Picture the classic American summer: a sunny, occasionally sweaty season of block parties, pool parties, dinner parties, cocktail parties, and after-parties. Strawberry and cherry and peach festivals. Family reunions, company picnics, and neighborhood cookouts. And let’s not forget the banquets, buffets, potlucks, soirees, and fetes.
But things are different now. The coronavirus pandemic has upended life everywhere. And suffice to say, it’s been months since most people fretted over their social calendars.
Of course, the reopening of our country is well underway now, and the weather has turned warm, breezy, and beautiful. So how about the backyard brunch that you were daydreaming about hosting next weekend? Well, it’s still safest to continue satisfying our need for human-to-human social contact via the internet as much as possible. But small gatherings should be just fine, as long as everybody actually follows proper COVID-19 protocol.
Given our renewed license to congregate, some people will be ready for a real-life party. Others might not. Either way, we’re going to be living with the coronavirus for quite some time. So why not try to find some pleasant, personally acceptable, and safe ways to host a summer get-together while we wait?
The Door-to-Door Dinner Party
Over these last few socially distanced months, many of us have done more cooking and baking than usual. Many of us have also ordered more takeout than we might under normal circumstances. These two newly accelerated habits may be a virtual dinner party just waiting to be planned, if you and your social circle aren’t yet leaving the house for hangouts. Simply pick a date, send out invites, and schedule a Zoom meeting to cook and/or eat together. If you live in the same neighborhood or city, consider sharing a meal from the same place. (We’re particularly fond of the meal kits that Marrow, the restaurant, butcher shop, and grocer in Detroit’s West Village, has been offering.) As host, make it your duty to order, pick up, and personally deliver dinner to your guests’ doorsteps. Wave to your friends from the sidewalk, and then head home to meet them.
The Contactless Cocktail Party
In the days before COVID-19, you might have hired a professional bartender for your summer get-together or at least strong-armed that friend who’s always bragging about their mixology skills into stirring Negronis for hours on end. Neither is advisable now. Instead, you’ll have to make your own drinks — and your guests’, too. The best and least risky method: Prep a batch cocktail or two while observing all of the FDA’s aforementioned rules. (We’d go with something like the Negroni’s American cousin, the Boulevardier, featuring equal parts sweet vermouth, Campari, and Two James Catcher’s Rye Whiskey.) Of course, you can’t just serve your booze in a pitcher or punch bowl anymore. Instead, funnel single-serving neat pours (about 3.5 ounces each, no ice) into clear glass swing-top bottles, such as Bormioli Rocco’s classic 4.25 ouncers. And if you’re a fan of garnish, slip in a twist of orange peel for looks. Finally, chill the portioned-out cocktails in a champagne bucket atop each table, at which, yes, you’ve fussily seated guests by household.
The Big Show
Simple and straightforward, this particular party plan eases the awkwardness and minimizes the risks of gathering in the age of coronavirus by replacing the usual social entertainment — conversation — with a big show. There’s also no menu planning to be done. Everyone is responsible for their own food and drinks. And aside from assembling mask-and-sanitizer goodie bags, the host need only oversee the evening’s spectacle. Maybe it’s fireworks, an outdoor movie screening, or a bonfire. This is a get-together that’s simply about being together, mostly in silence. So set up some deck chairs or spread out a picnic blanket at least 6 feet from your nearest neighbor. Crack open a beer. Tear into a sandwich. And maybe, for a moment, it might seem like just another classic American summer.
The Long-Distance Potluck
Though sometimes maligned as corny, the potluck, when done right, can be a paean to everyday food and togetherness. (It’s a tradition that stretches back to the Depression, when poor families would pool their food stores and share a spread to ease hunger and loneliness.) Now, maybe your family and friends are still leery of literal togetherness. Or maybe you’re all separated by hundreds of miles. Either way, a long-distance potluck, held virtually via Zoom or some similar video conferencing app, could be a decent excuse to swap recipes (rather than finished dishes), pick and choose what to cook, and then trade stories about your mishaps or triumphs in the kitchen.
When picking out recipes for this summer get-together, keep it simple. Whether you’re choosing a recipe for a long-distance potluck or catering an in-person occasion, aim for easy-to-execute dishes using inexpensive, local, seasonal ingredients (think salad cucumbers or onions) and pantry and fridge staples, such as salt, pepper, sour cream, apple cider vinegar, etc. Save the fancy stuff for less complicated times.
Etiquette Tips for Your Summer Get-Together
Hosts, don’t skip the invitations. Sure, forgo paper mail. But design an invite asking guests to RSVP, and send it out by email, text, or some other electronic means. You have
assumed the responsibility of limiting the guest list, so stick to a number you and your guests will be comfortable with and don’t consider inviting others unless someone formally declines.
Guests, this is no time for party-crashing. Yes, you are being politely asked to RSVP, but consider it mandatory. Even under normal circumstances, failing to reply to an invitation is inconsiderate. Amid an ongoing pandemic, it’s much worse.
Everyone, obey the rules. You know them. So, wash (and rewash) your hands. Wear a mask. Always pack hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. And, of course, keep 6 feet between you and any human being who doesn’t share your home.