With midsummer around the corner and the warmest days of the year still ahead (we hope), the relaxation of the lockdown rules could not have come at a better time for those of us missing the season of socializing. Sure, you may not be able to go to Ascot, Wimbledon or Glastonbury, but with gatherings of six people now allowed in outdoor spaces (provided they remain two metres apart), picnics and barbecues are once again possible. Read on for our guide to making the most of the new normal while staying safe…
Here comes the sun
Firstly, you need to keep a clear eye on the weather. You need a run of dry, sunny days to make sure the ground isn’t wet or muddy. Get your Chosen Five to commit to a few different dates, so when the sun gods decide to smile everyone is ready at a moment’s notice. It’s no fun sitting shouting at one another from six different cars in the pouring rain, however amusing the memes.
Make grown-up party bags for your friends. Instead of bubble wands and sherbert straws, fill each party bag with everything your guest will need for the day: hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes, mini bottles of bug spray and sunscreen (your local chemist will be thrilled someone is shopping from the holiday miniatures aisle). Disposable cutlery and paper plates may be the scourge of the environment, but they are indispensible for outdoor gatherings when you don’t want to touch lots of cutlery and crockery that has been handled by others. You could make it cute and put the party bags in pretty pouches, daintily tied with ribbon with a sprig of lavender tucked in, or make it practical and give each guest a carrier bag in which to take away their own rubbish so you don’t have to touch it at all.
Chances are you’ll want a long, proper catch-up after many months of isolation. But no one can be comfortable sitting on the floor for hours on end. Provide comfortable rugs, outdoor-proof scatter cushions, even tasteful beanbags. Arrange them at the correct distance around your garden and place the party bag on each. Add parasols for shade, or drape pretty blankets – hammam-style towels are perfect – over branches to create makeshift shady spots.
Unless you’re lucky enough to live close to your chosen five, chances are there will be at least two drivers in your party. So be sure to provide plenty of non-alcoholic drinks to keep everyone hydrated in the beaming sun you’ll be enjoying. Drinks in cans are perfect as you can hand them out and guests can dispose of them, obviating the need for touching back-and-forth. If you want to make elderflower cordial and serve it in a pretty glass jug, go ahead, but make sure you are the only one to pour it out, preferably into disposable picnic cups.
When it comes to food, you can go two ways. The first is that everyone brings their own. This doesn’t fulfill the deep need to break bread with friends, but does mean that everyone can look after their own dietary requirements without you having to suffer the agony of hunting for gluten-free couscous or vegan cheese. The second option is that you assume total control, of every aspect – which, boringly, will include serving everyone. Buffet-style is out. This way, though, you can be sure of some well-deserved gratitude: by now, everyone is bored to death of cooking for themselves.
Fire baskets and braziers
Barbecues are great in theory, but do you really want to spend most of your precious socializing time crouched over red-hot embers, waiting for the perfect moment to turn your charred sausages, missing all the chat and getting much too hot into the bargain? Thought not. Instead, light a brazier in the middle of the seating area for that luxurious fire-outside feeling and cook everything in the oven. NB: barbeque-style food is fine. Make salads you can make in advance and that won’t ruin from sitting outside. Quinoa with herbs, lemon zest, pomegranate seeds and feta is perfect. Leaves that will wilt and go soggy, not so much.
Social media silence
Put some low-key music on in the background – nothing too loud that will annoy neighbours or stop you being able to hear each other freely. If you want to instagram-ify your gathering, dangle fairy lights from trees (noughties they may be, but the appeal is timeless) and put wildflowers in mismatched jugs on low, Moroccan-style tables. Remember to be careful what you put on social media, though: lockdown humble-bragging does not go down well, and you’d be amazed at your acquaintances’s SS-esque impulses to report any signs of rule breaching.