9 Rules to Follow for a Safe (Even Fun!) Backyard Barbecue

Yes, it’s possible to still have fun this summer. Experts share their best tips for socially-distanced backyard gatherings.

This summer, backyard barbecues are getting a lot more complicated. Deciding whether or not to add meatless burgers or some tasty mocktails to the list is right up there with figuring out how to maintain six feet of distance between your guests. So, no communal cooler, no après-meal games and… absolutely no fun? Not necessarily.

First, the good news: Most of Canada is now in some stage of opening up post-lockdown. This means social gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed, but there are still guidelines in place to stay as safe as possible. As the host, you have the obligation to set the tone and expectations for gathering.

We talked to experts about how to keep your backyard gatherings safe, without killing all the fun. Here’s what you need to know:

Make sure there’s enough space available

Outside is definitely the way to go, says Vinita Dubey, MD, Toronto Public Health spokesperson and Associate Medical Officer of Health. If there’s not enough space for social distancing in your backyard, pick a park as a meeting place. “Make sure that the seating, even before the guests arrive, is separated by 6 feet,” says Ali Raja, executive vice chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. In a park, Raja suggests laying out blankets to give people designated places to sit.

Set expectations right away, so there’s no guessing

“If you’re not wearing a mask or gloves when you serve the food, one of two things is going to happen,” says Raja. “Either your guests are going to become lax in their practice, or your guests are going to turn around and leave.”

Back away from the buffet

Potluck and buffet-style gatherings are not recommended. Instead, prepare the food on each plate and have each guest, one by one, pick up a plate for contactless serving, says Dubey. If you feel the need to have a communal place for people to get more food or toppings for their burgers, avoid having shared serving utensils, and have hand sanitizer for guests to use before and after touching shared items, says Raja.

Use disposable dishes

Raja wouldn’t normally recommend disposables because of the environmental ramifications, but this year is different. Washing reusable dishes can expose you to unnecessary risk, he says. It also helps to place a few trash cans in different areas in your backyard to minimize the risk of guests congregating at the bins.

Have your guests BYOD (Bring Your Own Drinks)

“Ideally, you want people to have individual drink containers,” says Raja. Refrain from having a communal cooler, where people have to dig to find what they’re looking for. Not possible? Have hand sanitizer available for guests to use before and after.

How to handle the washroom

In a perfect world, everyone holds it until they are home. But if someone can’t, you can ask them to wear a mask, go straight to the washroom and come right back out, without touching anything unnecessarily (and make sure you disinfect it before the gathering). Raja suggests having hand sanitizer for guests to use right before they enter your home, and plenty of soap in the washroom for them to use afterwards. When the gathering is over, clean the washroom. “Surfaces that are frequently touched can be wiped with a disinfectant,” says Dubey.

What to play

“If games are played, it is important that physical distancing is maintained,” says Dubey. “If balls or items that are touched are used, then washing hands before and after their use will also be important.”

Can guests swim?

“At this time, there is no evidence that COVID-19 spreads in the water,” says Dubey. If your pool is large enough to allow for physical distancing, it’s safe to invite guests in for a dip.

Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize, and yes, wear your mask

Dubey and Raja both agree that the most important barbecue essential is hand sanitizer. Put bottles in multiple locations, including at the entrance. Raja also recommends wearing masks. “I know it doesn’t make for the greatest socialization, but we’ve all been wearing masks for long enough now that I think we’ve learned how to communicate effectively using visual clues and using our eyes.”

Next, learn how to have a staycation in quarantine.