When you’re stuck at home alone for a long period of time, being physically separated from friends and family can take a toll on our mental health. A virtual dinner party is a great way of bringing back that closeness again.
A virtual dinner party may seem awkward at first. While we’re used to sitting across the table from our friends, you’ve now got to do it through a computer screen. Your guests will also have to pay attention to the screen as much as possible, in case they miss someone doing or saying something interesting. Guests will also have to cook their own food, which can be tricky for those who don’t enjoy cooking.
As the dinner host, you have to make sure everyone is comfortable and keep proceedings as lively as possible. I liken hosting a virtual dinner party to conducting an orchestra. You’ve got to check in with everyone and pay attention to any fun things said so you can toss them back to your guests. You want to keep the event flowing as natural as possible.
But there are positives to hosting a virtual dinner party.
For one thing, since people don’t have to travel to your place to attend, you can gather people from far and wide. This can include friends and family in other cities or even other countries. A dinner party using Zoom means your “dinner table” can be as inclusive as possible, as you’re not limited to the number of chairs that can fit around the table.
Your dinner party can be as simple or as over the top as you like. But the most important aspect is to make your dinner feel as personal as possible. The whole point of a virtual event is getting to see your friends and family.
There are a few things you need to think about when planning your virtual party.
Dinner Party Planning Success
Step 1. The very first step is deciding which online platform you will be using to host the dinner. There are many options available for laptops and smartphones. Ideally, you want to choose something that isn’t handheld (it’s hard to eat and pay attention to guests using this method). The easiest choice I’d go for is Zoom.
There are two versions of Zoom: the free version (which only gives you 40 minutes); and the paid version at $14.99 per month. Whether you’re hosting 5 or 30 guests, the paid version lets you send an invitation link to your guests and track RSVPs. You can host Zoom from any device.
Step 2. Even though no one has to leave their home to attend the dinner, you will still need to give your guests at least a week’s notice. This will give people time to clear their calendar and also buy all the ingredients for the meal you will be making together.
Step 3. Once the dinner has been scheduled, make sure you email or text everyone the date. You can also send guests a dress code, decoration tips, and recipes for the dinner you will all be cooking. Also make sure to include a grocery shopping list; guests don’t have to buy everything on the list but it gives them ideas of what to look for. You can also include a few beer or wine suggestions.
If you want to go all out, you can also send your guests a music playlist. Before your virtual dinner party begins, instruct everyone to start the playlist at the same time and to keep it running throughout the event.
Step 4. At least a day before the dinner, check in with your guests to see if there are any problems. Let everyone know they will need a stable internet connection and to have a charger nearby; last thing you want is for the dinner to end abruptly because someone’s laptop or phone battery dies. On the day itself, dress your best and decorate your table.
Send out your invitation links using Zoom a couple of hours before the dinner, via email or messaging.
Now you know what to do to set up a virtual event, it’s time to decide which type of dinner you want to host.
Virtual Family Dinner
If you live far from your family, getting to be with them during those times of lockdown can be challenging. If you’re close to your family but don’t know when you can physically get together the next time, a virtual dinner party can help ease the distance.
Brainstorm a few dinner favourites with your family, such an infamous stew or a recipe linked to childhood or a memorable family event. Put together a schedule to make sure everyone’s dinner is ready at the same time. If you’ve got a few non-tech savvy family members, teach them how to run the software a few days before the dinner and test the system with them.
When dinner is served, try and place the laptop or device in a position where everyone is in the frame and can see the screen.
To keep everyone talking during the meal, have a few icebreaker cards on hand to break any awkward silences. You can also jot down a few past memories experienced as a family and encourage everyone to relive them together.
Virtual Cooking Class
Do you and you friends enjoy cooking together? Then hosting a cooking class is for you. A virtual cooking class can be held in a number of different ways.
Perhaps you have a friend you all know is a great cook. You can hold a class where your “chef friend” teaches everyone to make a recipe together step by step. You can also find variations of the same dish being made and try out what works best.
Another idea is for everyone to cook a meal together with a recipe no one don’t know; make sure to cheer everyone on through any obstacles they might experience. Have everyone teach everyone else new cooking techniques. Make sure guests take a photo of their finished dish before you all start eating.
Virtual Wine Tasting
A virtual dinner party doesn’t only have to involve food. If you and your friends are used to going out, why not host a virtual wine tasting instead! A wine tasting saves you time needing to throw a full-blown dinner. You can settle for a couple of delicious wines along with a few snacks including a cheese board, hors d’oeuvres, tapas or supermarket sushi. You could also order in something from a local restaurant.
As for the drinks, curate a list of wines before the party that your guests can choose from. There are different wines you can choose from, including celebrity wine and wine by region. Everyone will need to buy their own wine so make sure you’ve included bottles for every type of wallet.
The best part of a wine tasting? You won’t need a designated driver, so everyone can participate.
Virtual Game & Dinner Night
Eating and playing games isn’t so difficult to do, provided you’ve got things set up in advance. You should choose a simple dish to make like a stew or something you can order in, you don’t want to cook something that constantly needs attention.
The games you choose should include an element of competition and require your friends to act or draw in order to win points. Charades and Pictionary are the easiest examples, but you could also try these:
This Charades game requires your guests to act out real life scenarios for everyone to guess. Ask each person to write down 5-10 simple scenarios tailored to their life, for example: going to the gym, a task related to their job, an action they do at home. This game isn’t about points, it’s about everyone acting out their thing for friends to guess. Alternatively, you can pit two players against the clock. Have one player act all their scenarios for someone else to guess, in a round 30 seconds long. Players will need at least 30 scenarios in this version.
You need a bag of objects to use in this game. Pair everyone up and show the first pair one of the items. They’re then given 30 seconds to improvise as many uses from it as possible. Each improvisation scores a point. When time’s up, the next pair gets their item. The team with the most points wins. Need an example? Say you were shown a pencil, you could pretend it was a rocket, a horizon across a landscape, or a makeshift screwdriver.
Movie Reverse Charades
This game requires a bit of prep before playing. Write down the names of famous movies on strips of paper, then shake them in a box. Ask one of your guests to turn off their screen, and show everyone else the name of the movie drawn from the box. The player then returns to the game. Everyone now acts out the movie for this person to guess.
Virtual Dinner Movie Night
Watching movies on your own is not the same as doing it with friends over bowls of snacks and drinks. If you can’t be close to those you watch movies with, you can still pull of this virtual dinner movie night. Make sure to send everyone a list of dinner items they can order, from pizza or wings to whatever they like eating during movies.
You will need to prepare a movie list for everyone and decide together what you want to watch. Some movie night ideas could include movies from a particular era, the latest blockbuster or a production starring a favourite actor.
You also need to decide how you all watch the movie. While you can use an app such as Netflix Party, bear in mind your friends may not have strong internet connection for streaming. One alternative I’ve used in the past to have everyone set up the movie on their browser and to start the movie at the same time. While you won’t be able to see your friends’ faces during movie play, hearing their reactions and commentary is just as good.
Thanks to technology, being far away from friends and family can be fixed with a screen. While it isn’t the same as in person, eating together in a virtual dinner party still offers a type of closeness – as well as a much needed dose of sanity!