New Rules: Etiquette for Pandemic Entertaining

pandemic entertaining

The pandemic has done a number on us — our mental health, our psyches, our jobs and even our manners. We spoke with etiquette expert Lisa Grotts to decipher a few clues about how to be a great host — and guest — in today’s weird, where-did-all-the-manners-go, world. 

Lisa Grotts, who served as director of protocol for San Francisco Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr. and authored the manners blog for HuffPost for eight years, says even in this era of social distancing, manners aren’t dead. “There are just a lot of extra rules,” she says. 

Rule number one: Shaking hands is so 2019. When meeting up with people you don’t know, Grotts suggests a substitute greeting, since personal contact isn’t recommended right now — a simple hello, a fist bump, or another gesture both parties feel comfortable with. You can also opt to put your hand over your heart instead of hugging. If you aren’t sure how to proceed, try to gauge the other person’s comfort level by making eye contact first, and then following their nonverbal cues. “If you’re both comfortable shaking hands, go for it,” she says.

Lisa Grotts
Lisa Grotts

When hosting an event, making people feel safe is critical right now. Indoor mask wearing, when not eating or drinking, is something guests have grown accustomed to, but proof of vaccination requests are starting to become more common at events, as well. “It should be fine for a host to ask for proof of vaccination before indoor events,” Grotts says. It’s still a touchy subject, however, so organizers should be clear and respectful when communicating the request. 

Grotts also offers advice to help guests mind their manners. A ringing cellphone is the bane of everyone’s existence, so be mindful of your usage. “Cell phones are natural appendages of our bodies now,” she says, “but in general, if you’re socializing, your phone should not be on.” She recommends using the vibrate setting and, if you’re expecting an important call, let your group know and excuse yourself from the table when it does. In most situations, though, it can wait.

Another rule of thumb when it comes to cell phones: They don’t belong on the table, Grotts says. “Food is the only thing that belongs on the table,” she says. That means keys and masks should also be out of sight. Ditto dirty napkins — if you get up to go to the bathroom, your mask and napkin can be placed on your seat, not on the table.

Grotts final words of wisdom for navigating pandemic entertaining this holiday season? “We’re creating a new culture and adjusting to new rules,” she says. “Common sense is key.”

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Christina MuellerChristina Mueller is a long-time Bay Area food writer. She hails from the East Coast and has spent way too much time in South America and Europe. She discovered her talent as a wordsmith in college and her love of all things epicurean in grad school. She has written for Condé Nast Contract Publishing, Sunset, and the Marin Independent Journal, among others. She volunteers with California State Parks and at her child’s school, and supports the Marin Audubon Society, PEN America, and Planned Parenthood. When she is not drinking wine by a fire, she is known to spend time with her extended family.