Party Planning During a Pandemic


A party table with individual cups of cake for guests, hand sanitizer and markers for labeling cups

This pandemic has certainly shifted how many of us think about gatherings with family and friends. Personally, I’ve had a hard time figuring out how to celebrate milestones like holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries.  As our son’s 2nd birthday neared, it made me pretty sad to think about a missed celebration with loved ones. Plus, I really think we could all use a little levity and joy to boost spirits and put Covid-19 (safely) out of our minds for a little bit.

While the rules around what is acceptable and what’s not could confuse the most savvy of party planners, it can be done safely while making guests feel super comfortable at the same time.  Since we recently threw a birthday party, I’ve put together a list of things you might consider when planning your next celebration during this pandemic!

Build Your Guest List

I found that most people are understanding of the challenges associated with this pandemic. While standard party etiquette has gone out the window, people totally get it.  Our guest list was limited to immediate family and very close friends totaling 15 people (this was all that was permitted in RI at the time).  I reached out to additional family and friends to explain the situation and to invite them for a social distant visit & photo op or a one-on-one play date with the birthday boy. They appreciated being thought of and were happy to accommodate.  You can also schedule a drive-by birthday parade which have become synonymous with Covid-19 celebrations.

Pick a Theme

If you’re like me, picking a theme is my favorite part of party planning…but if you aren’t like me, skip ahead! 🙂 I still liked the idea of anchoring the party with a consistent theme even though this party was going to be super small. We chose the book Little Blue Truck as our theme since we’ve read it (and all the books in the series) about a million times over the last year.

I put myself on a budget, so I used toys we already had like a dump truck and animals from our Little People Farm. I added books for display and signing, photos from his birthday shoot, and my husband made a blue truck out of cardboard for fun party photos.  Look around your house – I bet you have a ton of stuff you could use to add some special touches aligned to your theme!

Minimize & Individualize Your Menu

With a theme selected, I started researching ways to make the party Covid-19 friendly. We planned to have it outdoors with tables spaced far apart and utensils individually wrapped. Food was a bit trickier.  Since the party was small, I didn’t feel the need to go overboard like I normally do so that made it a little easier.  My goal, though, was to limit or eliminate sharing utensils and congregating around the food table. Here are some ideas on how we did it:

  • Cheese & Cracker Cups: I found cute muffin cups at HomeGoods (similar to these but a much smaller pack) and we filled them with with pre-cut cheese, slices of pepperoni, and several crackers. We displayed them on a metal tray and guests served themselves.
  • Party Pizza: If you’re from RI, you are probably familiar with the infamous party pizza. We bought a box at our local bakery and made sure each slice was individually wrapped in the bakery paper they came with or saran wrap. We served the pizza strips on a platter and made sure it was easy to grab a slice without touching other slices.
Main Meal
  • Smoked Pork & Chicken Wings: My husband smoked a pork butt the day before the event and we baked chicken wings the day of the party. Right before we were ready to eat the main meal, he heated and plated everything (BBQ pork sandwich and about 5 or 6 wings).  I added small cups of BBQ sauce on each table so guests could use their own spoon to add more sauce to their sandwich.
  • Macaroni Salad Cups: Pinwheel macaroni salad was served in clear plastic cups, which were perfectly portioned and easy to grab.
  • Corn on the cob: Wooden skewers went into each piece of cooked corn and then carefully arranged on a platter for pick up and plating.
  • Kettle chips: Gone are the days of big bowls of chips and dip on the side. We opted for individual bags of kettle chips that we displayed in a rustic wooden crate. Guests liked being able to pick their favorite flavor!
  • Cake: As you can imagine, it’s now frowned upon to blow out candles on a big birthday cake. Instead we purchased an additional cupcake for our son to blow out his candle (Cake & Cupcake by Ivy and Lace Bake Shop).  He loved having his own cake and the guests appreciated that he didn’t spit all over the frosting!  We then plated and served a piece of cake for each guest.
  • Dirt Cups: Continuing with our theme, we made pudding “dirt cups” (topped with cutout blue truck and dump truck). Again, super easy for our guests to grab and enjoy.
  • Watermelon: Nothing says summer party like watermelon! We cut our watermelon in slices, stuck each one with a skewer and displayed them on a platter so folks could just grab the skewer.
  • Cookie Favors:  I was going to skip favors this year but then found a “2” cookie cutter at Michaels.  I individually wrapped each cookie in a clear plastic favor bag.
Be Mindful of Logistics

You might consider strategically placing hand sanitizer around your house/venue, replacing bathroom hand towels with disposable towels, and individually wrapping utensils. Be mindful of social distancing by spacing out tables.

If you asked me a year ago if I would be throwing a party with individual cups of macaroni salad and hand sanitizer on the beverage table, I most definitely would have laughed at you.  However, having gone through it now, I am confident that we can still safely celebrate and have a great time during this difficult time!  Covid has taken so much from us – let’s not let it take away the joy of gathering with loved ones too.

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Lauren Sousa
Lauren lives in RI with her husband Paul, their son Lucas, and their two fur babies Nico & Rory. After graduating with a degree in Criminal Justice, she moved to Washington, DC to work in government, eventually landing in learning and development. After almost 8 years in DC, she moved home to her beloved little state where she could say “wicked” and be understood, celebrate a Patriots victory, and have donuts and coffee milk whenever she wanted. She currently works in HR focusing on internal communication, employee engagement and employer branding. She is a super planner learning to be more flexible; a working mama seeking balance; and a woman who has decided that being perfectly imperfect is enough and wants other women to feel the same.