Backyard Happy Hour

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As the area has gone from red to yellow to green, guidelines remain in place for social distancing. Small outdoor gatherings remain the norm, and people are taking precautions with sharing food and drink.

Some suggest a “BYO” format, where guests simply provide their own refreshments and the host provides the space and the music. But for many, self included, the offer of food to guests is non-negotiable; it’s cultural, it’s community, it’s bonding.

But it is essential to do so safely.

Before the world changed with COVID-19, no happy hour, backyard or otherwise, was complete without an assortment of dips — hummus, guacamole, baba ganoush, onion dip, salsa. These provide a fun, festive way to share a nosh. But in this day and age, few prudent partakers are digging into a shared bowl of hummus with friends outside of “their bubble.” That doesn’t mean no entertaining or interacting: It just means a little adjustment on the part of the host.

I have been asked repeatedly over the last few weeks for suggestions on appetizers for distance socializing.

The following are a few ideas for a happy hour in the back yard that consider social distancing protocols. Optimal serving would create a dish for each household, perhaps in combination with trays of some of the following items:

No more communal bowls! Use individual cups instead. Buy small disposable cups, or use teacups or ramekins.

  • Dip cups: Place a scoop of the dip of your choice in the bottom of the cup, and fill the cup with “dippers” — carrots or other stalk-shaped vegetables work well here. If you are using chips or crackers, choose elongated shapes for optimal fit in the cup.
  • Snack cups of nuts, pretzels, chips, etc.

“Kebab” bites: toothpicks or skewers, if placed spaced apart on a tray, can provide a slick and convenient way to serve appetizers. Guests simply grab the skewer and move on; no touching other items on the tray! Consider the following combos:

  • Tomato/basil leaf/mozzarella ball
  • Cube of watermelon/cube of feta/mint leaf
  • Pitted olive/cube of parmesan cheese
  • Smoked turkey/date

Finger sandwiches: Think along the same lines as the kebab bites — if spaced properly, this “grab and go” option is easy to eat and delivers some substance if the cocktails are flowing. These should all be cut in quarters so they are of manageable size to eat with one hand. Filling should be on the thin side and very contained; no sloppy joes or overstuffed “specials” here!

  • Tuna salad on rye
  • Lox, cream cheese and fresh dill on pumpernickel
  • Thinly sliced sharp cheddar with grainy mustard and sliced pickles on country wheat
  • Cucumber and Alouette cheese (herbed, spreadable cheese) on white
  • Grilled eggplant and olive tapenade on pita

Remember, you can still gather and socialize; it just has to be done safely!


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