Post-Covid Food Safety

Post-Covid Food Safety: Serving Food to a Socially Distanced Crowd

As restrictions lift, we’re seeing more creativity regarding post-Covid food safety precautions such as sanitizing and social distancing.

Events have gone from being occasions we all anticipate with excitement to being terrifying as potential superspreaders. While this term is not new, superspreader events have become the bane of our existence because of Covid-19. However, we have not seen the end of events.

When it comes to the serving of food at events, precaution is mandatory. Planning how to serve your guests depends on variables like the number of guests, budget, and venue. However, every aspect of your serving, from the menu itself to your catering staff, is essential in this new normal. You have to consider where all these people have been and how they could influence the safety of your guests.

That being said, there are many ways that you can use existing methods of serving food in a way that protects the health of your guests. The two common ways of serving food are essentially buffets or sit-down table service. Within these two strands are many variations to make them more accommodating for social distancing.

Related: 10 Culinary & Catering Terms To Know

Post-Covid Food Safety: Table Service

Table service is generally the choice if you’re staging a formal event, gala, fundraiser, or wedding. No one will say you didn’t make them feel important if you have servers in white gloves serving steaming plates with polite smiles. However, table service does not have to be exorbitant. It can easily be made to fit any kind of budget.

Table service can be family-style – where large plates of different foods are placed at tables for the guests to help themselves. It can also be set before time – the catering staff plates and puts the food at the tables before your guests come into the venue to dine. This method is certainly not recommended during this time. Food is exposed to anything that could be in the air (say, a virus) for a prolonged period. 


If you really want to show off with table service, you could assign a server to every two guests, making sure that everyone receives their food at precisely the same time. This is not entirely unattainable now that events with fewer attendees, even as little as 20, are in vogue.

Here are a few more things that you can consider before you choose a sit-down table service for your event:

Covid-19 Pros of Table Service:

  • Whichever method of table service you choose, you will have servers for your guests. This is great for portion control and uniformity as well as efficiency. Your event timeline will stay on schedule as your service will be fully controlled by your catering staff. 
  • You can ensure airtight safety from infection by having your servers wear masks, gloves, and even screens. You can even ask servers to be tested negative for Covid, thus putting your guests at ease.
  • Covid-19 events have also become riddled with instructions as we all try to remain safe. When you walk into an event, there are signs and instructions on everything: chairs you may not sit on, mandatory sanitizing stations, etc. Table service enables guests to be served, limiting their movement and resulting in fewer instructions to give. You also leave less room for confusion and disorder. Your guests will feel more relaxed.
  • You can also have your speeches or toasts going on while your guests enjoy the food, making your program shorter. This could also enable you to dispel your crowd sooner if your location still has strict curfews.

Covid-19 Cons of Table service:

  • Table service may feel restrictive for some guests, depending on what you include in your menu. By serving uniform plates to your guests, you run the risk of leaving some dissatisfied due to portion sizes. 
  • Covid-19 has also heightened our health awareness, and most people have tightened their dietary restrictions. Therefore you are obliged to inquire about your guests’ dietary requirements. And creating a standardized menu to accommodate all of them. Needless to say, this can be labor-intensive.
  • Traffic could also become a problem with your guests socially distanced. You may require more servers to ensure each guest receives their food individually and on time.

Related: Tips When Planning Live Events After Lockdown

Post-Covid Food Safety: Buffets

A buffet can be the traditional cafeteria-style buffet where guests receive helpings from the catering staff. Or it can be a plated buffet where plates of food are prepared before time and guests can fetch plates from stations of their choice. 

The buffet can be structured as action stations where food is readily prepared by a chef and guests come to receive their serving. Or perhaps a reception service where light finger-bites are put out for the guests to help themselves, usually while on their feet. 

Photo by Troy T

Covid-19 Pros of a Buffet:

  • The flexibility of a buffet allows you to give abundantly to your guests. It also enables guests to choose what is presented to them and control their own food portions.
  • You can also expand your buffet into self-serving stations where you place different food combinations at the various stations. This is also one of those options that are not as formidable during this time because events have drastically reduced their attendees. This method of service could be the perfect way to make an event special for a smaller crowd.
  • You can also increase your stations so that fewer people congregate at each point and tables don’t have to wait too long for their turn to go to the stations. This will enable smooth social distancing and still give your guests freedom to move around, return for refills or rotate stations to try different food combinations.

Covid-19 Cons of a Buffet:

  • In a buffet, you will have the added cost of distributing utensils individually. Unlike a typical buffet, you will not have the convenience of placing plates and utensils at one station. Instead, you may have to individually wrap your utensils to put your guests at ease concerning their safety.
  • A queue is definitely much more challenging to keep social-distanced than seated guests. There might be a need for your catering staff to ensure a safe following distance between guests. This might just leave your event feeling too regimented and strict, taking away from the enjoyment of your guests.
  • Depending on how far your location is with its Covid-19 regulations, a self-service buffet might not be possible. You may have to hire more serving staff and have to take extreme safety precautions for your servers, such as having plexiglass screens at the different stations. Open foods such as sugar, salt, pepper, butter, and cream would also have to be served in individual servings, adding even more to your costs.

The Post-Covid Food Safety Winner

So, while it is evident that a buffet is the most economical way to serve guests with variety and freedom, it can be logistically chaotic. A buffet is less ideal for a socially distanced event. On the other hand, table service is a safer option if you have a manageable number of guests and your menu is diverse. The most important thing to remember when making your choice is to give your guests lots of options and lots of space.

You can loop in the caterer and the venue in ThymeBase’s event planning software and work together with teams.