As this country begins to unfurl into a new reality and a new way of being in this uncertain climate, there is one thing that has been the most difficult to digest in this pandemic and that is the lack of gathering together. Humans are of a herd mentality. We crave interaction with others, the true blue kind. Yes, technology has kept us connected but can we not all agree that putting your eyes on a real honest to goodness friend or family member and then sharing the conversations, the celebrations, the laughter, the tears, the fears, the experiences of life… in person… has been a sorely missed aspect of life?
Even though we have missed these gatherings like mad, there is fear in returning to them and what will that look like? How to enjoy each other’s company while keeping our loved ones safe? As we were about to celebrate our youngest son Cameron’s Birthday this past weekend while still under stay at home orders, we contemplated this question. We were becoming pros at celebrating birthdays in this fashion beginning with mine in April, our daughter Kelsey’s two weeks later and then one of our middle sons, Shane’s, 2 weeks after that. Throw in Mother’s Day and Easter and our household celebrations of 7 were becoming redundant. This got me to thinking of how our gatherings over special occasions could be celebrated in the future. Unfortunately I think that the days of the chip and dip bowl as well as family style, communal bowl meals that we all share are going to be put on a major hiatus.
With some simple materials and by taking some lessons from caterers we have had here in the barn, some of parties that I have thrown over the years, take-out meals, and amusement park food stands, I put my thinking cap on and came up with some ideas to gather together while still serving food, a staple at all of our gatherings, be they large or small. The goal is to serve the food at your gathering in self-serve individual portions that are put out on a table where your guests can take their own to a table or seating outside, with the precautionary distances between. No one is sharing a bowl, serving utensils or the like for all of the food will be put out in single size servings. It’s okay if your guest takes one, two or three of each of the individual servings for they are serving themselves with no interaction with another to get their food.
A list of materials that I have found to be useful for the ideas below are as follows:
- Paper napkins, disposable plates, cups, etc
- Disposable silverware
- Small single serve cups, either glass, pottery or paper
- Trays or serving pieces or a large long table or tables
- Clothes pins or Memo clips
- Twine, ribbon or string
- Tags or placecards
- Paper scraps
- Markers or pens
- Paper Table Runners that can be written on or some sort of instructions on how to serve yourself.
- Glassine or small paper bags
I love these disposable plates that I have been using in the barn for our events for years now. They are made from either Bambo or Palm leaves and they are environmentally friendly and a little sturdier than your standard paper plate… plus they look so nice! I am a little fanatical with recycling and using Earth friendly materials so I purchase these by the case load for they are much more economical that way. My favorite source for them is from the Webstaurant Store and you can find them here.
Small individual serving size pieces can really be anything that fits the bill…
old vintage glasses, new glass vessels, paper or plastic and a favorite of mine are to-go boxes made from recyclable materials such as these.
These disposable take-out containers and silverware come in a variety of sizes and can be used for a variety of serving needs. The Webstaurant Store again, is a great source for all different varieties of eco-friendly, biodegradable and compostable take-out containers. Think of your gathering in that way… A takeout fest from home, where you dine outside with those you have gathered with… at a distance of course!
Along with your individual serving pieces, you will need to find creative ways to package the silverware so your guests are not putting their hands into a bowl or cup of serving pieces all together. Here I bundled the silverware and a napkin and put them in small glassine bags that I then tied with jute string and a tag for the guest’s name. You don’t have to label each one, you can just put a stack of the prepackaged silverware on the table. You could also use small paper sacks or Ziploc bags to create single serve packages of silverware.
In keeping with single serve ways to serve the food you have decided to serve up, beverages will also have to be served in single serve sizes. This is a little easier for there are already so many options to do so. You can put out bottled beverages…
or beverages in cans or juice boxes. If you want to serve fresh herb and fruit infused waters that you make yourself, you can bottle them up in glass jars and label them so the guest knows what is inside.
Remember that it is important that your guests are not touching each and every one of the serving containers for the beverage so keeping them farther apart and with their labels being easy to read is important so they can look but not touch until they decide which one they want to take. Then they are only touching their own container.
Even desserts can be served in single size packages. S’mores are a great group activity where you can still keep a socially acceptable distance from each other if you set up a little backyard fire pit, cut sticks before hand that you label with each person’s name attending and have 2 or 3 guests roast their marshmallows at a time after taking their pre-made s’mores package with them.
Here again, I used glassine bags to package up the essential ingredients for a s’more. You can package any hand held desserts in this fashion or use smaller sizes of the eco- friendly disposable containers to package up self serve treats instead of fumbling around on a big tray of cookies.
You can also prepare puddings or other dessert types in these adorable small glass cups. If you want to make a cake, or serve a bakery made cake then by all means do so! You can just precut the cake and plate ahead of time and then put the plates out on a table to have the guests serve themselves.
Once you have pulled some individual serving options together then you can work on the menu. You can do vice versa but knowing what you have to work with ahead of time, especially if you are doing an impromptu get together is helpful. Think outside the box in picking out those serving containers. Here I had these mini garden pots and these mini glass jars. I filled the pots with a variety of vegetables and the glass jars with a variety of dips for either the vegetables or the tortilla chips that I had packaged in the recyclable containers. Given that the vegetables come from the garden, I thought it would be appropriate to line the trough that I served them in with moss. Just because we will be gathering in a way that looks a little different from what we are used to does not mean that we need to take the creativity out of the equation. I think this gives us even more reason to think outside of the box!
In coming up with this menu, I selected two options… an avocado toast with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella balls, a little olive oil and sea salt and pepper…
… and a couscous salad with artichoke hearts, red bell peppers and a garden salad. The options are endless. Even grilling hot dogs and hamburgers can be easily served where you grill the meats and then put each one on an individual plate for your guests to take. Now the condiments proved to be a little more challenging since you really don’t want everyone grabbing for the same ketchup, mustard or relish bottle. You can put out bowls of each where the guests use their own prepackaged silverware to scoop some onto their plates. You can also use tiny little bowls to pre pour some toppings into.
Now, here is the biggest dilemma… how to transfer your thought process to your guests on how they are to serve themselves. I have always loved these kraft paper table runners and we now carry them in our online shop here. On this particular food serving lay out, I wrote directly on the paper runner, the directions so the guests could move through the newly developed “buffet line” and know exactly what to do. The instructions were labeled 1 through 4 and the appropriate food items were next to their numbers.
I had put out trays with each one having a package of silverware on it and then the guests could just take their preference and fit it on the tray to take to their gathering spot.
You can even attach a cute paper straw to the beverage jars if so inclined.
Of course the last in line were the desserts! Play around with this idea and think of what works for you and your family. If you have small children, prepackaged cookies and snacks might be the best way to go, with all of it gathered in a brown paper lunch bag. Take orders before the gathering to find out what kind of sandwich they like and you can make those ahead of time and label them. Throw in a little treat like their own container of play dough, slime, a dollar store treat (ordered online) and anything you think might entertain them at the gathering or on the car ride home.
Think of objects that you might already own that can be used in a different fashion than originally intended. I have been collecting these vintage salt and pepper shakers for years. You can put each set out where the guests can take their own to use for the meal. We also have quite a few goodies for sale on in our online shop that we have created a collection for you to use for your own “serve yourself ” gatherings.
Instead of serving a large charcuterie board like you might have done in the past, you can plate up mini ones on a small plate where each plate contains a couple slices of great cheeses, grapes, Marcona almonds, your favorite crackers, a yummy fig jam and baby peppers or capers. You could actually serve up this concept for your first social distancing gathering. Try it out with some great wines where the guests BYOB. We did this at my sisters house and she put out this spread.
The quote that I chose to write on the Kraft paper at the beginning of my buffet table is very apropos in these times:
Coming together is a Beginning…
Keeping together is Progress…
Working together is Success…
As this Spring season of renewal transitions to the Summer season and as we move to a new sense of normalcy, may we continue to work together to alleviate the spread of this illness which has affected far too many lives. May we do this not only for ourselves and for those we love but for those that are working nonstop to help those that have been afflicted. Our social distancing measures put into place have done just what they were set out to do… to flatten the curve so those on the frontlines of battling this unknown were not put into scenarios where they had to play God and make life and death decisions based on serving an overwhelming number of patients at one time. Many of those that are not on the front lines, have been overwhelmed in many aspects based on these social distancing measures. May we continue to work together to repair and to instill a faith in humanity once again.
May you take an idea or two from this post to gather safely with your loved ones during this upcoming Memorial Day weekend holiday!
xoxo ~ Meg