Food and drink is an important part of our culture. It brings people together and offers comfort at new events. (Heck, it offers comfort at regular events, too!) And even if you’re not planning a fully catered event, you’re probably budgeting for hors d’oeuvres and coffee and tea. But food and drink at events during COVID is complicated. Food stations and beverage bars are the perfect spots for crowds and lines—two things you don’t want when there’s a virus on the loose. So, where is that balance? How do you cultivate community and show hospitality when food and drink at an event during COVID is so risky?
Well, like most things in this new frontier of event planning, the answer isn’t simple. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an answer. Below, we address some of the ways you can keep staff and guests safe while still offering food and drink. Of course, you should always keep your venue in mind. Ask yourself if you have room to accommodate these changes, and consider skipping the food if you can’t manage it. Keeping everyone safe is always your top priority.
Plus, there are other ways to show your appreciation. You can send guests home with goodie bags or mail swag before the event. Now is the time for safe improvising and thinking outside of the box! Just like these seven ways to offer food and keep everyone safe.
Avoid Communal Food & Drink
Communal food and drinks were a staple at many events pre-COVID. For starters, buffet-style food is less expensive than catered dishes. Plus, it’s easier to please a picky crowd—there’s usually something for everyone. But now, communal is a bad word where food and drinks during COVID is concerned. Avoid punch bowls and charcuterie plates, or any shared-style eating or drinking. This eliminates the need to share utensils to scoop punch or risk touching surrounding food while tooth-picking a cheese cube. If you do have food and drink stations—which we’ll cover later—offer sealed grab-and-go items.
Keep the Food & Drinks Contained
If you are offering food and drinks, only provide sealed items or individually packaged food. For example, offer sealed water bottles instead of a water jug with cups. You don’t want multiple guests touching the handle to pour water. This way, they simply grab a single bottle. Or, instead of a fruit plate, offer mixed fruit salad in to-go containers. That way, guests don’t share tongs or spoons to scoop fruit, and they won’t risk touching someone else’s food. Entire meals should be boxed for guests to pick up, or you can serve a plated meal to reduce foot traffic and keep guests in one spot.
Establish One-way Traffic
Typically, guests mingle and float around an event venue. They gather around the food tables, and create lines near the drinks. And that isn’t usually a problem! But now it’s important to monitor guests while serving food and drink at events during COVID. Establishing one-way traffic near the food and beverage areas is a great way to reduce contact.
Bonus Tip: Clearly mark entrances, exits, and one ways for your guests.
If you provide made-to-order meals, keep all guests moving in one direction, and establish an order window separate from the pick-up window. On the other hand, if you’re offering bottles and contained food, keep tables against the wall so guests don’t crowd on all sides. (And keep foot traffic going in a single, direction, too!)
Give Food Areas Plenty of Room
Food and drink areas can get crowded, especially if there’s a set meal time. Everyone wants to eat, of course, and the wait lines can get long. So while you’re enforcing the one-way direction around your food and drink areas—give those areas plenty of space to accommodate the movement. This lets guests spread out, even while they’re in line, to meet the 6-foot CDC recommendations. Whatever space you would normally give for food and drink: Give extra! Make sure there aren’t any tables nearby, and that guests have room to form a line, if necessary.
Minimize Seating Areas
Like we mentioned above, the CDC and WHO both recommend keeping 6+ feet away from each other during events and in public spaces. This includes time spent eating—especially because guests will be removing their masks to do so. We strongly recommend reducing the number of tables, keeping the tables small, and setting them 8-10 feet apart. That way, as guests get out of their chairs, they don’t break that 6-foot barrier as they walk away. We also have additional non-food-related recommendations for reducing contact during events on our blog.
Consider Order-Ahead Meals
Because there is a very low chance that COVID is transmitted through food, offering food is still an option—we just want to avoid sharing utensils and close eating proximity. Order-ahead meals allows guests to either place their order online prior to the event, or order in person once the event has started. Online orders are more simple—guests simply pick up their order from a single window or person. (With both parties masked, of course.) The line can practice social distance, and there’s no waiting around for food.
On the other hand, in-person ordering is still an option. Instead of a single window or point of contact, you will need two. One for the guest to order, and one for the guest to pick up their order. Again, all guests should move in single file in one direction. Of course, this option requires more room for guests to wait, and may also require additional staff to prepare the meals on site.
Educate the Wait Staff
Keeping your staff safe is just as important as keeping your guests safe. In fact, guests are safer when the staff is safe—and vice versa. But the staff may also have slightly different safety guidelines. For example, although your staff should wear masks at all times, you may ask them to wear gloves as well. They should also be disinfecting tables, chairs, and frequently touched areas (e.g., doorknobs) regularly. Don’t forget that staff is included in the maximum capacity headcounts, which are reduced at events during COVID. You may not have the same amount of help “on the floor” as you’re used to. (Or you may need to reduce your guest list accordingly.)
Navigating food and drinks at events during COVID is challenging. By now, you’ve heard the phrase uncharted territory so much that it feels normal. But this truly is new for all of us. Keep best practices in mind, and don’t be afraid to provide strict and clear guidelines for your guests. They will feel safer at your event, and, more importantly, they will be safer at your event.
How else can you keep food and drink at events during COVID safe? Do you recommend eliminating food and drink altogether?