When can I host events again? The new Covid-19 rules for birthdays, anniversaries and small parties

As a new 'shutdown' comes into effect, we ask two royal party gurus what could be in store for big celebrations in the future

when can i host birthday parties events wedding planning rules government guidelines
An event designed by Johnny Roxburgh at Hampton Court

After a recent surge in the number of people contracting coronavirus, Boris Johnson has ushered the UK into a new, six-month-long shutdown period, tightening restrictions on social gatherings, which means gatherings of more than six people indoors or outdoors are now illegal in England. Anyone caught flouting the rules with be slapped with a £100 fine, doubling with each offence, up to a maximum of £3,200. The restrictions won't apply to schools, workplaces or Covid-secure weddings, funerals and organised outdoor team sports. So how will this affect parties?

Restaurants, pubs and places of worship have been allowed to open again since July 4, however from Monday, only table service will be permitted and customers will be required to wear face coverings at anytime they are not seated. Private dining rooms were also able to resume service, although groups will now be strictly limited to six adults and children. Groups of seven or more will only be permitted if they are from a single household.

Since August 15, weddings and wedding receptions of up to 30 guests were permitted, but as of Monday, that number will half. A maximum of 15 guests may attend, provided they comply with social distancing guidelines.

While close-proximity venues such as nightclubs will remain closed for now, the possibility of a small party for a maximum of six people in a private dining room, at a restaurant, indoors or outside, is now realistic. The latest shutdown is expected to last for six months, meaning that it will include the Christmas and New Year periods.

More stringent restrictions have been announced in Scotland, with mixing of households to be banned from Friday, meaning any celebratory events will only be permitted with members of your current household. 

In the interests of finding out exactly how we’ll be celebrating now and in the future, Luxury spoke to Jens Nisson, Executive Chef Director of caterer Bubble Food (which is led by a Michelin-star-trained kitchen team and works with venues such as Cliveden House) and Johnny Roxburgh, party architect to the rich and famous, including the Queen, Prince William and Sting. 

When can we party all together again?

Jens Nisson: Timings will obviously be dictated by the government, but we are already experiencing a gradual return, starting small with family gatherings and parties with close friends and building up to small weddings and celebrations.

The rule book will be rewritten, at least to start with. It’s going to take hard work and plenty of cooperation between party planners, operators and chefs to come up with ways of getting together and having fun within the rules. Technology will definitely play a part.

Read more: Can I still meet up with friends and family?

Bubble Food's 'The Mushroom' - white chocolate, strawberry & hazelnut streusel  

We’re working on a system to link up a series of smaller events with video connectivity to create a unified experience over different locations. This will see the same menu being enjoyed by different groups, even in different countries, and shared virtually.

For example you could celebrate an anniversary at your home in London with immediate family present, whilst your parents and siblings in the Cotswolds are virtually in attendance along with your in-laws and American cousins in New York. 

A five-course fine dining menu with wine pairings would be designed, prepared and presented to the exact same specifications and we can even coordinate the location décor and set-up to mirror a set theme. The event would start with a short introduction from the head chef and sommelier to set the tone.

There is something very special about sharing a meal with people who are important to you and in normal times we all take it for granted. 

There will be big changes to the way we operate behind the scenes, including new safety policies, lots of focus on monitoring staff and limiting interactions to make sure that we aren’t putting anyone with health issues at risk at the party. 

What does the future of a luxury bash look like?

Johnny Roxburgh: Glamorous. We will emerge from this feeling a mixture of emotions, but gratitude will play a big part for those of us that are able to party. Now that restrictions allow, the first private events will be dinner parties for small groups.

These will be beautifully presented and thoughtfully prepared, and there will be a wonderful sense of anticipation and excitement from hosts and guests alike.

Johnny Roxburgh-designed table settings

Hosts will want to remain cautious and not overcommit when the restrictions could tighten again. As event organisers we will need to concentrate on innovative ideas and be very flexible. A Plan B is essential should the country be plunged back into lockdown at short notice.

I like to think that the way we celebrate will change for the better - such as being more mindful of our freedoms and the joy of social interaction - and that any positive changes will last forever. We need to be careful, whilst still having enormous fun. One thing this has taught us is not to take our freedoms to celebrate for granted.

There is going to be a surge in parties

JN: It will be an exciting time to be hosting a party - being first to bring people blinking into the light and together again. So many of us have missed social interaction dearly, so to be pioneering a new way of partying that is safe, tasteful and respectful of the government’s guidance is very positive.

Parties are set to be ultra glamorous once lockdown is over

For these first events there will be more focus on spacious venues and particularly those with usable outdoor space. We will work with venues where all guests can easily respect the rules of social distancing – currently one-metre-plus in the UK – without overly impeding on the flow of the event.

There will be a surge in UK-based events. 2021 is going to be a fantastic year for British wedding venues, but a longer planning process will become essential.  

New safety measures will be in place

JN: [Once the latest restrictions are lifted], people will be able to host private events at large stately homes, but they will need careful planning and a dedicated team looking after the safety of the guests whilst they relax and enjoy the party.

Our template for this includes a senior member of our operations staff visiting the venue beforehand to assess any risks of transmission associated with the space and plan with the party organiser how to minimise them in such a way that it appears non-intrusive for the guests. The same staff member will be on hand during the event to make sure safety protocol is adhered to. 

Service will be slightly different 

This will take the form of staggered arrivals to avoid congestion at entrances, assessments of entry and exit points, the flow and movement of people within the venue and the position of any bars or serving stations.

All of this will be drilled down into during the planning process. The key for the event host or organiser is to make the event not only risk-free but stress-free.

We’ll also provide discreet hand washing and sanitising facilities for guests in the events space and look at reception rooms and corridors in terms of the number of guests that they can safely hold. Table settings also will be planned around appropriate distancing measures - using round (rather than long) tables.

Will dancing be allowed?

JR: Dancing and party games will be a part of celebrations but as with everything else, we will need to adapt them to suit the regulations at the time of the event. If you have a small venue with a tiny space for a dance floor then it’s not going to work.

If you have plenty of space however you should look to position the bar in one area, a dance floor in a separate room and utilise as many outdoor spaces as possible using tents, heaters and canopies.

What about karaoke?

JR: Party activities like karaoke will be possible if the space allows and dependent on the number of guests. For much smaller groups of ten or less you could do this easily in a reception room of the house. 

Party games will be spaced out

If you have several entertaining spaces and would like to do games for larger groups to enjoy, screens can be projected onto walls in central areas around the house whilst guests take part from separate areas. As with everything, as long as it is safe and practical to do so, there are a great number of ways to make parties fun and enjoyable for all.

Will it be appropriate for guests to get drunk?

JN: Not in the same way as before. Plan for the drinks to taste amazing but not be overly strong and make sure any serving staff use a measure rather than free pouring. If you circulate house rules prior to the event that politely explain why guests shouldn’t get out of control, they will know where they stand.

JR: Good drinks are part of the fabric of a great party but good drinks don’t have to be strong drinks. Taste and presentation are key, so as long as you ensure your guests have a drink in their hand at all times and the party is fun and creative, they don’t need to be drunk.

This could mark the end of buffets

JN: The seated dinner is the most straightforward dining option to set up around the guidelines. The communal buffet and sharing platter will both take a step back, to be replaced by more creative options like a little ‘bento’ style platter for each guest. 

There might be a bento box-style approach

Minimising face-to-face contact and personal contact with the food, plates and cutlery will also be key. Back of house this can be achieved with PPE and zoning.  It’s not the end of canapes, though. Front of house can be more discreet, for example canapés served on little mixed platters to each guest, each one topped with a miniature cloche. 

For standing events, rather than tray service, food and drinks could be picked up from an attractively shielded service area. A good caterer will approach each new challenge with an eye for the beauty of the experience and the presentation. 

Hosts will be desperate to make sure their guests feel at ease

JN: Hosts will need to ensure their guests that they have carefully considered the overall safety of the event and that it has been planned with a trusted supplier who has taken all the necessary steps and more. 

They should follow up on invitations with a ‘house rules’ note, so that everyone knows the basics. These might include expected distances between guests, the flow of the party, any areas that can’t be used/visited and how the staff will interact with them.

In the early days there will be a new etiquette to navigate and it’s up to the host, guided by suppliers, to lead the way.

A slick maître d’ or event manager will politely ensure protocol is followed in a way that doesn’t stop people having fun. 

Service will look slightly different

JN: Space, and the way that staff can move around within it, should dictate the approach to service. Service staff will need to keep a little more distance, moderating their pace a little to offer food and drinks in a measured and thoughtful way. Professional and charming supervision of the room will be even more important than before.

Covid-19  is a respiratory illness. It is not known to be transmitted by exposure to food or food packaging, so the focus is on person-to-person transmission backed up by maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness in our prep spaces as well as the events space. 

There will be fewer weddings and events abroad in the near future

JR:  However as things get back to normal people will want to celebrate abroad - I personally cannot wait to get back to Venice, or Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica. 

One of Roxburgh's parties at the Dolder Grand hotel in Switzerland

Many people are booking events right now for next year and beyond. We’re being asked to re-book venues and also find new ones that are more suitable to the restrictions, for example those with good outdoor space, multiple rooms and great connectivity and multimedia facilities. 

When is it safe to start planning your wedding?

JR: You should be planning it right now. Small weddings with up to 15 guests are permitted now, but I don’t expect large-scale weddings with hundreds of guests to be happening until 2021.

There are of course many variables to consider and it’s important not to get too hung up on a venue or date as no-one really knows when a vaccine will be widely available.

There are, however, some fixed elements that you can be sure of, such as the style of the wedding, general location and fun factor. We tend to be more creative in times of crisis and you should make sure you channel those creative ideas into your wedding.

An Istanbul wedding designed by Roxburgh

You should consider splitting your wedding into different parts so that different groups of people in your life can enjoy them safely. For example, having older relatives and close family to the blessing or ceremony, colleagues and wider family to the meal and close friends to the party.

Guests can dial into the other parts of the day with video capability so that they still feel part of it and can witness the special occasion but no-one is being put at undue risk. 

Filming events has always been important to me as well. Using a high-quality filmmaker will become a non-negotiable, so that everyone can soak up the emotion and atmosphere of the day whether they were present or not.

We can continue to celebrate in the meantime

JR: Right now I think that we need to celebrate personal milestones with our immediate households and friends and families using video conferencing. It’s so important that we don’t fall out of the habit of celebrating life’s special moments. 

Make a fuss of your birthday, cook together, dress up, light candles and make the table look extra good for dinner (I still light candles every night). Light a small safe fire to have drinks around in your garden if you are lucky enough to have one, so that it feels different to every other night. Help neighbours who are alone to feel less isolated - even if it’s just a Martini over the fence.

Once restrictions ease there will be a huge demand for celebrations

As soon as restrictions ease there will be a huge demand for celebrations. Parties should be enormous fun, clever and tasteful. They will be focused on the joy of togetherness, friendship and love for just being able to see the smiles and laughter on the faces you have missed so much.

When we can party again, we’ll be partying hard. As soon as it’s safe to do so, the world will want to celebrate, so all those postponed weddings, birthdays, bar and bat mitzvahs will come in a huge rush.​

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