Ah, football season. Crowded tailgate parties, endless buffets and high fives all around after every touchdown … Oh, right. Guess not.
In this season of COVID-19, tailgating needs to look different. Think spaced-out seating, individually boxed meals and festive gameday masks. Still, such nuances don’t squelch many fans’ desires to gather, eat, drink and cheer.
“People still want to live their lives,” says Ned Shadid, owner of Ned’s Catering, who manages a 6,000-person tailgate every Oklahoma State home game. “Not every person will choose to take the same precautions. The most important thing is that you and your guests are safe and comfortable.”
This season, Shadid and other food service professionals are rethinking their food set-up and service to keep employees and party-goers as safe as possible. If you’re planning to tailgate with friends and family, consider adopting some of these industry precautions for the wellbeing of all.
First Line of Defense: Temperature Checks
Like at hospitals and highly trafficked buildings, you’re checking for the CDC standard: a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher.
“I temp myself and my staff every day,” Shadid says. “I also ask about symptoms. If you aren’t well, you aren’t working.”
Kris Abbey, owner of Abbey Road Catering in Norman, said her team wears masks and implements a color-coded glove system (washing hands between glove changes) to track how food is being served and handled.
“Safety has always been key in the kitchen – you have to be safe when handling things like raw chicken or eggs – but now we’re having to extend it to waitstaff,” Abbey says.
Don’t forget the wipes and sanitizers. Tables should be wiped between seated groups. Abbey recommends a product called Rena for hands.
Keep the Touches Down
To limit contact between guests, Shadid says “cafeteria-style” service is preferable to self-serve buffets and large fruit and cheese platters.
Abbey recommends a boxed lunch approach – just remember that cold items can’t sit at room temperature more than four hours. You could also arrange a variety of pre-packaged snacks at each table, replacing large chip bowls.
“Things are moving to individual packages of pre-portioned, pre-plated meals – a grab-and-go set up – or have someone serving so that you only have one person touching that handle versus 50 people coming through the buffet line,” Abbey says.
Take a Timeout
Planning is key to hosting a winning tailgate party. Take the time to plan. Think through logistics. Ensure safety at every turn. And have patience with the food service, whether it’s you serving or someone else.
“We have to slow down and be very methodical and cautious when we’re serving,” Abbey says. “It takes a lot of prework to execute an event flawlessly – and a lot of people to make it happen behind the scenes.”
“It all goes into planning,” Shadid says. “That’s part of the challenge; that’s what makes it exciting.”
Here’s to your health and a safe tailgating season – and may the best team win.