Our new normal is well, dinner not normal at all. We’re social and physical distancing, taking safety precautions when having items delivered, and being vigilant about maintaining a strong immune system. We’re self-quarantined, self-isolated, and trying to maintain our physical health, social life, and sanity while riding out a global pandemic. Group gatherings have all but disappeared, but thanks to the Internet, families and friends are discovering a new way to come together remotely. Happy hours, group hangouts, and remote work is the new normal for non-essential workers, and while staring at a screen all day and all night can get tedious, there are ways to separate your on-the-clock screen time from time spent unwinding in front of your screen.
Casual, impromptu FaceTime hangs are great, but hosting a digital dinner party is another way to bring folks together, intentionally, and focus on remote quality time as a group. We have a few tips for hosting a stress-free and fun digital dinner party, to help carry us through our sheltering-in-place until we can all eat dinner together IRL again.
1. Plan a time.
This may seem obvious, but you want to make sure your guests are all on board simultaneously. Choose a time that works well for all time zones, whether that’s when the kids are asleep or after everyone’s completed the requisite after-work dog walk. Set up a Zoom Call or HouseParty and encourage everyone to sign in at the same time (lateness is rude, even online!).
2. Send e-vites.
Honestly, we all need something to get excited about while self quarantining, and text messages aren’t it. Brighten your guests’ inboxes with festive invites that include a link to the digital event page and perhaps add instructions for the theme (more on that soon). Decide if you want your dinner party to be a group that all knows each other, or if this is a great time to connect your college friends to your current neighborhood friends.
3. Pick a theme.
While a theme isn’t always necessary for a dinner party, it definitely makes a remote get together more fun. Zoom allows users to upload their own backgrounds, so you can travel to your favorite vacation spot, hometown, or top team’s stadium. Themes can be anything, from a literary hangout in Paris circa 1921 to a dream group trip to the South of France to Central Perk on Friends. Get creative, but try and choose an executable, rather than a totally obscure idea so everyone can fully participate.
4. Make a menu.
Typically, food is something dinner guests bond over, and why should the digital party be any different? Suggest a few recipes that everyone can make or just dub your dinner party “pizza night,” “pasta night,” or even “canned tuna night” so everyone can join in at their own cooking comfort level. Depending on location, all guests could order takeout from the same restaurant and compare notes on the dishes they had.
5. Don’t forget the drinks.
Your digital toasts won’t be the same without a cohesive menu. Consider picking a cocktail or two to tie in with the theme (taco night gets margaritas, pasta night gets Aperol spritzes or negronis) so everyone can remotely clink glasses with the semblance of drinking together in the same space.
6. Consider activities.
Normally, conversation groups naturally break off at dinner parties, but the bonus of a digital hangout is that everyone gets to chat together. This can also be intimidating to shyer guests, or frustrating when 20 people want to throw in their opinions about the latest “Masked Singer” unmasking. Keep things fun by having a few lighthearted conversation topics ready and even a few games (“Would you rather?” is an easy one) on backup should chatting get stilted. Remember, we’re all teenagers in quarantine, and games are totally OK.
7. Know when to sign off.
Overstaying at a party is a hard no, and being the one to keep the digital dinner party going when everyone just wants to sign off and look at another screen (TV), is not the host you want to be either. Set a time limit for your digital dinner party (three hours, tops) and end on a high note. Thank everyone for participating, remind them how much you miss them and care about them, and if it feels right, offer to host again soon!
8. Thank your guests.
All that time spent not cleaning guests’ dirty dishes can be spent forging deeper friendships and connections. Follow up via text the next day to share a compliment about something they shared last night, check in on their mental or physical health and offer to introduce them to any new people they met at dinner.