Food & Culture

You Can’t Stay Inside Forever

How to throw a small party and remain safe

By Arden Clise September 15, 2020


This story appears in the July-August combo issue of Seattle magazine and Seattle Business magazine. Subscription information is here.

Hosting a get-together in the pandemic has certainly created new challenges but it’s doable. To ensure the virus is not spread between guests or from the meal, it’s obvious that extra precautions must be taken, but many don’t know how to go about it. With safety in mind, I invited three friends to join me recently for a backyard barbeque. I took several steps to make sure everyone was protected from possible exposure to the virus. I started by asking my guests a series of questions to gauge what they were and weren’t comfortable with. We also followed strict hygiene and CDC-recommended practices. Important reminder: You can’t be socially distant in a large crowd.

Here are six etiquette tips for safe hosting.

Outside, always

Studies have confirmed that the virus is spread more easily in indoor spaces, especially when people are close together and there is little ventilation. Outdoors is the safest place to gather. Your event will be weather dependent so be prepared to cancel and reschedule if necessary. I was happy the sun decided to make an appearance for my garden gathering.

Hygiene first

Be upfront about your safety requests. This is critical. It’s not rude; you’re simply being sensible. I asked my guests to wear masks when we weren’t eating and when using the bathroom. Only one person was allowed in the house at a time. Before people left, I requested that masked guests take turns putting their dishes in the dishwasher, which was right by the open back door, so they didn’t have to go far into the house. This felt prudent but a bit contrary to normal hosting etiquette for me.

The six-foot rule

Use a measuring tape to space the chairs six feet apart. I was amazed at how far that is. Each chair had a surface of some sort next to it for plates and glasses. I placed two small tables next to two of the chairs; one chair was next to a bench and another was at the patio table.

Don’t forget the bathroom

Whether you have a guest bathroom or a shared one, clean and disinfect thoroughly the entire room and any high-touch areas leading to it. I provided hand soap in a dispenser and hung individual paper towel squares on the towel bar rather than a communal hand towel. After disinfecting everything with bleach wipes, I sprayed disinfecting aerosol in the bathroom and the spaces leading to it.

Kitchen cleanse

Again, using disinfecting wipes, I sanitized anything in the kitchen I thought I might touch when preparing the meal, including cupboard knobs, the refrigerator and freezer handles, the compost pail, stove knobs, the sink faucet and handle, the salad spinner, etc. I also disinfected all packaging I would need to open. I then washed my hands and donned gloves and a mask before preparing the meal. And, I continually washed my gloves throughout the preparation.

All needed serving and eating items were washed in the dishwasher, which wasn’t opened until I set each individual table.


Based on guest responses to my questions, I prepared and served most of the food and guests contributed other mostly safe items, such as cans of seltzer and pie and ice cream. Condiments were placed on a separate table with hand sanitizer nearby and I asked my guests to use the sanitizer before touching the containers. I cooked the frozen, individually wrapped burgers, handled the buns and served everyone with clean, gloved hands and a mask. Where I dropped the ball was inadvertently letting everyone serve themselves the other items. I got busy grilling the burgers and forgot I needed to serve the side dishes as well.

Even though people took turns in a socially-distanced manner, they each touched the serving utensils. My mistake aside, the goal is to keep communal contact to a minimum, either by preparing or purchasing individual servings in advance or having only one person with clean hands and a mask serve others.

Despite the extra work to keep everyone safe and the admittedly sometimes-awkward situations, it was a lovely evening and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Arden Clise, president of Clise Etiquette, is a business etiquette speaker, trainer, coach and author. Her book, Spinach in Your Boss’s Teeth: Essential Etiquette for Professional Success, can be found on She can be reached at

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