Since March 2020 we have all gained invaluable and yet unwished for experience in interpreting guidelines; navigating restriction rules; and keeping ourselves and those close to us safe in an unprecedented situation. So firstly, I’d like to extend congratulations and kudos to each and every one of you for engaging in the often contradictory and always high stakes world of Covid 19 restrictions.
At its core, etiquette is associated with ‘the right thing to do’. During Covid-19, the potential consequences for doing the wrong thing in terms of personal safety as well as reputation have never been higher. So, as the world continues to open up, it is now useful to once again consult the experts on what is going to happen next. Certified Etiquette Consultant Orla McAuliffe has put together a guide on post-Covid social and dining protocol for both personal and professional contexts:
Communication is going to be absolutely vital in this stage. It was become second nature for us to ask others about their mask preferences; distancing needs; vaccination status. While these are undoubtedly personal questions, asking once will help to avoid any potential awkwardness or unpleasantness. This will look different in different contexts, so while socially you may find yourself asking ‘are you comfortable with coming over or would you prefer to meet outside?’ for work events the pressing question may be – ‘could this meeting be a Zoom call?’ In both situations, your questions will reassure people that you are receptive to their needs and preferences. It is important to note also that people will be at different stages of readiness when it comes to reopening, and it is down to you to be informed and not to pass judgement.
Once you are informed of other people’s red lines and green lights, you may act accordingly to plan your meeting. Make sure the room chosen is large enough for people to relax, and has been visibly thoroughly cleaned. Provide visible sanitiser options, and if you are still requesting masks then make sure this is visibly stated as well. If supplies are provided, make sure they are clearly clean and new, and provide instructions as to whether guests are expected to dispose of them or keep them for repeated use. Also, remember that things are fundamentally different now – I can’t imagine anyone will ever want to share a communal office birthday cake ever again, for instance - so avoid potential conflict by suggesting alternatives right off the bat.
For guests, your responsibility is for your own safety, but it is still considered correct to follow any guidelines set by the hosts. Nobody will be offended if you choose to take further precautions for your own reasons, but you should also not pass judgement on those who follow the minimum legal requirements or specific requests. Communicate clearly what your boundaries are, and be aware that in the current climate, health and safety really do come first. Nobody wants to be seen to cancel or postpone a meeting, but if you are sick then that is absolutely what you need to do. Polite and prompt notice will always be appreciated, and people will be reassured that you are taking this seriously and respectfully.
Fundamentally, etiquette is about doing the right thing for you and for others. For this reason, it may be useful to bring back the notion of a Visitor Book for this transition period – if something does go wrong and you or someone in your circle falls in, it will help immeasurably with being able to inform people that they may be a close contact, or that you will have to withdraw from upcoming plans. On a related note, if a host has sanitiser prominently visible and available, the appropriate thing to do is to be seen to use it, declining is no longer the polite option!
At the dining event itself, your main responsibility as a host is to make sure your guests are provided for, instructions are clear, and adaptations are made in a safe and non-judgmental way. Within that, obviously some things are absolutely non-negotiable – no blowing out candles; no sharing food; no sharing glasses or cutlery. Additionally, try to prepare for any obvious pitfalls – communal bowls of crisps or peanuts will likely go untouched, and people are going to be reluctant to share pots of salsa or similar due to the ever-present threat of double dipping.
Even for those of us who are excited about the accelerated reopening, a certain degree of anxiety is entirely understandable. Being visibly organised and engaged when planning to host or attend an event will be an important reassuring factor for people, as well as serving a useful practical purpose. Equally, as it has been so long since any of us had regular plans, scheduling them again now is an adjustment for people in and of itself. Provide people with plenty of notice, be clear about the running time, and be clear about communicating your own adaptations and requirements as well as asking people about their own.
For anyone who may want further information and guidance for this transition, Professional Training Centre runs etiquette workshops, and more information is available by contacting Orla at email@example.com