Jessica Testa - 3 Jun, 2020

How to host a virtual dinner party

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The new normal that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic has required everyone to make many sacrifices for the sake of the health of society’s most vulnerable.

One of these sacrifices is the ability to see loved ones face-to-face, with the exception of short compassionate visits to drop off groceries or quickly check in while keeping a safe social distance.

For some, this has been a very lonely time, especially for those who live alone. Fortunately modern technology has allowed people to stay connected. From phone calls to Zoom meetings, many people have been able to keep communication running with their family, friends and colleagues despite not being in the same room.

If you have spent some time on social media recently, you would have noticed various videos showing how people have been celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, graduations and even Easter without leaving the house.

One of these ways has been to get creative and congregate virtually. If you are missing Friday night dinners with your friends or Sunday lunch with your family, perhaps having a go at hosting a virtual dinner party could fill that space for the time being.

But where do you start? Here is a step-by-step guide on how to host the perfect virtual dinner party.

couple eating dinner in front of computer while hosting virtual dinner party

Related: A hosts guide to throwing the best dinner party

Plan out your evening

Just like a regular party, you need to plan everything out ahead of time to try to avoid things going wrong or getting awkward for your guests. Start by creating an agenda for your evening that includes allocated time slots for each course and activity.

Keep to this schedule to ensure you get through everything during the evening. You never know, if you decide to wing it, you could get to the end of the night and realise that you forgot about dessert which would then go to waste. How disappointing!

Feel free to send this out to your guests so you’re all on the same page on the night.

Create your guest list

Deciding who to invite to your virtual dinner party could be one of the most difficult tasks on this list. You need to figure out how many people you’d want to include and stick to that number.

Too many people could become too overwhelming and prevent a free-flowing and equal conversation. Could you imagine having to try and keep track of the conversation with several people talking over each other? That sounds like it could become confusing. For this reason, four to five people could be an ideal number to go with.

Additionally, perhaps consult another person before finalising to make sure the people on your list will create positive chemistry. It would be awkward to suddenly discover that one person had a falling out with another while you’ve been apart.

Send out your invitations via a text message, phone call, or simply throw it into a Facebook group chat. Tally up final numbers as RSVPs come through. Don’t forget to follow up closer to the date to make sure your guests can still make it at the allocated time.

Sort out the menu

Now that your guests are rounded up and excited to attend, it’s time to sort out the menu. Since it’s a virtual dinner party, obviously it’s not as simple as just making something for your guests to enjoy. There are a range of options you could choose.

If you do plan to cook a meal for your guests, package it up and deliver it to their houses ahead of time. Just drop it on their doorstep with simple instructions for reheating or presentation. This way you can still impress your guests with your amazing food even though you’re not all in the same room.

Another option could be ordering food from a restaurant and having it delivered to all of your houses. This is perfect for the friends who all have different dietary requirements or can’t agree on what to eat. They can just order whatever they want, as long as you’re sharing a meal together.

This is also a great way to support your local cafes and restaurants who may be struggling at the moment. If you want some cohesion between your guests, perhaps get the same bottle of wine.

Related: How are restaurants and bars adapting to new COVID-19 policies?

Practice makes perfect

If you’ve never had a virtual dinner party before, you’re bound to have some technical mishaps as you’re working out how best to go about it. Organising a couple of trial runs might be in order to ensure everyone is able to get online without any stress.

Without this, you could end up wasting your first hour trying to figure out why you can’t see or hear someone or finding out that one of your guests forgot to download the right software at the last minute.

You also need to make sure you’re choosing the right platform as there are many to choose from. Some examples include Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, Houseparty and the video chat function in Facebook Messenger.

Although they are all video call platforms, they have different features and functionalities. Zoom, for example, only allows calls to last for 40 minutes when you have more than two people. So it’s crucial to make the right decision so do some research and try some out to see how they work.

Related: How to host your own wine tasting at home

Switch up your background

Having the right background could change the atmosphere of the whole dinner party.

If you’ve been video conferencing for work in the same spot everyday, it might be a good idea to find a different spot in your house for your dinner party. This could put you in a lighter mood and keep you calm and relaxed for your evening of fun.

Be aware of what your guests can see as well. If you can’t be bothered cleaning the whole house, that’s okay. Just turn on your background and tidy up the area that can be seen behind and around you. Just like in a work meeting, a clean space could put your guests at ease and give off a good impression.

If you have a theme or if you just want it to look nice, feel free to put up some decorations behind you for your guests to enjoy.

man standing in kitchen and participating in virtual dinner party

Get out of your pajamas

Similarly with your background, changing the clothes you may have been wearing for days on end could lift your mood for the dinner party. Obviously choose something that’s comfortable, however feel free to doll yourself up if you wish.

Again, you could make it a themed-party and encourage your guests to dress up as well (while keeping the limitations of what they may have at home already in mind). This could create an extra element of fun for your guests and make for some hilarious photos of your party to put on social media. 

Check in with each other and play some games

Your conversation could make or break your dinner party so make sure you have some conversation starters planned. Think about what you could all talk about just in case the natural conversation starts to dwindle before dessert. 

In these uncertain times, it is important to check in with loved ones and make sure they are doing okay. During the dinner party, perhaps take a second to go around the horn and check in with everyone. What’s going on? How are you feeling about everything? Are you okay? Ask your loved ones these important questions.

Don’t dwell on negative parts of this conversation and the state of the world all night though. Check in with everyone, work through any struggles and move on to some more positive topics to lift the mood.

You don’t have to limit the activities at your dinner party to just a conversation just because you’re not in the same room. There are plenty of games you can play together including Pictionary, Heads Up!, Scattergories, Karaoke or create a trivia game. Houseparty allows you and your friends to play some of these games virtually. You could even switch on Netflix Party, pop your headphones in (to avoid feedback on the call audio) and watch a movie together.

three girls doing karaoke at home during a virtual dinner party

Plan the next one

At the end of your successful virtual dinner party don’t stop at thanking everyone for coming and sign off. Start planning the next one. Float the idea of having a virtual get together every week and see what everyone thinks. You can each share hosting duties or you can continue as the host if you prefer. Maybe switch it up and do a virtual brunch after doing an online workout together next time.

You could also make a plan to host a real-life dinner party when the pandemic is over. This will get the group excited for a time when the world can once again resume greeting each other with a hug and a kiss and have a fun time in the same room, igniting a sense of hope that we all need right now.

Words by Jessica Testa


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