Mary Giuliani—caterer to the likes of the Rolling Stones and Oprah, and pal to our gal Rach—answers your entertaining questions so you can host like a pro in any circumstances, even quarantine.

shot of table with individual snack bags, drinks, and splatter napkins
For a safe small-scale hosting, offer ready-to-grab bites and drinks.
| Credit: Photography by Christopher Testani

I want to be sure my guests are well-fed during socially distant visits, but how can I safely serve food and drinks?

These days, safety means you want fewer hands touching the food and fewer faces hovering over it. So we've started placing our beloved mini grilled cheese sandwiches in little pizza boxes, and hot dogs and hamburgers in foil bags. Lots of things can go into individual bags or preportioned cartons, like popcorn, party mixes, nuts, and dessert. You'll need a bit more prep time than usual, but hey, we have nothing but time right now!

Is it safer to use disposable utensils, plates, and glasses or should I just wash the heck out of the real stuff?

If you are sharing an outdoor meal with more than 10 people, I recommend biodegradable disposables (I love Leafware). If you're comfortable with your guests and want to use your regular dishware, I suggest leaving out one big bin or bucket where everyone can place their used servingware. Then, at the end of the night, drink up, glove up, and wash, wash, wash.

I struggle with making a virtual “party” feel personal and intimate. How do I throw a Zoom bash that’s entertaining and free-flowing but still organized?

Last year, like so many small businesses, my catering company came to a screeching halt. Since we could no longer gather and no one was comfortable eating from communal trays, I had to reinvent what catering and home entertaining meant in this new virtual world. Thus, the birth of the "party box." The first one I sent out was for my daughter Gala's fifth birthday. Guests received a Zoom invite, and a few days later I mailed a party box to each one filled with hats, confetti, and ingredients for a mug cake, complete with candle. This allowed us to share a fun moment and brought the party to life.

A few rules for a successful Zoom party include scheduling shorter times (no more than one hour!); having the host serve as moderator to avoid everyone talking over each other; and including one shared celebratory moment. It can be the lighting of a birthday candle with a collaborative song, a toast when everyone's cocktail is perfectly shaken, or, my personal favorite Zoom-gathering finale, turning down the lights, turning up the music, and sharing one big joyful dance party. 

Until warm weather and outdoor parties resume, how do I maximize my space for a small get-together?

Maybe...don't? Listen, no one is craving a shindig more than I am, but if we can all wait a little longer, we can party our masks off! Until then, I suggest you use your creativity and consider taking the festivities outside. That's what portable propane heaters were made for. You're talking to the queen of unique and inspired outdoor gatherings—I've turned garages into discos and thrown parties at the bottom of empty swimming pools. (Yes, you read that correctly.) In one of my greatest hits, I hid my dining table in the woods and when my guests arrived, I handed each one a flashlight and a cocktail and said, "Find the table." In good times, I urge my clients to take the dinner out of the dining room. That way, even when everyone's masked up and squirting on hand sanitizer, you create a moment.

What if you invite someone to a small in-person gathering who doesn’t want to wear a mask indoors?

You wrap up a few pieces of cheese from the platter and send them packing! I find that these days, the more information you can share prior to guests arriving, the better. Being clear about guest lists, whether the party is indoors or outdoors, and mask requirements allows your dearests to decide what they're comfortable with. If they know the rules in advance, they will either get on board or gracefully decline. Sadly, you'll always have rebels (especially if you've liberally spiked the punch), but don't be shy about calling out a party foul for the safety of your other guests and, if you have to, sending the offender on their way.

This article originally appeared in our Winter/Spring 2021 issue. Get the magazine here.