When I realized my two favorite summer pastimes would be void of participation in 2020, I began to think about possible solutions. Surely, I don’t need a project to keep me busy, but I can’t imaging cozying up to an asphalt parking lot with a group of friends to enjoy a couple of bottles of Château Monbousquet St.–Emilion 2015, and a feast of farm-fresh produce complemented by freu de mere from local waters.
Compounding my distress is to know the evening entertainment would be passing traffic and the noise it creates. The thought of these essential social activities being reduced to a carnival atmosphere has placed a damper on my enthusiasm for summer dining.
Understand, I don’t blame restauranteurs; my heart goes out to all of them, they’ve had their livelihoods ripped away. I’ve watched them besieged with the ineffective option of providing takeout orders, only to be handcuffed by this next phase of opening. Restaurants are being forced to provide a safe environment while attempting to salvage their businesses with a substantially reduced volume of sales.
For many restaurants, adhering to these new restrictions isn’t a choice; it is a painful necessity, less they close their doors forever.
After careful consideration, the desire to extend a life-ring to independent chefs and kitchens, and plant a seed in the minds of consumers, I offer a viable alternative to the less than attractive option of “parking lot dining.”
Looking back over the last couple of years, I realized my most memorable experiences of combining food and friends came from the times I attended large dinner parties—primarily—when held outside under the stars. These incredible al fresco dinners consisted of 10 to 12 people—some included old-friends, others with new acquaintances. Each lasted a minimum of three hours, included a cocktail reception with light appetizers and multiple courses. A special dessert was often the highlight of the evening.
Photo by Brooke Lark
Lights were set high above the table; soft music played in the background, and servers delivered a customized menu to our delight. Wine and Champagne freely poured as well, stimulating conversations; it was always a struggle to leave.
These events were held at private homes, although a few took place at historic Inns, which specialized in private affairs. Some were sponsored, others promoted a cause, and a few happened to be from social networks celebrating the season.
I recall the secret which made these dinners a success; the event locations were stunning, and their themes nicely designed. Usually sophisticated, table settings included linen, candlelight, and crystal. Guests were smartly—but comfortably—dressed, as were the servers—who had been wisely trained and had measurable experience in fine dining. This combination of factors made each dinner a grand affair.
With this in mind, I realized the salvation for those in food service could very well be a shift to luxury catering. This in-demand service could provide; appropriate tableware, portable ovens, and grills (although the use of a home’s kitchen comes in handy), and the knowledge their staff would jump at this opportunity because the payout is generally higher and a tip is guaranteed.
Now, this is not to be confused with large-scale events where people rush back and forth with the goal of cook-serve-clean-leave; no, this type of dining is where the ease and relaxation of going out are brought to your home.
Adding to all guest’s safety is less exposure to the public, distancing can be organized through seating arrangements, the menu is preplanned, and you’re able to control the size of the group (less is better).
Controls can be put into place by lessening exposure to the staff through their use of PPE, and while eating outdoors, the evening air will move any vaporized organisms that might arrive unannounced.
As for the issue of payment, it can be arranged before the event, and clean up is efficiently handled by the provider.
By my calculations, if 5-6 couples host an equal number of soirees over a few months, each would effectively be responsible for a single event, with all remaining dinners complimentary. But what makes this arrangement unique, is the variety and creativity of each dinner. With so many choices, each themed event will build lasting friendships, memories, and are never dull—believe me when I tell you this.
The concept isn’t for everyone, although it functions quite effectively, even when modified. Its basis is to control the dining experience through locations where you feel safe while lessening exposure to public spaces.
This creative form of dining isn’t revolutionary; many friends and family have attended these types of affairs over the years. My purpose of re-introducing the notion of at-home entertaining is so more people will consider helping their local business community and heighten their summer fun.