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Events Continue to Roll On

Picture this. It’s a beautiful summer evening. There’s a slight breeze rustling through the trees and the sun begins to dip below the horizon. Music and laughter fill the air as the smell of gourmet food greets you. No, this isn’t one of your traditional outdoor fundraising galas or weddings, you’re at the drive-in movie theater with your clients where the nostalgia of yesteryear is making a comeback in the world of COVID-19. “Things are changing every day, so obviously we’ve been trying to brainstorm some creative ideas to give our clients pathways for event solutions that may look different,” said Lindsey Gertz, Event Coordinator for Footers Catering, Denver, CO., which catered a drive-in fundraising event in June. “I definitely think the direction is putting our creative thinking caps on and conceptualizing ways we can still help our clients.”

Luxury Wedding and Ecvents has scheduled several movie events to fill the void left by cancelled summer festivals and activities. Photos courtesy Luxury Weddings and Events

Get ready to let your creative juices flow with the following examples of recent drive-in events that could potentially be the right solution for your next event. 

Fundraising on wheels 

Footers Catering teamed up with Project Helping (projecthelping. org) for Limelight 2020 earlier this summer. The nonprofit, which aims to improve mental wellness, was exploring different opportunities for guests to still safely gather while supporting the organization’s mission. Gertz proposed utilizing the local Denver Mart Drive-In, which would allow for guests to socially distance.

“We just thought that was genius,” she said. “They are in the comfort of their cars and they are still safe.”

The boxed meals provided by Footers Catering included hummus cups, a chopped wedge salad, lamb ragù and gnochi, and for dessert a snickers pie bomb cake. Photo courtesy Footers Catering.

During the event, guests pulled into the drive-in where they were greeted by the Footers team and were given their four-course boxed dinner. Once guests parked, they consumed their meals before enjoying the movie “Inside Out” under the stars. Attendees also had the opportunity to participate in a virtual auction. Gertz believes that events like this will continue to be popular alternatives to traditional fundraising events, and it’s a great opportunity to think creatively.

“It’s been really fun to be a part of these moments,” she said. “Things look different, but we can still pour our hearts into it.”

Brake for a bar mitzvah 

Earlier this spring the Mitzvah Sisters, a Los Angeles, CA event planning company made up of sisters Marni Aksut and Dana Abrams, were working a bar mitzvah in the Los Angeles area when all guests and service staff were exposed to COVID-19.

“I actually got sick, the DJ got sick, the videographer got sick, the client got sick, and the guests got sick,” Abrams said. “So, obviously I’m very sensitive to making sure that we have safe events.”

Booking a live DJ can help bring an extra level of excitement to any drive-in event. Photo courtesy Luxury Weddings and Events

Which is exactly why the Mitzvah Sisters, along with Los Angeles-based Schaffer, joined forces to deliver a bar mitzvah that was able to dot all of the Is and cross all of the Ts in terms of health, safety, and social distancing—via a drive-in “car mitzvah.”

“We were able to create a completely unique experience for people that they were not expecting,” Abrams said. “It was super fun and meaningful.”

The bar mitzvah was held in July and took place on the roof of a parking garage in the Los Angeles area. Upon arrival, guests were gifted a boxed meal and then they continued up to the roof. “It’s a literally a gift with food inside,” said Melissa Darpino, Director of Sales and Marketing for Schaffer. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

That stalwart of the ‘50s and ‘60s of the 20th century, the drive-in movie theater, numbered over 4,000 across the U.S. at the peak of popularity and were the place for informal gatherings, but began a steep decline beginning in the 1970s as home entertainment improvements surfaced. By October 2019, just over 300 drive-ins remained, more curiosities than the great summer success stories of yore. That is, until the pandemic.

Once guests found their parking spots, that’s when the real fun began. Guests were treated to a spectacle of excitement as they were greeted by musicians, and roller-skating service staff passing out popcorn boxes filled with candy. A photo booth and selfie booth also served up a bit of entertainment for the event. For the actual ceremony, a stage was set up with a jumbo screen for guests to watch safely from their cars.

“Even if they’re not dancing in a circle, they’re still able to hear it and experience the music,” Abrams said.

Keep it going

Drive-in events won’t be going anywhere, just ask Misty Flachman, General Manager for the Denver Mart Drive-In. “As we move forward, we won’t know what the new normal will look like, and drive-ins can create something fun surrounding social distancing while keeping everyone safe in their cars,” she said. “There’s the ability to still honor graduates, still have their fundraisers, still be able to give them a creative unique experience.”

Schaffer catering provided Shindig boxes for the Bar Mitzvah. Pictured here: Roasted lemon chicken, Farmer's Market crudité, cheese, fruit and crostini, spring vegetable skewers and Israeli cous cous. Photo courtesy Schaffer.

The Denver Mart Drive-In has traditionally offered the opportunity to rent the space during the week for private events, but they have never seen a response quite like they’ve seen this year, Flachman said. Every available day during the week, from Memorial Day through Labor Day has been reserved for a variety of different events, including graduations, beauty pageants, dance recitals, non-profit fundraisers, corporate team building events, and everything in between.

“They’ve certainly run the gamut,” she said.

Even if you don’t have a drive-in theater in your community, there are plenty of options to host a drivein event, whether it’s renting an inflatable screen, hiring solo acts to perform on an outdoor stage, or a plethora of other socially distanced entertainment.

“It’s an opportunity for people to fulfill an entertainment need that is socially safe and acceptable during these times,” Flachman said.

Servers on roller skates were on hand to provide soda, candy and popcorn during the drive-in Bar Mitzvah. Photo courtesy Rachel B Photography

And of course, don’t forget about individualized food options going forward. Schaffer has launched a new sub-business called Shindig (www.schafferla.com/shindig) which offers individual or party-style, boxes for events. The Shindig party boxes serve 8–12 guests and include such options as fish and chips, charcuterie, antipasti, salads, chicken or fish entrées, and other choices.

“I believe there will be a need for this type of service beyond this ‘in between’ phase,” Darpino said. “We’re trying to make the best of a challenging situation, and these types of events meet the needs and exceeds the expectation of what guests need right now.”

Events will continue to evolve as caterers continue to navigate the new normal, but one thing is for sure: Guests and professionals alike are ready to start gathering again.

“I miss my old kind of events, but I’m excited about this new style of events just as much,” Abrams said. 

Amber Kispert

Content Producer

Amber is the Content Producer for Catersource. Amber previously worked as a Communications Specialist for LeClair Group and a reporter for the Woodbury Bulletin, both located in Woodbury, Minn.  As a self-described "foodie," Amber loves to experience the world of...