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We know that 2020 has been difficult, to say the least. There have been many disappointments for those of us who have had to postpone an event this year. We have some encouraging news, though, as restrictions are starting to loosen, and safe, smartly planned events are resuming. Think: anything from a small, intimate minimony, to a large, tented celebration.

Creating a safe and smartly planned event are the keys here. You not only want to meet all of the local and state guidelines to be compliant, but you also want to make sure your guests enjoy themselves while adhering to pandemic-necessary precautions, such as masking and physical distancing. We polled Robert Ryan Catering & Design’s event planners and came up with this handy list to make sure you’re checking all the boxes.

Photo by Robert Ryan Catering & Design

An experienced event planner will know the latest requirements, so if you’re going solo instead of working with an event planner, make sure to review all local and state guidelines before planning your event, and bookmark that info to keep up with the changes (rest assured, there will be many changes before this is over). When this blog was written, Pennsylvania was allowing indoor gatherings of up to 25 people, and outdoor gatherings of up to 250 people — with precautions, of course.

The Announcement

First and foremost: Inform all of your guests of the necessary procedures ahead of the event, and make sure they know your level of expectation that they’ll uphold those procedures. Let them know there will be no hard feelings if they feel they need to decline at this time — for any reason! — and that you’ll catch up with them on video chat soon. 

The Location

Weather permitting, choose an outdoor location.Tents are more than poles and toppers: You can add heat or air-conditioning, embellish the tent with exterior walls, and much more. Using a tent can extend the outdoor season! If an indoor event is the only option, then make sure the venue is well-ventilated.

Photo by Robert Ryan Catering & Design

The Spacing

Physical distancing is critical from start to finish, including ample spacing between tables, and fewer chairs per table. Families who have been in the same household, or have indicated that they’ve created their own social squads, should be seated in small groups by table. We know everyone wants to visit, but keeping small groups separate, and emphasizing physically distant socializing, is most prudent.

Photo by Robert Ryan Catering & Design

The Guests

We know it’s not ideal, but reduce your guest list to the “essentials,” or consider staggered event times, with cleaning and disinfecting time in between. For example, group A comes from this time to this time, then group B comes from this time to this time. Staggered events allows for more guests to attend beyond the essentials!

Photo by Jeff Anderson Photography

The Safety Precautions

For the foreseeable future you’ll need to require masks for everyone, and provide extras, in case someone forgets. Masks should be worn unless guests are distantly seated and eating. We’re sure you can zhuzh them up to match your decor, so make sure you have ample hand sanitizers throughout the event, including at the entrance and exit, at each table, at any food, drink or other stations, and in any remaining high-traffic areas. If possible, hand-washing/sanitizing stations are also a great choice.Seating assignments should not be done with tent cards that guests pick up from a table (what a time-saver for you, by the way!). Instead, create seating charts and post them near the entrance.Distributing favors or keepsakes takes a little more thought right now, but if it’s something you want to do, then make sure that each one is safety-sealed and that they’re individually handed to guests, not left on a table or in baskets.All bar and food stations must use plexiglass shields to protect staff and guests.Set a schedule to frequently clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces throughout the venue, such as door knobs and handles, railings, restrooms, and any areas that see a lot of traffic.

Photo by Robert Ryan Catering & Design

The Food and Drink

The buffet option is out for now, so either opt for plated dinner service — all courses, no pre-plated salads or desserts — or offer individual servings or boxed meals. You could also have manned stations with plexiglass shields where staff plates the food and hands it to the guest. Coffee and tea stations are also a no-no at this time, so all beverages will have to be served.

Photo by Jeff Anderson Photography

The Fun

Yes, even amongst all of the above requirements, there will still be fun! There will still be “smiling” eyes meeting over masks. There will still be “air” high-fives, fist pumps and “hugs.” There will still be lots of conversation and catching up. There will still be the main event, whether that’s a shower, religious service, wedding or corporate update. The opportunity to be with friends, family and colleagues, after having been under stay-at-home orders for so long earlier in 2020, is indeed a treat, even if it’s not the circumstances under which the gathering was originally planned. If we’ve learned anything when we were separated from our loved ones, it’s that a video chat is great, but a distant wave and conversation is precious. You and yours will enjoy your event!If you’re looking for outdoor space, check out our tented options atBarn on Bridge in Collegeville andPhilander Chase Knox Estate in Valley Forge. At Robert Ryan Catering & Design, we’re here for you to put your plans in motion when the time is right. We’re in this together! Schedule a consultation with our of our event managers when you’re ready to find your place or to reschedule your special event. Did you know an event at home might be an option?


Robert Ryan Catering & Design plans and executes over 400 events each year, boasts a five-star rating on WeddingWire and has received WeddingWire’s Couples’ Choice/Bride’s Choice Award seven years in a row. Learn more about Robert Ryan Catering & Design and tour our venues. Subscribe to our e-newsletter for exclusive offers, up-to-date news, and recipes from our executive chef.

Nina Malone

Featured photo: Jeff Anderson Photography