How to plan a safe outdoor event

As Ontario and beyond begins to reopen, events are starting to make a slow and steady comeback. They are beginning small with intimate weddings and social gatherings, but planners across the nation are gearing up for the return of bigger things to come. At this time, with the beautiful summer weather upon us, having an outdoor event is the best way to bring people together. Here’s how to do it safely!

Know and adhere to your local COVID-19 restrictions

Before any other consideration is given, the first thing you need to check is if outdoor gatherings are allowed in your region, and if so, what the restrictions are for the type of event you are planning. At the time of writing, the outdoor gathering limit is Ontario is 10 people, including outdoor wedding receptions. At both ceremonies and receptions, physical distancing must be practiced when interacting with people outside of a household. As the province moves into future phases, these limits will increase. As a planner, it will be your job to ensure that you have backup plans for your event that adhere to all different stages of reopening.

Make distancing easy

A picnic table with lanterns and place settings

If you’ve been outside of your house at all since the beginning of the pandemic, you know that physical distancing can be a challenge, even when everyone is trying their best. Walkways are narrow, people want to have conversations. So how do you get people to stay two meters apart and still give them an event experience? The key is to make distancing easy and comfortable. Pre-set your event space with seating based on the guest list and the number in their party. Provide a table and seats with cushions for each household and decorate them with flowers and fancy place cards. You can even map out safe walkways to and from the washroom or refreshment area using signage or attractive fencing so guests won’t end up encroaching on each other’s space while trying to navigate the event. Be sure to also invest in a good sound system if the event involves speeches. This will allow everyone to hear clearly even if they are far away from the person speaking, or if there is any noise interference from being outside.

Get creative with catering

As we’ve mentioned before, guests in 2021 are going to be focused on hygiene and sustainability when it comes to their meals. There may be a day when we see the return of the all-you-can-eat buffet, but it’s not in the immediate future. Currently, guests feel most comfortable with prepackaged meals, or plated service. The fewer people who have had the opportunity to breathe on their meal, the better. Prepackaged meals, though very convenient, bring up the question of how much waste are you willing to have your event produce? Look into opportunities to use recyclable or compostable materials for these meals. If it’s in the budget, and your group is small, you could even suggest reusable containers that could double as keepsakes from the event.

An arch made of balloons to look like a rainbow

Host a visually appealing event

Above, we suggested some functional décor choices like flowers and fencing to make social distancing easier. But functionality doesn’t have to – and shouldn’t – be where your décor ends. After so many months without events to go to, guests want an experience they can tell people about, and décor is a huge part of what makes an event memorable. Floral arrangements, nice linens and party favours are just the beginning. What about a selfie wall, marquee signage, and balloon sculptures? With a much smaller guest list than most events in the “before times”, there is probably a least a little bit more budget to play with to make the event worth your guests’ time.

The washroom debacle

Outdoor events come with a unique set of challenges, and one of the major ones is washrooms. If you’re trying to adhere to the previous advice about making your event visually appealing, renting plastic port-a-potties probably isn’t going to fit the bill. While these portable washrooms are no less clean than any other options, it’s all about perception. One way around this is to book outdoor space that is adjacent to a facility with indoor washrooms available. This is where your functional décor comes in to play, helping guests find their way. Make sure to provide masks (disposable or reusable keepsakes, depending on your budget) for guests who may not have brought theirs, and have hand sanitizer and wipes handy for all the surfaces they will have to touch along the way. Above all, make sure to hire someone to be on site and clean the washrooms regularly so that guests feel safe and confident in using the facilities throughout the event.

These are just a few considerations for planning outdoor events, and we’re sure there will be subsequent blogs with even more to delve into. But for now, good luck with your return to events, no matter how small!

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