A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to have a graduation party for my daughter at our house. We were excited but at the time we had to also limit our gathering of family or friends to twenty people due to COVID-19 restrictions in our state. A few days before the event they loosened that and opened it to fifty people gatherings of healthy friends or family members.
But, how do you hold a gathering with all the pandemic restrictions in place?
TREAT IT LIKE..
Many family members and friends haven't seen each other in awhile, so the focus should really be treated like it's a way to come together and be together again. Whether it's a funeral, making a meal for hospital or public service workers, or hosting a family event, remember what it felt like to not have that in person connection for months. Focus on that.
On our invitations we invited those coming to wear masks if they would like, let them know that we could accommodate any social distancing needs, frequent cleaning would be observed and gave a quick outline of what we would be doing.
When we planned our graduation party, it was so hard to know how many people to plan for that would be attending. We had scaled our list back to twenty but then when plans changed a few days before we opened it to more. Realize that because there are current restrictions in place that are constantly changing, people will also be changing how they are feeling about gatherings too. Some may be more comfortable with smaller gatherings, and others with larger gatherings. My daughters friends gathering had plenty of people show up along with her family gathering, but our open house for close friends only saw a few show up. We were flexible and it all worked out but we seemed to have a lot more RSVP's that came in very late this time around. Some people gave us an hour's notice. And some like usual never RSVP'd, they just showed up. 🙂
Cleaning was the beast of the party. You will need to do more frequent cleaning of surfaces which can make it difficult. Here are some things that we did to make it easier for us:
Bathrooms: Bathrooms had Lysol in the bathroom for any guests needing it. We also had individual napkins for guests to use for turning off faucets and wiping their hands. We went in frequently and sprayed and wiped down high touch surfaces and did a deep cleaning in between gatherings.
Kitchen: Guests were asked to use hand sanitizer prior to grabbing their food items. All food and utensils were served individually so no cross contamination occurred. High touch areas were frequently wiped down and all chairs, tables and upholstery went through a deep cleaning between gatherings.
High traffic areas: High traffic areas were closely monitored and cleaned like doorbells, light switches, remotes, couches, tables, chairs and doorknobs. Windows in high traffic areas were also cleaned along with toys, etc.
While this sounds like a lot of work (and it was more than usual!) I am also very weird about large gatherings anyway and disinfecting with large amounts of Lysol cloud bombs. We've had plenty of family reunions and gatherings where we catch cousin colds and everything else so I'm always a little weird about making sure everything stays sanitized (or at least Lysol gets sprayed everywhere) anyway.
Activities are another difficult one as some will not feel as comfortable (or for health reasons be able to) just sit in your house and chit chat like old times together in close proximity. Some of our favorite activities have included:
- Swimming--we have our own pool and have been to our neighborhood rec center and it's very easy to send the kids to the pool while family members space out and visit.
- Golfing--this is a very easy event to plan as you can set a tee time and have everyone come in separate cars to the event--some places are not allowing the use of golf carts so you may be walking! But it's easy to stay spaced out, you are using your own clubs and ball and you're outside!
- Front yard gathering: We have seen lot's of family get togethers outside recently. Grandma and Grandpa stay spread out from the grandkids but get to watch the cousins play together and have fun while observing social distancing
- Drive In Movie Theater or a socially distanced movie theater
I'm sure there are plenty of other great activity ideas for gatherings and large crowds and these are just a few!
This was the most difficult (and a little more expensive than usual) for us but we opted for convienence over time. Basically we read that if you do a buffet style meal, one person needs to be serving so the exposure is minimal and people are not using the same spoon over and over. That makes sense. But it didn't make sense for our gathering. None of us wanted to be sitting there serving people all night. So we opted for the latter which was individual servings. This proved to be a great option because we could get everything all portioned out before hand and dinner we just heated up for 20 minutes at 250 degrees in the oven so all the chicken was ready to go.
Silverware: We used these all in one packets that had a sturdy plastic fork and knife, napkin and salt and pepper all in one. The cutlery packets came in a pack of 200 for $18. We found a lot of them were sold out on Amazon and were going to opt to make our own but ended up finding these on a trip to Sams Club.
Drinks: We also opted for individual drinks on this one. We did bottled water since we had the pool and the house open to guests. We had some single flavoring packets people could use in their water if they wanted. It cut down the cost for us to go this route, but you really could do sodas, alcoholic drinks, water or other non alcoholic drinks individually if you wanted for people to grab.
Food: Our food was probably the most expensive and while I love to make most of the party food from scratch it got a little hard. For the friends party we made and individually packaged rice krispy treats, our copycat Crumbl cookies, and copycat Italian Cheese Bread with salad and marinara sauce.
For the family dinner we had chicken parmesan, salad, and chocolate, lemon coconut and vanilla individual bundtlette cakes topped with school colored sprinkles for dessert.
We used 1 lb pans for the salad, 1 ½ pound pans for the chicken parmesan and individual serving cups for the dressing, extra marinara and extra parmesan cheese. (Links provided below)
Family members started at one end of the counter and used hand sanitizer, then grabbed their individual meals in an assembly line, working from one direction of the counter to the other. For ease you could see I overlapped and used a lot of the same types of ingredients but tweaked the meals for different crowds. That kept costs lower and offset the cost of the additional pans I needed to buy in order to individually package all items. (I'll include a shopping list and links to everything at the bottom of this article).
****Another option that we have done. My daughter had her drama banquet and instead of serving food, they just had us bring our own food. It did make it a little uncomfortable though because some students didn't bring dinner so it made it weird to eat in front of everyone. I would at least make sure that maybe some individually served snacks are available if going this route.
INCLUDING THOSE THAT COULDN'T COME
We made the option for those that couldn't come to join us via zoom. They could text and join in on the festivities if they wanted. My Mom opted to do this and at my daughters drama banquet they also had students available via zoom. They were included in the festivities and awards and were able to interact via zoom with all the students.
For my daughters birthday party we also made sure the girls that weren't able to make it got favor bags and the girls at the party all wrote the other girls notes. We delivered those later to them. I made sure that they didn't say anything like "we miss you!" or "missed you at the party!" I talked to them a little bit about how that would make them feel if they got a note like that. The girls invited wanted to come but some had some autoimmune issues that didn't allow them to be there. We talked to them about how they would feel if they really wanted to be there but couldn't and then got told "we missed you" or "wish you could've been here!" I was nervous with what they would come up with but I was really excited with some of the messages they came up with.
SHOUT OUT! WHAT ARE SOME IDEAS AND HELPS THAT YOU'VE HAD FOR THROWING A PARTY OR LARGE GATHERING DURING THE PANDEMIC? WHAT IF YOU WANTED TO ATTEND AND COULDN'T? WHAT WAYS COULD OTHERS HAVE HELPED YOU FEEL MORE INCLUDED?
(Note: We are NOT paid or compensated for listing any of these products below).
- Hand sanitizer: we made our own with aloe vera, alcohol and scented oil.
- Disposable Hand Towels: These were really cute, but we got lazy and just folded up paper towels and put them in a pretty napkin holder in the bathroom.
- Cutlery Packets: We found disposable but make sure if you make do it yourself ones that you include knives, forks and spoons, a napkin and any ketchup, salt or pepper packets that might be needed too.
- 1 pound food containers: These are great for smaller items like salads or side dishes you will serve at your event. Make sure they have lids so people can grab and stack their food as they go along the food line and aren't having to worry about balancing everything.
- 1.5 pound food containers: These are perfect for just the right sized portions of main dishes. We easily fit some noodles and a chicken breast inside for our parmesan chicken. We loved the amount you got for the price from Fig and Leaf.
- Mini bundlette pans: We made mini bundlette cakes with a 3 pack mini bundt pan from Wilton. We used cake mix to make the cake, then topped the cakes with homemade frosting and school colored sprinkles. These were the perfect size! To dress them up even more, I used a spoonful of lemon curd in the center of the lemon coconut cakes and a spoonful of fudge sauce in the center of the cake for the chocolate cakes. These turned out easy but elegant.
- Drinks: You could get many different flavors of alcoholic, non alcoholic and soda drinks to serve but we opted for water bottles and bought some TruLemon mixes for those that wanted something a little different. We also like the TruLemon is naturally flavored and wouldn't dye carpets or clothes if accidently spilled! We've also seen some really cute individual sized drinks out on the market since the pandemic started. These individual Martinelli apple ciders are so cute! There are also so many mixers, seltzers and other products that are individually marketed. I also received an email about wines that are now individually portioned in wine glasses!
- Serving cups: These individual serving cups were perfect for salad dressings, extra marinara, and holding extra cheese if people needed them.
- Dessert Wraps: So cute and perfect for individually wrapping cookies and all the other desserts we served!
We hope you have a great pandemic party! Whether you are serving a meal to public service workers, hosting a long awaited and needed family event, or hosting a school event, we hope these ideas will help you!