Lockdown is easing just as we get into summer. For those in England, we will be able to meet in groups of six outside, including in private gardens, from Monday. Which means one thing: barbecue! But... with everyone staying two metres apart.
How will that work? What do you need to consider before opening your front door to others? And what happens about the loo? Read on for our unofficial guide...
Stage One: Saying hello
Everyone has done it: you put out your hand to shake, but they go for a hug and your hand is squashed between you, every muscle tensed to make sure your fingers don’t accidentally skim a boob. Humiliating. (Of course, it’s hilarious when it happens to someone else: when we were just out of school, a friend of mine said goodbye to another friend’s mum. Each tried to kiss the other on the cheek, but they fudged it and ended up kissing on the lips. Brilliantly entertaining.)
Anyway, no need to worry about such front-door faux pas in the new age of coronavirus, where there's a strict no touching rule in place. It's overzealous waves all round, then.
- If you’re a host: Open the door, say hello and stand back, so the message of “don’t approach” is clear.
- If you’re a guest: Hold onto the bottle of plonk you’ve brought, and say you’ll put it down when you get to the garden.
Stage Two: Getting a drink
Social distancing is a terrific excuse for keeping all the booze you’ve brought to yourself. The government says you need to be very careful about passing glasses and crockery between each other, as this could spread the virus.
As a host, you could demand everyone brings their own beers, which will save you a lot of money; and as a guest, you can splurge on something nice, knowing you’ll get to finish it yourself. Win-win.
- If you’re a host: Thoroughly clean all glasses before handing them out. Leave people to get their own drinks and don’t pass them around.
- If you’re a guest: Bring a good stash, so there’s at least something left at the end as a thank-you and you look thoughtful.
Stage Three: Going to the loo
You are now allowed to use the facilities at another person’s house. But this is effluence like you’ve never done it before: you must “wipe everything down” after use, and wash your hands “all the way through” the process. Yes, this is rather a break from normal etiquette - usually guests aren’t asked to clean the lavatory at a barbecue. But these are not normal times.
Rather than getting out the cream cleaner and Marigolds, you should get away with a (thorough) antiseptic wipe of the taps and flush.
- If you’re a host: Explain how it’s going to happen before guests arrive. No-one will appreciate unexpectedly having to bleach your loo.
- If you’re a guest: Use the cleaning as an excuse to cover up longer toilet trips. And wash your blinking hands afterwards.
Stage Four: Eating
The government is recommending you don’t touch crockery or cutlery that other people will use with unwashed hands, so if you’re hosting, wash your hands before carrying out the plates.
It’s probably best that the food is served by one person, instead of multiple hands touching tongs and spoons, so make up the plates to order and leave on the side, for people to pick up one by one. It’s weird, yes, but at least with only six people everyone will be spared having to queue at the barbecue buffet. Also, no one has to worry about a child putting their hands in the potato salad.
- If you’re a host: Ask everyone to go inside one-by-one to wash their hands before you bring the food out.
- If you’re a guest: Bring hand cream. Your hands will be very dry after all this washing.
Stage Five: The afternoon lull
If you have children with you, this is the point of the day where things might get hard(er). There’s no food to eat, and climbing frames and paddling pools are banned, as is any activity that gets them within two metres of each other. Annoyingly, the rules still apply even when children are bored.
- If you’re a host: Think of some games that could be done safely. Two badminton racquets might come in handy.
- If you’re a guest: Cover your yawns with your hand. Then wash it.
Stage Six: Saying goodbye
By now you’ve had some practice, so it will feel less rude to stand two metres apart and wave goodbye. Unfortunately, with so few things going on, the excuses to leave are thin on the ground. To help you out, I’ve pre-prepared some for you to use: I need to disinfect the dog/my sourdough starter gets lonely if we leave it for too long/I have a Zoom paragliding class this evening.
- If you’re a host: Make sure departing guests don’t touch anything on their way out.
- If you’re a guest: Leave any leftover booze that you’ve brought. It's the polite, and safe, thing to do.
Stage Seven: Tidying up
With only six people, tidy up shouldn’t take too long. But make sure you clean everything thoroughly, and disinfect any surfaces that guests might have touched. This needs to be done before anyone else comes around. And if you're a real stickler for the rules, that won't be for a while: on Thursday, the Prime Minister advised against “seeing people from too many households in quick succession".
- If you’re a host: Don’t overbook your social diary.
- If you’re a guest: Heading straight to another household for evening drinks isn't on. Sorry.