Abby Groshek, an apparel designer in Milwaukee, recently hosted a small graduation party for a friend — her first in-person get-together at her home in almost 18 months.
Pre-pandemic, Groshek frequently had friends and family over for dinner, but this spring’s event presented a new challenge. “After such a long time, I had to start seeing my house through someone else’s eyes,” she says. Plus, the pandemic adds an extra layer of planning: To feel comfortable in your home, people also need to feel safe.
Groshek had been at home with her husband and son throughout the pandemic, so the house was in livable shape, but wasn’t necessarily guest-ready. “We had relaxed our standards a bit during the pandemic, so the gathering was an opportunity to shift gears,” she says. “I walked from the bathroom to the kitchen and then to the dining room to figure out what each space needed.”
Now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has relaxed mask and social distancing recommendations for fully vaccinated individuals, you, like Groshek, might be having people over for the first time in more than a year. And, you, too, might find yourself experiencing stress alongside the excitement about seeing family and friends. Here are some suggestions from event planners to help you pull off your first post-pandemic gathering.
Do a reset clean
One of Groshek’s biggest challenges was making the switch from pandemic survival mode to hospitality mode. That included adjusting her cleaning standards. Michiel Perry, founder of the lifestyle brand Black Southern Belle, suggests carving out time to deep-clean before your party, not only to prepare your home for your guests, but also to change your mindset back to that of a host. “We’ve been cleaning to our own comfort levels for the last year and a half, so you’ll have to recalibrate to your ‘having guests over’ comfort level,” Perry says.
A week or two before your gathering, start to deep-clean the areas of your home you may have neglected — the stove, refrigerator, windows and baseboards, for example — to create a fresh canvas for party planning.
If you’re stressed about cleaning your home from top to bottom, remember: Your guests will only notice rooms they’re in. Lindsey Shaktman, a lead planner with Mavinhouse Events, suggests concentrating on high-traffic areas, such as your living room, dining room, kitchen and bathroom; within each room, focus on areas guests will see and use. (For example, cleaning your counters is far more important than organizing your pantry.) Don’t worry too much about spots your guests won’t see or gather in, such as your bedroom or office.
Once you clean and declutter, walk through your home with a guest’s perspective, focusing on high-traffic areas. What would catch your eye at someone else’s home? For another viewpoint, ask an honest friend or loved one to check out your space and offer suggestions.
While preparing for a recent cookout, Perry realized she didn’t know where most of her party supplies were. “A lot of us have rearranged our homes multiple times for virtual school, work or just out of boredom,” she says. Perry recommends going through your storage spaces to find (and potentially relocate) party supplies, such as wine glasses, champagne flutes and serving dishes. Take stock of what you need, such as napkins or extra seating, and put it on your shopping list.
Once your to-buy list is ready, Perry recommends shopping as early as you can, so you have time to track down out-of-stock items. “Just as toilet paper and hand sanitizer were sold out last March, propane tanks and patio furniture might be hard to come by now,” she says.
It’s your job as a host to ensure that your guests feel comfortable and safe in your space. Just as you would accommodate guests’ food preferences or allergies, Perry suggests creating options for people who may feel worried about coronavirus transmission.
In general, aim for a more conservative approach; for example, offer spaced-out seating, an outdoor gathering option and a food-and-drink setup that reduces unnecessary contact and germ spread. (In other words, maybe skip the charcuterie board.)
And although your guests are probably grateful for the opportunity to spend time together, keep in mind that people’s lives have changed during the pandemic, and adjust your expectations accordingly. Guests may not feel comfortable hugging or shaking hands, some people may be late or not stay long, and others might not feel ready to attend gatherings at all. Don’t take it personally. Everyone’s reentering “normal life” at their own pace.
Keep it personal
People might be gathering for a bigger reason, such as a graduation or birthday party, but they’re also coming over because they’re excited to see you, especially after such a long time apart. Don’t be afraid to infuse your space with some personality: Play music you like, serve cocktails your friends know you would order and display photos of memories you made during the pandemic. “You want people to walk in and know immediately they’re at your house, at an event you’re hosting,” Shaktman says.
As much as your guests will appreciate personal touches, try to keep the big picture in mind. Yes, a warm, welcoming and personalized environment contributes to hospitality, but no amount of cleanliness and decor is worthwhile if it compromises your ability to be present with your loved ones. The good news? Shaktman says your guests probably aren’t expecting your home to look like an open house that has been perfectly staged for selling.
After weeks of preparing, Groshek found that her guests were far more concerned about connecting and celebrating than the state of her home. “In the end, it was just really nice to be around people again,” she says. “We don’t have people over to show off our new countertops, but to spend time together.”