Here's what's new—and what's the same—after a year of social distancing.
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If you haven't thrown a party since last February, the dos and don'ts of hosting may feel like they've changed. But while the details of serving food, sending invitations, and arranging seating might be a little different, basic hosting etiquette is timeless: "The constants that remain the same, regardless of the pandemic, is that a good host wants to make sure that their guests feel welcome and that they have a good time," says Thomas P. Farley of Mister Manners. "Those are the cardinal rules of hosting any sort of gathering."

Keeping your guests comfortable and happy does require a little extra enthusiasm from the host of the party now, though. "We've always appreciated a gracious host who sets the mood by being relaxed and confident, creating a warm and welcoming space for each guest as they arrive," says Lisa Gaché of Beverly Hills Manners. "Since the pandemic, we're all out of social shape. With keeping our social distance and communicating mostly online, interpersonal skills are bound to be rusty. A host who can make their guests feel welcome is the extra boost guests need—hosts should go the extra mile to ensure their guests are integrated into the flow of the party before leaving them to mix and mingle on their own." Planning on hosting a few post-vaccination gatherings this summer? Find a few hostess reminders below, courtesy of our etiquette experts.

Send a detailed invitation.

No matter how small your guest list is, you still need invitations—printed cards are appropriate for formal gatherings, with calls and texts for more last-minute get-togethers. But your invitation should include more details about the event than you might have incorporated in the past: how many other people are invited, whether the party is indoors or out, and whether you'll expect everyone to wear masks. "You need to tell your guests in advance what sort of gathering this is going to be," says Farley. "You're putting it out there without putting your guests in the uncomfortable situation of having to ask what may feel like awkward questions—and you're putting the decision squarely in the mind of your guests."

outdoor tablescape
Credit: Kate Mathis

Germ-proof the food.

Your whole neighborhood may look forward to your annual summer potluck, but don't set up the buffet just yet. "Pre-pandemic, food served buffet style or hand-passed on trays was perfectly acceptable—in fact, there was a trend towards more communal participation with wooden planks of charcuterie style platters for guests to enjoy," says Gaché. "Post-pandemic, the buffet style of service is basically removed in favor of pre-packaged fare, napkins and plasticware are carefully sealed." Look for small paper picnic boxes you can fill with individual portion sizes, or pre-scoop salads into single-serving cups to serve alongside hamburgers and hot dogs. "We're really thinking more about individual servings, rather than any sort of communal food containers," says Farley. "If you're doing barbecue, that in theory should be relatively safe—if something's coming off a grill and going straight onto somebody's plate, that should be less of a concern than a potato salad that's sitting out that everybody could be breathing over."

Set up a thoughtful space.

When planning on-site details of your party, consider the safety and comfort level of your most cautious friends and family. "Even if it's just a small percentage of your guests who are still feeling uncomfortable, you really need to play to the denominator of care, caution, and precaution," says Farley, noting that accommodating these loved ones is critical. Keep your guest list small and arrange groups of chairs for smaller cliques with more distance between them instead of squeezing all your seats into a few tightly-packed tables. If you plan to install a bar area, choose a space in your yard where guests can line up without too much crowding, and keep your music low so guests don't need to speak directly into each other's ears. "Mega parties with music and dancing were all the rage," says Gaché. "Guests were packed into parties like sardines, dripping with sweat, never giving it a second thought. Now, dancing may be limited in order to promote continued social distance—respectful guests will go with the flow and let their host dictate the rules of the party."

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