percent COVID-safe is a tall order, “buuuuut you could have a 10' x 10' dance floor and let every guest take their turn,” says Gardner. Another idea is to expand the dance floor and add vignettes with cocktail tables and lounge chairs so everyone can participate at their comfort level. “We’ve used plants and greenery to create pockets that help guests remember to socially distance,” says Ippensen. “It brings the outside element into an indoor party and it feels like you’re dancing in a garden."
If it’s the kind of gathering that requires sending out invitations, personalize them. “A kind note that says you want the guest to celebrate with you, whether in person or through warm wishes, lets them know it's OK to say no if they’re not quite comfortable in social gatherings yet,” Ippensen adds. Not everyone is ready for post-pandemic entertaining — but the good news is, we’re almost there!
Ready to host? Find some designer inspiration below.
Follow House Beautiful on Instagram.
You Might Also Like