Private events and gatherings were put on hold indefinitely over the past year, but with state and CDC guidelines evolving, and the weather quickly warming up, the wait is over and it’s time to start putting those plans into motion once again. The number one rule to keep in mind when starting to plan your spring event? “You must be willing to be flexible,” says Taylor Keenan, owner of Events Custom Taylored. “In today’s event planning world, protocols and statuses are changing daily.” With that being said, there are plenty of ways to get creative when planning your event, so put on your party pants – or really, any pants at all – and get the party started with these helpful tips.
Where to Start
Planning an event any time can feel overwhelming, and even more so during a pandemic. Whether doing the work yourself or with an event planner, be sure to have a few ideas in mind. “Start with your goal plan, have a backup rain plan (or two), and finally a ‘family’ plan,” says Keenan. “The decision of which way to go is made the week of the event, and these days, everyone understands that.” Restrictions and guidelines, for better or for worse, are changing regularly, so don’t start the planning process too far in advance.
Indoors or Outdoors?
The type of event you're planning can help determine if an indoor or outdoor setting would be best, in addition to your comfort level. “Weddings tend to feel more comfortable being indoors as they often include older guests who have had the chance to be vaccinated,” says Keenan. “With Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, birthday parties and sweet sixteens, outdoors – or a venue where the room opens to the outside – is the way to go.” Ultimately, you as the host know your guests best to make the decision that works for your event.
Hosting any type of event during the days of COVID requires a lot of thought and creativity, which is why an event planner can be a big asset in creating your special day, as they’re up-to-date with the latest safety rules and information. “When using an outdoor space like a back yard, it’s best to utilize the entire space rather than setting up a tent to confine everyone and everything,” says Keenan. She suggests a temperature check station when guests arrive, plus masks and hand sanitizer customized to your event theme. For catering needs, spread out the food stations as much as possible, to avoid groups huddled together and on top of each other. “Self-serve buffets are long gone, now they are all manned stations,” says Keenan. Be sure to take the increased serving time into account when creating your menu. “You may think you only need two stations, but to keep lines and wait times down, it may be best to have three or four,” she says. All plates, glassware and silverware should be disposable so no one touches anything previously used.
To create your vision, nothing is off limits. “I’ve transformed backyards into all different types of arenas,” says Keenan. “A vendor may see a carnival, glow party or South Beach. A good vendor will bring your vision to life.” Plus, backyard events can be personable, intimate and more meaningful.
When planning the setup, keep in mind that these days, people are not sitting back and relaxing as they normally would, so tons of seating isn’t necessary. Guests like to move around and go to areas that are less crowded. If you’re looking for a more formal feel to an outdoor event, assign guests a table and do a served meal. Space the seating out at each table, such as 8 chairs instead of the normal 10 to 12. And now may not be the time to play matchmaker. “Make sure guests at the table are related or in the same social pod to limit interactions,” says Keenan. “If your guests feel safe, they will come stay and enjoy themselves a lot more than if they don’t.” Use servers to take drink orders, to prevent the bar from becoming a hang out space.
If you’re planning a backyard affair, think about power sources, lighting and restroom solutions so everything goes smoothly. Some questions to consider include if guests can enter your home to use the restroom or will you rent one? Who will keep the restrooms clean? How much power do you have available for vendors? What is the town noise ordinance? The list goes on. “A good planner will make sure that every question is taken care of so there are no surprises,” says Keenan.
One key piece of info Keenan suggests: Keep guests informed. “When you send out the invitation, make sure people know the event is strictly outdoors, and to dress accordingly.” If possible, consider an “open house” style event or assign groups to a time so everyone isn’t congregating at once. The bottom line: do what is right for you and your guests. “There is no one equation fits all,” says Keenan. As long as you follow the CDC and NJ Department of Health guidelines, you can plan and successful execute a safe event for everyone to enjoy.