How to host a cookout with social distancing
Here’s a maxim for entertaining in the age of COVID-19: The only way to bring people together is to figure out how to keep them apart.
Depending on where you live, guidance from your local authorities and your comfort level, it may be possible to get together outside in small, physically distanced groups where guests can remain at least 6 feet away from one another. Even as we texted our invitations, we knew there was no way to have people over that was 100% safe. But there were ways to reduce the risks.
Our goals were to be as careful as we could, given our knowledge of the virus, and to use the comfort threshold of the most anxious person in the group as our guide. Because while pandemic etiquette was new to all of us, making guests feel at ease and welcome in our home is not.
Although most experts agree that the chances of catching the coronavirus from touching objects is low, studies have shown that, under ideal conditions, the virus can live on a surface for up to 72 hours. Quarantining the items for three days and unpacking them with gloved hands would lower the risk to a point acceptable to everyone in attendance.
The first step was to quarantine the tableware. I put a set of plates, silverware, glasses and napkins on a separate tray for each group, then wrapped each tray in a bag. I also wrapped up cans of seltzer and individual bags of fancy potato chips.
We also had the slightly awkward experience of sending out pre-party group emails to strategize about the bathroom.
All involved agreed that they felt fine about sharing it – as long as only one masked person
went into the house at a time, and as long as everyone promised to close the lid before flushing.
The day of the party, Daniel and I snapped on gloves and packed an ice-filled cooler with the seltzer cans, spaced apart for easy grabbing. (We also set disinfecting wipes next to the cooler.) Each group had a separate folding TV table next to carefully spaced chairs, and on the table we set bags of potato chips next to a canapésize hand sanitizer. This wasn’t the abundant hors d’oeuvres spread I was used to, but chips and Purell is surely the snack combo of 2020.
After all the planning and logistical arrangements, cooking itself was a snap. We served the food directly off the grill, and each guest pulled a piping-hot serving off the fire with their own utensils. Minimal risk, minimal fuss.
As everyone settled in, 6 feet apart, wineglasses in hand, we gradually remembered what it was like to eat and drink with loved ones. That feeling hadn’t changed a bit.
For this dinner of gingery grilled chicken thighs with charred peaches and grilled corn with jalapeño-feta butter, the food is cooked on a grill, and each guest pulls a serving off the fire with their own utensils to minimize risk.