With the events industry at a near standstill, Jess Doren realized this may have been the moment she’d been waiting for. Having produced large-scale events for big brands like Apple and Buzzfeed, she’d had little time in the past to develop events of her own, but this past summer, she and a team of fellow event pros set out to gather a community craving connection.
“The goal was to connect people again in real life on topics that really matter and provide a platform to celebrate our community in a time where we have so few ways to gather,” says Doren. “We thought, let’s show everyone we can still do live events, and do them safely.”
The series included four outdoor, socially distant events centered on social change, with topics ranging from queer representation in the media to the revolution of the gig economy. Each event included a mix of live music and packed panels featuring speakers like Kate Tellers of The Moth and Todd Triplett, TikTok’s creative lead. “The structure for each was similar, but once they got underway, the unique chemistry between the groups on stage and the attendees took on a life of their own,” Doren says.
Attendees received personal bottles of hand sanitizer to eliminate gatherings at central sanitizing stations, and the use of a mobile ticketing system and QR codes enabled guests to order local food truck bites and canned libations from each table while minimizing touch points and controlling traffic flow.
In addition to mask policies and temperature checks, guests sat at tables in clearly marked, socially distant circles that had been carefully plotted to allow a safe distance between the seated pods and server, staff, and attendee movement throughout the night. “Having these clear designations really put guests at ease and helped them engage with the event itself and each other while still feeling safe in their own bubbles,” says Doren.
The Served Up series was held in an open lot of local nonprofit and gallery Culture Lab LIC, which already had all of the necessary event permits in place, but Doren and her team also consulted closely with city officials, utilized CDC and WHO resources, and learned from the best practices being shared by expert planners to ensure the latest recommended health and safety guidelines were followed as well.
Doren also worked with ParaDocs, a vendor which provides on-site event medics and COVID safety officers, and made sure staff not only had the gloves, masks and any other supplies needed, but felt empowered to enforce the policies put in place to keep themselves and guests safe. “Working together to make sure everyone could enjoy these events safely actually created this beautiful synergy and teamwork on-site,” she says. “It was this amazing feeling to have everyone excited and all in.”
With the events self-funded by Doren, vendor support was paramount to the series’ success. “When you put on a free event, in New York, in a pandemic, you learn the strength of your true vendor list, and we were lucky to have so many partners so excited to be a part of this and ready and willing to make it happen,” says Doren.
And based on the success of the first four events, Doren and her team are eager to plan a future lineup to continue the series (though they’ll likely expand to locations across the country to avoid hosting outdoor events in New York’s winter conditions).
“One of the most important realizations we found in this pandemic is that we all missed each other and needed connection,” says Doren. “These events offered an experience where guests could feel something again, and if we can use this platform to help our community feel heard and inspired, we’ve got to find a way to push forward.”