The UK’s strict COVID-19 regulations are set to ease gradually, which will give event planners room for more creativity. However, one of the keys to successful events now is social distancing. Rather than treating it as though it’s an intrusive regulation imposed via signs and barriers, planners should strive to organize events in innovative, socially distanced environments.

In this article, we explore 5 basic ways to incorporate social distancing into your event plan, and we’ll look at how various organizers and establishments have implemented those ideas.

1. Inspired By Dinner Theatre

Although dinner theater never completely faded away, its popularity waned. The socially distanced ‘new normal’ is a good reason to look to it for inspiration when planning events. The set-up sees attendees seated in small, distanced groups. In most cases, dinner is served to each group before the show starts, although it’s not unheard of for some dinner theater venues to invite guests to bring their own food or drinks.

A great example of a relatively recent event that used the model innovatively was Cinéma sur l’Eau (Cinema On the Water), which was part of the popular Paris-Plages summer program in Paris, France. The heart of the program is the conversion of part of the bank of the River Seine and the Bassin de la Villette into temporary beaches. On 18 July 2020, the Cinéma sur l’Eau event saw the winners of a city-organized raffle get seats in 38 six-seater boats, from which they watched Gilles Lellouche’s film, Le grand Bain. 150 other guests watched the movie from spaced deckchairs on the riverbank.

2. Live Streaming With A Difference

Restrictions on indoor and outdoor events may be easing, but that doesn’t mean virtual events are a thing of the past. Rather, a year of the pandemic was long enough for us to get used to online events in a way that we hadn’t done before. In some situations, virtual events are preferable, and when that’s the case, they should be done in a way that prevents them from becoming just another Facebook Live video.

A fine example of bringing together a live performance, a completely socially distanced audience, and a quirky element that made the event even more memorable took place in Spain last year. In June 2020,   2,200 plants from nurseries around the city were placed in the auditorium of the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona.

The plants made up the ‘live audience’ for an operatic performance that celebrated the end of the country’s first lockdown period. The real audience saw the performance via live streaming. After the show, workers at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona were given the plants.

3. Portable Personal Space

During the height of the lockdown periods last year, social media was flooded with images of people who came up with inventive ways to ensure others maintained social distancing around them. One example of this was a café in Germany that used hats made of pool noodles. In Rome, Italy, a man-made a large cardboard disc to protect his personal space. Some fashion designers have drawn inspiration from Victorian hoop skirts to create garments that reinforce distance between people.

The idea of portable personal space also inspired a Baltimore-based events company, Revolution Event Design & Production, to create a solution that appeals to social distancing and to socialising. The solution in question is the bumper cocktail table, which the company launched at Fish Tales restaurant. The round tables have a hole in which diners stand, and they have four legs fitted with wheels. The tables are surrounded with inflated inner tubes. The design allows diners to eat and drink, to move around the space, and to distance themselves. They also ensure any collisions are gentle.

4. Creative Collaborations Alter Layouts

Rather than changing the layout of an event space, it may be a better idea to work around what’s already in place. For example, one of the simplest ways that some restaurants have done that is to place ‘No Sitting’ signs at every other table or booth to ensure there is enough space between groups of diners. This changes dining out somewhat, but it goes a long way towards making dining out during COVID-19 a reality again.

To shake things up further, instead of resorting to signs at events, use objects of interest to occupy spaces in a way that makes it easy for attendees to practice distancing. An example of creative collaboration in this vein comes to us from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Cozy restaurant owner Bernie Ter Braak drew inspiration from other restaurants that placed mannequins rather than signs at some tables. Rather than leave them unclothed or dressing them in mismatched cast-offs, Ter Braak approached designer Julija Janus and other designers and boutiques. 

Ter Braak’s mannequins were dressed in the latest fashions, and information about the garments, designers, and boutiques were on at every table in the restaurant. The initiative enhanced the restaurant experience and helped diners to stay socially distanced, and it offered local business people more exposure.

5. Spaces Within A Space

Events that are likely to be attended by groups of people, whether they be family, friends, or colleagues, may lend themselves to the idea of spaces within a space. The idea is not entirely different from the concept of drive-in movies. That is, attendees have a space of their own in which they remain for all or part of the event.

One example of this is ETEN restaurant in Amsterdam, which built social distancing ‘greenhouses’. Each greenhouse contains a table and is large enough to seat two or three diners. The greenhouses enforce distancing between groups of diners and between diners and restaurant employees. The Lady Byrd Café in Los Angeles introduced a similar concept, although rather than leaving the cabins sparse, owner Misty Mansouri decorated them with plants.

One of the most newsworthy examples of this idea to create a socially distanced environment at an event was the Sam Fender concert held at a pop-up venue in Newcastle upon Tyne, in August 2020. The venue was filled with 500 raised platforms that were placed 1.8m apart from each other. Each platform could hold a maximum of five guests.

Drawing inspiration from these ideas, it’s clear that social distancing is not the death knell of live events. Instead, it’s an opportunity to be innovative and make events even more memorable.


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