How to host a backyard BBQ in the Covid Era?
July 15, 2020 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Every year my husband has his team to our house for a casual lunch BBQ. We want to still do it this year, but modified to lower the risk. I am looking for ideas and help planning.

Off the bat -- we don't live in the US, and virus circulation in our area is very low. A gathering like this is allowed where we live, and even encouraged to the extent that they prefer everyone to be gathering outside in small groups rather than indoors. There will be maybe 15 people, including some children.

What I've already thought of:

-- The party stays outside, no eating or gathering inside, guests go inside for toilets only.
-- It's usually a potluck but I think that's a bad idea this year. We've asked everyone to bring single serving beverages only, (bottles of beer, soda, etc.) and we'll handle the food so we can control a bit better. I trust my kitchen hygiene, but maybe not everyone else's.
-- Nothing communal (bowls of chips, salsa, etc), and I think we should make and serve the plates to avoid everyone touching the serving utensils.

Is there anything else I haven't though of? What are best practices for serving? Should we do only paper plates?

What kinds of food, recipes, should we make? What would be good snacking and drinking food that doesn't involve everyone grabbing things out of a bowl? Are uncooked foods like salads higher risk?

Thanks for your help!
posted by ohio to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The NYT has one take.
posted by zamboni at 8:48 AM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

I’d ask people to bring masks to wear when they go inside to use the bathroom.

Have hand sanitizer or wipes available so people can clean their hands before they eat. It would be even better to have an area for people to wash with soap if that’s feasible - perhaps you have a hose you could set up for that.

It’s not environmentally friendly, but this seems like a good time to have prepackaged snacks - things like individual bags of chips. If you place them out on a table, people can take the bag they want without touching any other bags. Alternately or in addition, you could also do small bowls (probably paper, since you will need a lot) with chips, fruit, etc - include a utentil if needed in the bowl. Then people can help themselves, but they won’t need touch anything someone else will eat (and you’ll wash hands carefully before you prepare any food).

Have a plan for opening beer bottles - do you have a bottle opener you could mount to a table or wall so no one has to touch it? A designated person to open all bottles then wipe them down before handing them out? Ask people to bring their own bottle opener? A container of disinfectant wipes next to the communal bottle opener?

Do your best to keep all the food out of reach of young kids, because they touch everything.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:12 AM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

We've done a couple gatherings in our small yard (in the US, for what it's worth) with a smaller group, and I think we've refined a system that works for us and our friends:

-We set up physically distanced seating for each couple. Two chairs with a table between them, all six feet from each other. There's a clear path to walk to the house.
-Everyone sort of figured out that one person would get up and move around at any time. This may be harder for a larger group, but for the six of us it was pretty easy to identify if someone was in the bathroom or getting food so a line wouldn't form.
-We have a fan in the bathroom that we left running continuously.
-When we had snacks, I set out a small bowl at each table so each couple would have their own. If you want to put out chips and are concerned about that transmission vector, maybe individual snack-sized bags (like what you'd get at a convenience store or deli) would work.
-We had/have no concerns about virus transmission through touching utensils, so food was all laid out as a buffet. We used paper plates and plastic utensils as a convenience, not out of disease worries.

If folks are staying later into the evening, you may want to consider lighting and offering bug spray if mosquitoes are a concern.

Overall, though, I think the best thing you can do is make sure everyone is on the same page as far as behavior expectations. I joked that it felt a bit like a new sexual encounter, but it's not that far off the mark - I thought it was important to explicitly lay out our gathering plans with the folks who were coming over and asked every person individually if they were comfortable with it. Ultimately, I think you will need to meet the needs of the most conservative attendee (up to a point, anyway - some folks may not be comfortable attending no matter what you do) and ask those more accepting of risk to be considerate of others.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:13 AM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I thought it was helpful to have everything in one general area/direction so there was less of a chance of folks accidentally bumping in to each other. So, cooler with drinks just outside the back door, food just inside the door, and then obviously the bathroom further in to the house. People wore masks in the house.

If you want to be ultra cautious, maybe put a small flag or something near the door? Then if someone goes inside they can take it with them, and then anyone else trying to go inside can easily see whether the bathroom's occupied without going in.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:16 AM on July 15, 2020

If you have access to testing, having everyone get tested beforehand might be wise.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:28 AM on July 15, 2020

I'd try and think about all the minor stuff that can go wrong and cause people to end up either in a group inside, or surrounding some one - I mean things like what do you plan to do if it starts to rain (if that's likely where you are!) or if someone spills something on themselves? And let people know at the start, so that they don't all automatically end up inside if it's wet (or cold).

I'd also start thinking about what to do about the tidying up at the end - or more stopping people from "helping" to tidy up and traipsing in and out with plates. Maybe have a dedicated area outside for people to put the dirty plates?

You may also want to double check what type of things that your husband's work is doing (assuming they are even partially back in the office), just because it is a semi-work based gathering. For example, in my office we are expected to wear masks anytime we're not at our desks, or eating in the canteen, and there's a few other changes made particularly in the canteen procedures.
posted by scorbet at 12:05 PM on July 15, 2020

For food, I would stick to fork foods over finger foods, to really reduce the impulse to graze or grab more, and to reduce your own touching of food. Casseroles, pasta bakes, the messy kind of BBQ. Salads (either of the veg-centric, mayo-based, or pasta type). Some kind of biscuit/bread/bun you can distribute with tongs.

I would use disposable everything and set out multiple trash and recycling cans.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:40 PM on July 15, 2020

I think it's absolutely critical to make it abundantly clear to each member of your husband's work team that there is no expectation of attendance, at all. Each person needs to feel free to decline to go if they are at all uncomfortable about it. To do otherwise probably exposes your husband's employer to legal liability.
posted by heatherlogan at 1:00 PM on July 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

As part of making the gathering clearly optional, you might include an activity that's a phone-based game people can play from anywhere - socially distributed at your party OR remotely - maybe? Maybe online Pictionary (there's a ton of versions online, it looks like) or similar?
posted by Lyn Never at 1:08 PM on July 15, 2020

Does this event have to be food focused? I understand that it has been in the past, but that may not make as much sense anymore.

I'm sure your kitchen hygiene is amazing, but as a random coworker of your husband's I don't know that, and I don't know why I would trust you over anyone else in the group. I would also feel weird about someone else plating my food for me, because (a) you don't know what I want and I either don't get to ask for it or I feel like I'm asking an authority figure if it is OK to have what I want and (b) again, I don't know how clean you are.

I think the fact that these are people for whom your husband is the boss (right? that's what "his team" means?) makes this more fraught than if you were all just friends or family. This may sound irrational - after all, meals in restaurants come to me plated, and I just trust their hygiene practices are good. But I can also complain or leave or assert my needs and preferences in a restaurant without worrying that I'm going to damage my relationship with my boss.

I would actually encourage you to rethink this so it isn't primarily about food. Maybe hold it at a non meal time and offer packaged snacks (this could actually be a lot of fun - go deep on the Little Debbies!) and focus on games instead? Pictionary, charades, etc are games that are good for people of a variety of abilities and can work socially distanced outside. Maybe horseshoes or lawn darts if the shoes/darts are wiped down between uses? Probably lots of others I'm not thinking of.
posted by jeoc at 3:46 PM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

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