An etiquette expert explains how to make the party safe and comfortable for everyone.
three varieties of cross-country hot dogs
Credit: Kirsten Francis

Summer is a time to gather with family and friends and embrace longer, warmer days. But during the coronavirus pandemic, celebrations and gatherings will be a little different. Usually, guests bring a dish to the party. In order to keep everyone safe this year, the best thing guests can do is offer to contribute to the overall cost of the party, in lieu of arriving with a homemade appetizer or dessert. If you are planning to host a summer potluck party, here's how to prepare a safe, socially distanced event.

Communicate in Advance

While some people may be all for a socially distanced summer potluck party, others might be more hesitant to gather with friends or extended family who are outside their "bubble." In order to make sure that everyone is on the same page, share your plans in advance and make sure that invited guests are willing to comply with social distancing guidelines. "Entertaining is really about putting others at ease. One way to do that during this particular instance is to share all of the information upfront. As the host, tell guests that you've taken great care to wipe things down and only invited people we all know well…this way they feel confident in attending the party," says etiquette expert Elaine Swann.

Share the Cost

The concept of a potluck party means that each guest will contribute a dish, tableware, or drinks, but that's not an option during the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the host should cook everything—that way everyone knows that it was prepared in a single, safe environment. But that doesn't let your guests off the hook completely—ask them to contribute to the overall cost of the party. "If you're going to host a potluck, I would say that you have to bear the responsibility of prepping everything, but you can get everyone to [help] in a socially distanced way," says Swann. "They can share in the cost, but not in the preparation."

Keep Things Safe

When gathering in a large group—even if it's less than 10 people—it's vital to follow health guidelines, including practicing proper social distancing, wearing masks, and sanitizing. So, what do you do in an awkward situation when a family member or friend is not following those procedures? "If you see someone who isn't wearing their mask, simply ask them to put it on. We have to get comfortable with being a bit uncomfortable. Someone might feel offended that you asked but they need to accept that," says Swann. In addition to offering masks, have sanitation stations at each table with hand sanitizer and disposable disinfectant wipes for guests to utilize while they're at the party.

Make It Fun

Wearing face masks in the height of summer can be uncomfortable, so make it a little fun for your guests. If your potluck party is themed, sew face masks in a fabric that reflects the day. Make them patriotic for Labor Day, or use fabric printed with confetti, cake, or presents for someone's birthday. You can also have custom drink koozies made to help each guest keep track of their own beverage.


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