Help! I've Forgotten How to Plan a Gathering

"Should I put an end time on the invite?" "Can I make my holiday gathering vax-only?” and other hosting questions, answered by an expert.

October 20, 2021
Photo by Alex Testere

Should you ask your guests to bring something? How do you keep people out of the kitchen? How do you serve everything at the right temp? Feel like you've forgotten how to be a good host? (Same.) In our latest series, Be My Guest, a friendly expert takes on questions from our community and deftly puts fears to rest, suggesting all the ways in which we can all get back to hosting safely—and confidently. It is (almost) the holidays after all!

If you’re anything like me, you’ve had a handful of parties on hold for anywhere from six to 18 months. (I’ve never been one to whimper at the prospect of aging, but I still maintain that I haven’t turned 32 yet, since the corresponding celebration hasn’t happened.) Some of us have spent hours—days! weeks!—of the pandemic daydreaming about little bowls of Ruffles potato chips set about the apartment, halls decked with mistletoe, Lambrusco in ice buckets, dance party playlists, and long tables lit with tall candles that cast a glow on the unmasked faces we love best.

As vaccinated numbers rise, many of us are cautiously throwing parties again. I’m still not ready to throw that 200-person birthday rager that I cancelled in March 2020—the extension is keeping me young, after all—but I’ve got a tentative date for a toned-down return of my annual holiday party, and am back to hosting dinners for small groups of friends at the new dinner table I scored on Craigslist while in lockdown redecoration frenzy. This means necessarily dusting off my favorite serveware, digging out my placemats from the crevices of my linen closet, and—perhaps the most creaky resurrection of them all—remembering how to throw a party in the first place.

In a way, it’s like riding a bike: you invite your friends over, put something in the oven, dress yourself the way a famished person eats (with excess and gusto), make a playlist, and eventually a party will happen. But it’s still easy for many of us to feel rusty at this whole hosting business, especially as the capital-H Holidays approach. So today I’m taking some questions from our community (i.e. you, dear readers) on party prep, in hopes that we can all feel a little more confident and breezy when that first doorbell chimes.

Do you ask guests (who ask) to bring something specific (bottle of white or pie for dessert) or no?

I am going to let you in on a little secret here. People love being told what to do. Especially now, when we all feel that we’ve lost our social graces—maybe they’re off somewhere hanging out with the five hundred hair ties we’ve also lost over the last ten years. Sure, not every person falls into this category, but I promise you that if there’s something you’d like your guests to bring, they’d be happy to bring it. They’re probably wondering what they can bring anyway; isn’t it the act of a gracious host, then, to rid them of any worry and simply provide them with the correct answer?

Of course, your requests need to be reasonable. If you’re looking for a 1996 bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, don’t pass off the search onto your friends, unless one of them happens to be an upscale wine importer. Don’t ask your friend who is still on unemployment to pick up a tin of caviar. Don’t ask your teetotaler aunt to grab a handle of vodka from the store. Be specific when you can—”a bottle of [insert commonly found wine style here]” or “a case of plain seltzer” or “two bags of plain Ruffles potato chips” are totally acceptable requests. Just give your guests plenty of time to shop (no requests an hour before the party unless it’s your bestie). And be just as honest if you don’t need them to bring anything! You’ll save your friends the time of picking up something unnecessary, and give them the ultimate luxury: the gift of hospitality, with no strings attached.

How do I make my party “vaccinated folks only” without hurting anyone’s feelings? Is that possible?

As a host, it is your job to decide when to defer to others, and when to be firm on your priorities. Yes, everyone must leave their shoes at the door; sure, the kids can run anywhere except the dining room; yes, we’ll add a place setting for the girl Rebecca moved in with after going on a single date; no, you may not touch the Spotify queue.

When it comes to enforcing vaccinations, an act that protects not just you and your guests but also their families, their coworkers, and the people who work at their local grocery store, you’re allowed to make the call, firmly and lovingly.

This turns the question, then, into a matter of how you put your foot down, and what you say once it’s there. How easy this is will depend on the type of party that you’re throwing. If you’re hosting a birthday party or dinner or happy hour, anything that’s just a gathering of friends, it’s absolutely appropriate to add a line in your invitation, italicized so that everyone can see it, saying In order to keep us all safe, please only attend if you’re vaccinated. It’s simple, it communicates to your guests that you care about their health and the health of their community, and it’s impossible to miss. Of course, it’s up to you whether you’ll actually be checking people’s vaccine cards by the door—if you’re really worried, feel free to ask that people email or text you a photo of theirs with their RSVP.

You have other options, too: you can ask that people be vaccinated, but operate on the honor system and not require proof; you can also simply ask people to get tested a few days before the gathering. These actions can make both you and your guests feel more comfortable—and after all, isn’t that what a host does?

Now, maybe you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner for your extended family, and you’re worried that a certain uncle or cousin has not yet made the decision to get the vaccine. In this case, your communication and logistical strategy may have to shift. Maybe you can underline the presence of unvaccinated children, whom everyone will want to protect; maybe you can remind your guests that you’re particularly interested in keeping your oldest or most at-risked loved ones safe; maybe you can set up an outdoor dining area, or simply ask that they wear a mask inside. Being firm isn’t always fun, but it’s a decision you can feel proud of.

Do you put an end time on an invite? I'm never quite sure.

This practice is only appropriate in the following scenarios:

1. You are hosting a children’s birthday party
2. You have rented a venue for a finite number of hours
3. There’s a second party to go to after yours

Otherwise, we’re all adults here, which means that we are capable of staying up a little later than our bedtimes in service of a good party, and we’re tactful enough to subtly let people know when it’s time to go home. (We’ll get to that in an upcoming installment, so stay tuned!) Just whatever you do, under no circumstances, and not even as a joke, should you ever tell people that your party goes until “question mark”. Intrigue is the whole point of a party; attempting to highlight that intrigue is like reminding each of your guests that you’re wearing underwear.

What are some of your biggest conundrums when planning a gathering? Share them with us in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Cookease
  • patricia gadsby
    patricia gadsby
  • Barbara
  • Mainer
  • hikate
Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



Cookease March 29, 2023
Case is CLOSED
Legitimate scientific studies by eminent physicians have confirmed that neither the “injection” nor the masks have any value in preventing transmission of virus.
Science is a wonderful way to settle scientific questions by lay people.
patricia G. November 14, 2022
This conversation is getting out of hand, don't you think Food 52 editors?
Barbara January 19, 2022
Mainer January 19, 2022
Yeah, well, I’m also a deli clerk at a major supermarket in the tristate area and a number of people who went maskless here came down with Covid d and at least one young man is struggling with long Covid. He now wears a mask. On those days he is able to work.
Mainer January 19, 2022
@Barabar Huh, that’s not what my nephew, who is a physician doing his Emergency Room residency at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit is finding. In fact the opposite. I’m going with his advice rather than yours, given our family ties, his 4.0 gpa at Princeton, and the Medical school training and all. Plus all those unvaccinated dead people in the morgues.
Barbara January 19, 2022
You need to listen to different sources for your info ( a doc in ER ISNT THE 30,000 ft view)…in Israel it’s the vaxed who are clogging the hospitals…the docs have been misled by all the official sources..CDC, FDA, ….WHO is now coming around…CEO of Pfizer admits jab doesn’t the last.
Considering the drug was never studied, how could anyone ever say one the drug would help from getting sicker when there’s no data at all? Fauci has always been unethical…knew about the cheap gender drugs and buried them…Since when does a politician dictate to a doc that he cannot use an FDA approved drug ( NOT the jab) as they have written off label forever?Being a Princeton grad says nothing other than they are liberal and have probably drunk the kool aid. Bottom line, the test does not differentiate which virus one has…funny that influenza just completely disappeared last year… try listening to the world renowned physicians who support what I said…especially Dr Malone ( who invented mRNA technology).
All this for a virus that has a 99.9+% survival rate when treated properly? Flu was NEVER that good. I truly wish you and all who have believed this propaganda well…you did what you thought best at the time.
The sham is coming unglued…Fauci is a known liar…hopefully the insult to the immune system isn’t as bad as some fear.
Barbara January 19, 2022
Now that the masks have proven worthless ( multiple peer reviewed studies), early hydroxycholoroquin and ivermectin treatment studies prove they are valuable in treatment, and the vax that so many were scared into getting has proven it does not protect against getting Covid, does not reduce symptoms and has questionable effects on a healthy immune system, maybe it’s time to invite EVERYONE and forget the phony “science”. I wish you all well as we get back to living.
Barbara December 3, 2021
Current drug used to vax is NOT FDA approved:
Why take a drug that only is “protective???” for a few months …especially when the vaxed are now having MORE cases of Covid than non vaxed?
Mainer November 2, 2021
Thanks for adding the mention of protecting others including “people who work at your local grocery store”. As a grocery store worker we’ve taken a lot of .... during the pandemic while turning up to work every day and keeping the food you eat safe to eat. No one ever says thank you and we all have faced actual threats. (I work in a grocery store deli where there is plenty of face time with the maskless...) So thank you for the mention.
Barbara October 31, 2021
I suggest you read the October 2021 Lancet article stating Covid can be transmitted by fully vaccinated people at home…this is a peer reviewed study….
Thinking vaccination protects from getting or spreading Covid is not scientifically accurate.
Adrienne October 31, 2021
Could you please link it?
Mainer November 2, 2021
Yes but they don’t die a horrible death. Certainly not at the same rate as unvaccinated.
Barbara November 2, 2021
The key to treating any virus is getting it EARLY. Having the vax does not mean anything about the severity of illness…General Powell ( and many many more) were double vaxed and he died.
Treating non vaxed as pariah shows one need to do some more research.
Susan N. November 14, 2021
Unfortunately, General Powell had multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells that suppresses the body's immune response. Even if fully vaccinated, those who are immunocompromised (like my husband) are at greater risk from the virus. Maybe you need to do more research?
Barbara November 14, 2021
I was being polite…you are in need of some true scientific research.
Those who have had Covid have natural immunities…heard one eminent scientist suggest there’s less than a 1% chance those people will ever get it again. Those who got vaxed can get and give Covid…hmm, that’s not true of a real vaccine..which this is not. If you listen to the medical people on the front lines, there are far more hospitalized people who got vaxed than the other way around. It’s a personal choice, however if you listen to many of the true experts ( like the doc who invented the mRNA technology) who say not to get the shot. How many people have to have immediate life threatening reactions, or death, immediately following the injection for it to be coincidence…BTW, the Red Cross has stated they do not want blood donations from vaxed people…hmmm…and where are they going to get blood for those critically ill who need transfusions in the future?
Please respect those who haven’t drunk the kool aid…we are not the threat…. I hope that those who decided to get vaxed live a long and happy life…
Jgatts November 15, 2021

Barbara November 15, 2021
I suggest you find the article below. It documents that the HIGHEST levels of Covid are in the countries where the highest number of people have been vaxed…

Pandemic of the Vaccinated

Patricia Adams
Lawrence Solomon

November 6, 2021 Updated: November 8, 2021 biggersmaller Print
Barbara November 15, 2021
Thanks …good to know…
However, check out

This documents that the highest percentage of people vaxed coincides with the highest number of double vaxed people who got covid

Pandemic of the Vaccinated
Patricia Adams
Lawrence Solomon

November 6, 2021 Updated: November 8, 2021 biggersmaller
Abreezy5 November 17, 2021
Not true. "Vaccinated " individuals should be protected. If so why would you be worried if you are?
Barbara November 17, 2021
I am not the least bit worried. If you got the vax, WHY should you be special and be “protected” …I got the polio vaccine YEARS ago, and I am still protected. The facts suggest that those who chose to be vaxed actually didn’t get any long term benefit..you can still get Covid and spread Covid.…yet those of us who made a personal informed decision not to get a drug (that is STILL not FDA approved and considered experimental) are chastised?.
Why the concern about a virus where 99+% survive vs the flu which typically cost 80k lives and could be lethal to both elderly, compromised and CHILDREN TOO. Where was your concern then?The vax is so useless that now they are pushing a booster in less than a year…which logically means it was a big medical chance and a waste of effort. If you can read the statistics, the countries with the highest percentages of vaxed have the highest number of Covid patients…and poor countries who could only afford ivermectin are doing very well… Apparently their governance was apparently truly concerned about their citizens unlike here.
BTW, whatever happened to HIPPA and MY BODY, MY CHOICE? There is medical evidence that being around vaxed people is NOT healthy for the unvaxed. When politicians start dictating to physicians what FDA approved drugs they can use it shows this is more political than medical. Frightened people tend to do as they are told in lieu of thinking for themselves…. I am 74, have had Covid, therefore have natural immunity ( the BEST option) and the politicians still want me to have a dangerous injection..WHY? It certainly isn’t because the politicians are concerned about me or my health.
I truly wish you luck, good health and no long term side effects as a result of your personal choice while many others made a different personal choice. BOTH should be respected…
Jgatts November 17, 2021

More research
Barbara November 18, 2021
Excuse me, for the technicality, however FDA approval should not give anyone solace. Do you realize how many FDA drugs are withdrawn or acquire a black ox warning AFTER drugs have been found to be harmful? Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts Pfizer Expands Voluntary Nationwide Recall to include All Lots of CHANTIX® (Varenicline) Tablets Due to N-Nitroso Varenicline Content… My goodness…that’s a PFIZER product too! Maybe you need to do some research and realize that whistle blowers have come forward to say the data was FUDGED! Funny, the head of Pfizer played revolving doors as he came from the FDA!
Our institutions have been corrupted for political purposes. Physicians have been threatened for speaking out. There’s a major lawsuit on CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY being brought forth in international arena…
Having been a Pharma rep for over 30 years, I know that the normal safe course for drug approval takes YEARS…there is no possible way ANYONE knows what the long term effects are…and after time many REPORTED adverse events are noted and drugs are withdrawn from the market. Of course, when politically motivated those facts about this vax(drug) somehow don’t make it to mainstream media. Bottom line, the inventor of this mRNA technology advises AGAINST use of this drug.
Anyone who has taken this drug can do nothing to change that fact, however acting as though those who chose a different path are DANGEROUS is a bit condescending.
As I mentioned, there are adverse event reports about side effects to unvaxed when in contact with vaxed… that being said I don’t choose my friends on this.
I hope those who chose the opposite route have no repercussions …as you couldn’t possibly have ALL the necessary information to make a truly educated choice.
Barbara November 18, 2021
Waiting 55 years for this data is more than troublesome.

FDA Asks Court for 55 Years to Fully Release Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Data
By Ivan Pentchoukov
jane January 19, 2022
Please read this correct information from the Red Cross concerning blood donations from those people who have received the Covid vaccine. They are accepting donations from "vaxed" people.
hikate October 21, 2021
I recently hosted (Canadian) Friendsgiving and the invitation stated, "The only rules are all are welcome and vaccines all around". But found out a close friend's wife is unvaccinated so I simply said to him, "Sorry, I have to rescind" and he was gracious and understanding. It's completely fair to put it in the invite and stay firm. Also, for COVID-consent you need to warn people if an exception will be made (ie; unvaccinated children attending).
Arati M. October 22, 2021
Thanks for sharing this! Being polite and gracious (and firm, if needed) is the best way to navigate this.
Abreezy5 November 17, 2021
That's so sad. Are you really being gracious or infected by propaganda? If you're vaccinated why would you be worried about being "infected?"
Liz October 20, 2021
I think I will throw a party for unvaccinated people only, requesting all others excuse themselves as their worldviews could be shattered during said gathering of non-conformists. Be kind, do segregate yourselves...
Barbara October 31, 2021