Updated: Feb 15
Remember what it was like to invite a group of friends over? Yeah, we don’t either. In the era of reuniting with loved ones and attending group gatherings, it can be a bit disorienting to find how post-pandemic dinner parties actually work. Hosting guests these days mixes classic party traditions with some changes that came because of the pandemic. Hosts are figuring out how to make some practical adjustments with space and food, and even include new efforts to quell hosting anxieties. We’ve compiled some advice returning to entertaining after COVID.
With both warm and cool nights ahead, hosting an outdoor gathering with friends and family is evergreen. Although we are well past the initial hardships that COVID-19 brought, it is still difficult to avoid the virus altogether, even now.
Accessibility to a backyard or intimate outdoor space lets the host prioritize the guests’ comfort and safety while creating an enjoyable and memorable space. People can then flow in and out of the outdoor area, going inside to use the counters or kitchen for preparing food, and the outdoor space for relaxing and enjoying the food together. Add candles and tea lights to a large table or set up some string lights. Have a variety of places to sit, and as always, bring the wine.
Select Practical Foods
Finger foods are a really tempting choice for hosting group dinners. While they’re fun and convenient, finger foods, by definition, require guests to touch the food. If your perspective on food and hygiene has changed since the pandemic, you’re not alone in thinking that sharing the same food, cups, or utensils is now a bit unsavory.
You might not have to scrap your entire cheese board idea, however, in order to maintain a sanitary eating experience. Cocktail picks are great for serving finger foods because the food doesn’t have to be touched. Try putting together bite-sized caprese salads or small portions of melon and prosciutto that any guest can easily pick up with a cocktail fork. Other appetizers can be served in individual glass cups or mason jars, like marinated olives and cheese or a bean dip with fresh vegetables. Dessert could be individually portioned panna cotta or tiny tubs of ice cream. This is an opportunity to get creative and provide a new experience for your beloved guests.
When appetizers are over, stick to your tried-and-true recipes for main dishes. Hosting a dinner party for the first time in a few years might not be the moment for a croquembouche recipe. Drying out your baked chicken dish certainly wouldn’t be in the dinner plan either. Try out your recipe ideas ahead of time or recreate the ones you’re already familiar with. Although it can be an unassuming dish, pasta puttanesca is a great go-to. It is a delicious and comforting meal that is a delight to serve to others every time.
Before guests arrive, consider asking a few people what would help make this a fun and comfortable gathering for them. Find out if they’d like to know about the guest list, the drink menu, or even if there will be hand sanitizer there. The host might be nervous about making sure everything is perfect, and guests might also be nervous about what to expect. Ease each other by talking about the event, setting comfort levels, and talking about the excitement of getting together.
Practical matters aside, prioritizing reconnection is perhaps the most meaningful thing you can do when gathering with loved ones. Though it may feel like the conversation is tethered to the negative changes that have occurred, we have an opportunity to set a tone of gratitude- “How wonderful is it that we can spend time together tonight?” Discussing the lessons we have learned, hobbies we picked up, or new perspectives we have focuses the conversation on the rewarding aspects of the past two years. Steer away from social media by making a phone basket and celebrate reconnecting.
Hosting any gathering can often be a combination of nerve-wracking and exciting … nerve-citing. So, if you’re feeling nerve-cited about hosting, you can call upon mindful conversation topics and questions to inspire deeper discussions at the gathering. Focus on your guests and keeping the conversations positive, and it’s likely your loved ones will lean into those meaningful topics with ease.
Whatever hosting your first dinner party or intimate gathering might look like, what is important to remember is the celebration. Savor the conversation, talk about the food, and celebrate the dear people you have the opportunity to know. Set the table and enjoy life together.
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By Melanie Coffman