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How to have a pandemic-friendly dinner party

It was my birthday, and I was determined to entertain friends.
Kathy Saunders created lobster-theme place settings for her first dinner party hosted during the pandemic.
Kathy Saunders created lobster-theme place settings for her first dinner party hosted during the pandemic. [ KATHY SAUNDERS | Times ]
Published Jul. 7, 2020

It was my birthday weekend, and I was determined to entertain friends for a pandemic-prudent dinner party.

I read the government warnings about gatherings and watched the how-to videos. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website warns that any gathering besides a virtual event is a risk. After a virtual event, my birthday party with our family of four adults and one other couple presented the lowest level of risk.

First, I phoned my friends to discuss the invitation. I assured them I would follow all of the safest practices and require all of us to wear masks when we were not eating. They were happy to oblige.

Here’s what I did.

The meal

A couple of weeks before my birthday, I ordered Maine lobsters to be shipped to my home on the day of the dinner party. For each of us, I also bought matching paper place mats, lobster bibs, shell-cracking tools and little ramekins for melted butter.

Because I didn’t want to use paper plates for lobster, I found some large, oval plastic plates on eBay for a bargain. I ordered those for all of us.

My goal was to have single-use utensils and dishes. In keeping with that plan, I had some inexpensive silverware that I have used for larger parties, so I set those forks and knives out for my guests. Next to their table, I placed a small, decorative trash can for the lobster shells and a pretty, plastic bag for them to take home their used plastic plates and all of their utensils. As an additional take-home memento, I also bought drinking glasses with hand-painted lobsters for my friends to use at dinner and to enjoy at home afterward.

On the side, I prepared corn on the cob and twice-baked potatoes. I also made Red Lobster-style cheddar biscuits. I waited until my guests arrived to boil the lobsters — a 2-pound crustacean per person. I plated each meal and, fully masked, delivered each dinner to the table. I served dessert — a lovely strawberry cake brought by my friends — on paper plates with plastic silverware.

The seating

Because my birthday fell on the first day of summer, heat was an issue for eating outdoors. That said, I did manage a compromise. My kitchen opens to a large, screened patio with an outdoor dining table. So, I moved our smaller, indoor table for four to the edge of the kitchen door, but still inside the house. I put four chairs on one side of the outdoor table and my family sat facing our guests. I left the sliding doors open, of course, and cranked up the air conditioning so that heat wasn’t an issue. The seating arrangement, although not ideal, was comfortable and we were able to have a nice dinner conversation from a distance of 12 feet apart.

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The restroom

As an additional safety precaution, I placed a small note in the powder room asking guests to wash their hands and to flush with the seat down. (Some studies have suggested the virus can spread during toilet flushing.) I placed a big stack of paper, lobster-themed hand towels on the vanity and some alcohol wipes. In my handwritten note, I asked everyone to use the wipes to swab the door handle on their way out.

The party lasted less than two hours, keeping our window for virus transmission to a minimum. Luckily, no one at the dinner party has shown any symptoms of COVID-19.

Admittedly, it was a lot of work to have two friends for dinner. But it was worth it. I loved seeing good friends and sharing in-person conversations after being quarantined for so long. My guests said they had fun, too.

I’m not sure I would host a dinner again soon, especially after the recent spike in coronavirus cases in our community and state, but I am thankful to have had a nice, almost normal, birthday dinner.