For nearly a decade, Virginia Frischkorn spent her days planning lavish events in the Roaring Fork Valley. From nonprofits putting on fundraising galas to couples hosting multi-day destination wedding celebrations, Frischkorn’s clients trusted her business, Bluebird Productions, to handle every last luxurious detail for them and their (often hundreds of) guests.

Then: 2020. “We’ve basically postponed or canceled all of our weddings,” Frischkorn says. “We’ve done a few small social events, but I’m probably on the more conservative side. We don’t want our weddings ending up in the newspaper—that someone died because of this wedding.”

All that free time this past spring allowed Frischkorn to explore other ways to share her event-planning expertise. “When the pandemic hit, we went back to our why—why we do what we do,” she says. “The magic that happens when you gather people together, foster that connection, have that meaningful conversation—that’s what we love about events.”

A simple, seasonal tablescape by Bluebird Productions. Photo courtesy of Bluebird Productions

Even before COVID-19 complicated hosting, however, Frischkorn says she noticed that people were having fewer dinner parties and gatherings at home, daunted by the idea of having to choose and prepare invites, food, drinks, decor, music, and more. “They look on Pinterest, they want to recreate things, and then they get overwhelmed,” she says. “So, we thought, Let’s bring what we do really well to the masses. Let’s teach people what we know.

The result is Bluebird in a Box, a service Frischkorn launched in August. Each themed, digital party blueprint ($48)—including Game Night, A Taste Of Mexico, Campfire—provides planning timelines; recipes and shopping lists; editable invites, seat cards, menus, and gift tags; music playlists; tablescape design inspiration and specific decor suggestions with product links; and entertainment and activity ideas. (Upgrades, including accessories and/or matchmaking with local caterers, florists, and other pros, are in the works.)

So, once you’ve chosen your blueprint—Pumpkin Spice, Spooky Supper, and Trick or Treat are particularly timely—how do you ensure that your event (if local restrictions on gatherings allow it) doesn’t end up making headlines? Frischkorn has you covered there, too, with the following tips:

Pandemic Hosting Tips

Set clear expectations and be responsive to guests’ concerns. Will people from different households be expected to stay more than six feet apart? Will masks be worn, and when will it be OK to remove them? “Normally, it wouldn’t be proper etiquette to include something like that on an invitation,” Frischkorn says, “but 100 percent, you should do that now.” It’s also a good idea to connect with people individually to suss out their risk tolerance and ask what else you, as a host, can do to make them feel comfortable. (Psst, invitees: Respect the guest list. This is not the time to show up with an unannounced plus-one.)

Take it outside whenever possible, even as temps are dropping. “Ikea and Target have such cute throws you can buy and have out. Put up bistro lights and bring in the patio heater. Make it cozier,” Frischkorn says. “Another little hack: Buy hand-warmers in bulk. We do that all the time for wedding ceremonies.”

Put thought into designated seating arrangements. “If people are not in a very tight pod or a family that’s been together, be considerate of that and space them out to their preferences,” says Frischkorn, who suggests setting up tables of two, four, or six, coffee-shop-style, rather than large groupings.

Provide ample soap, towels, and sanitizer for easy, frequent hand-washing. Custom, punny labels that go along with your theme can help the bottles fit into the decor. “Put them on a long, narrow tray; I often get those at World Market or CB2,” Frischkorn says. “It just elevates it a little bit, and makes the presentation nicer.”

Stick to individually portioned food and drinks. “You can do little crudité or charcuterie platters on six-inch plates for your guests,” Frischkorn says. “It’s maybe not as beautiful as a huge board, but it can be done really well.” Also, help guests identify their beverage glasses by providing wine charms or swizzle sticks—or have fun with something interactive, like stickers everyone can decorate and affix to a cup.