Invitation Maven

Planning events in times of social distancing: What will events look like in the future?

It is now the beginning of July 2020. Events all over the country have essentially been shut down for about 3 full months now because of the coronavirus. Some areas have started to open back up, but many places are still not allowing large events. Initially, all my clients with events through about July of this year made the decision right away to postpone. Most of them did not have a choice, but as summer is now in full swing, my clients with late summer and early fall events are considering postponing as well. I am in several event industry networking groups and event professionals are all trying to figure out how to plan events in times of social distancing so that we will be prepared when things finally do reopen. The question we are all asking is:

What will events look like in the future?

I recently worked on an event with my amazing event planner colleague, Marketa Harlan of Marketa Events. It was a small bat mitzvah in Los Angeles. Some of the ideas Marketa came up with to accommodate social distancing requirements and individual food service were quite clever, so I thought I would share what we did to give you ideas for your own event.

Smaller guest counts – the new norm

Perhaps the most noticeable change our client had to make to her event was to significantly cut her guest list. She originally planned a large weekend celebration for over 200 guests. Instead, she had a private, intimate gathering at her home. There were no more than 30 people, all of whom were close family and friends, and they held the service in their back yard. Until venues open back up for large events, and especially until people feel comfortable going back out to large celebrations, smaller guests counts may be the new norm, at least for a while.

Smaller does not have to mean less special

In Jewish homes, Shabbat (which begins Friday at sundown and extends until Saturday at sundown) is a special and holy day. It is customary to save our best and most beautiful things for Shabbat. Setting the table with fine linens and adorning it with fresh flowers is common in many Jewish homes. While every Shabbat is special, the one before a life cycle event such as a bat mitzvah is even more so. Our client had originally planned to usher in Sophia’s Bat Mitzvah Shabbat with her extended family and friends. However, because of the coronavirus, this was not possible, so Marketa planned an intimate dinner just for the family at their home instead.

Like she would have done if the client were having a larger dinner, Marketa designed beautiful floral arrangements to decorate the client’s home. She ordered beautiful linens and service ware (plates, glassware, and silverware), and she decorated the table with a variety of floral arrangements and themed details for their Harry Potter™ bat mitzvah. Do you see the flying keys I made? We tucked them in to the floral centerpieces for a touch of whimsy and fun.

The table was beautifully decorated with fine china, glassware, silverware, and linens to welcome in Shabbat.
Each end of the table featured a gorgeous custom floral arrangement.
It’s all in the details! Flying keys were added to the floral arrangements for a touch of whimsy and fun.

Just because the scale of Sophia’s bat mitzvah was significantly smaller does not mean it was any less special. As you can see in these photographs, we made sure the small, intimate dinner was just as special for the family as what they had originally planned.

Seat guests six feet apart

For our client’s bat mitzvah ceremony, there were two parts: the Saturday morning shabbat service and a “public” Torah reading on Sunday.

The shabbat morning service on Saturday morning was held in the client’s back yard. Chairs were placed in sets of two so that members of the same family could sit together, but the sets were placed six feet apart from each other. You will need some space to be able to do this for your own event, but if you do have space to spread out, you will be able to comfortably seat guests six feet apart.

Because the use of electronics is prohibited on Shabbat, a second reading was scheduled on Sunday morning that was broadcast live via Zoom so that family members from all over the country could participate. Some guests who live locally were invited to this “event” as well. It was held in the client’s front yard. As we did on Saturday, some chairs were placed in sets of two and set six feet apart, which you can see in the photos below. For the rest of the guests, we set up cocktail tables in the cul-de-sac. The tables were placed six feet apart from each other so people could maintain proper social distancing while watching Sophia beautifully chant her Torah portion.

Chairs were set two-by-two and six feet apart.
Guests enjoying the ceremony while remaining socially distanced from other guests.
Cocktail tables and umbrellas were placed 6 feet apart so additional guests could enjoy the ceremony.
A panorama view of the set-up.

Individually wrap snacks and utensils

Food is a fundamental element of most large events, especially Jewish events. In fact, there is an idea in Judaism that holds that Jewish rituals should be celebrated with a special meal. But with new rules coming into play regarding how food is prepared and served, careful thought must be given to how to serve food at your event in these times of social distancing. One answer is to individually pre-wrap snacks and utensils.

For our client’s event this weekend, we purchased traditional fresh-baked pastries called rugalach, which is a small, filled pastry perfect for placing into individual snack-sized packages. Each bag had two pastries, and we sealed it with a custom label to brand the goodies for Sophia’s bat mitzvah.

Rugelach pre-packaged in cellophane bags.
The rugelach was then bagged together with a bottle of mini grape juice.

For the ice cream party on Sunday, Marketa wrapped adorable wooden spoons with a napkin into a cute cellophane bag. And for the gift bags, the client wrapped individual custom themed cookies into treat bags that she and her daughter then delivered to their guests earlier in the week so they could enjoy a treat while they watched the Zoom call on Sunday morning. The gift bag was filled treats as well as other items apropos to social distancing and cleanliness: a bottle of hand sanitizer (complete with a branded label, of course!) and a mask (made from themed fabric).

Adorable wooden spoons packaged together with a napkin and a custom label branded for the event.
Gift bags were delivered prior to the event, and included Covid-friendly items such as hand sanitizer, a face mask and pre-wrapped treats.

Mini bottles of juice and liquor

If you have a bartender for your event, he or she can prepare and serve drinks to guests according to CDC guidelines for food and beverage service. But if you are having a small, intimate event without someone to serve drinks for your guests, how do you limit sharing food, tools, and supplies to minimize contact and contamination?

Most items can be purchased in single serve bottles or cans. Juice, soda, and even liquor is available in mini bottles. They may be a bit more expensive, but they will allow your guests to serve themselves without having to share open bottles. And you can have a lot of fun designing custom labels and creating fun displays to personalize the mini bottles of juice and liquor for your event.

Serve liquor and other beverages in mini single-serve bottles to minimize contamination.

Plated meals, no buffets

Restaurants and caterers are quickly adapting to new CDC guidelines regarding food preparation. They are using gloves and masks, and already have procedures in place to maintain sanitary conditions in their kitchens.

Buffets used to be a popular option for events as they allowed guests to pick and choose what they wanted to eat. However, the new norm will most likely be plated meals as it is easier to minimize contact, reduce sharing of utensils, and maintain strict cleanliness requirements.

Another option instead of buffets are single-serve food displays and individually wrapped items that guests can grab and go. According to Chumie Vann of Culinary Creations by Chumie, a kosher catering company based in Los Angeles, California, in addition to food, she is now ordering extra packaging in response to client requests. I happened to be dropping off some work for one of her upcoming events at the same time the UPS truck arrived to deliver boxes and boxes, not of food, but of food packaging. “We were already doing this before Covid-19, but now, more clients are requesting it,” she said.

Individually packaged food is not just for safety. It can also be a way to add some fun to your plated meals. For Sophia’s bat mitzvah a few weeks ago, Marketa and I boxed and decorated individual servings of strawberry shortcake for dessert. As you can see in this photo, it made for a fun and creative presentation, which, in addition to tasting good, added to the enjoyment of the event. Each person got to unwrap their own dessert. It was prepared and boxed with care at the bakery to minimize contact with other people, then served for desert directly to guests.

Single-serve dessert wrapped like a gift.

Signs and Messages

One of the suggestions the CDC makes is to post signs and messages reminding customers and clients to take protective measures including properly washing hands and properly wearing a cloth face covering. The CDC has designed signs you can print for free, but why not design some fun signs and messages that are customized especially for your event? As a graphic designer, Invitation Maven can assist you with this. Below are some designs I created for one of Chumie’s events a few weeks ago.

Directionals help manage the flow of traffic and help guests maintain social distance.
Signs can be printed and placed around your venue to remind guests to to take protective measures.

The future is bright

The past few months have definitely been disappointing for many couples and families who have had to postpone their big celebrations, or who have significantly pared down their guest lists because of the coronavirus. But as more and more areas open back up, the future is bright on the event front.

Event planners, restaurants, caterers, venues, and other event professionals have spent the past few months figuring out creative ways to continue planning events in times of social distancing. They are incorporating CDC guidelines into how they design events.

So what will events look like in the future? They will probably be smaller, more intimate affairs, which can be just as lovely as a large event. You can spend more time and resources on the details to make it extra special. And when you look back and tell stories about your coronavirus-era event, it will become the stuff of family legend that no one will soon forget.

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