How to Throw a Virtual Dinner Party

Dinner parties have served as a cultural staple of social interaction for most of recorded human history. What do Thanksgiving, the Last Supper, and one of the greatest all-time episodes of The Office all have in common? They are all centered on dinner parties! When you consider the fact that a national holiday, one of the most popular religious writings/stories of all time, and an immensely popular modern sitcom (all occurring across a range of a couple of thousand years in WILDLY different cultures and geographical locations, mind you) are all connected through this one universally understood experience of a dinner party, its prevalence becomes apparent. All this is to say, history is littered with examples that a well-thrown dinner party is something almost everybody will enjoy.

Unfortunately, the current COVID-19 situation does not lend itself well to the practice. Close contact with other people is essentially the whole freaking point of throwing a dinner party in the first place: The opportunity to sit in close proximity with your friends and family, eating food you all cooked together at the same table, talking and laughing and getting to know each other better, is exactly what is appealing about it (and also why we’re being discouraged from participating in similar activities). However, like many other typical ways to socialize, there are ways to adapt to our current circumstances. Many of our other favorite activities have gone virtual, and there’s no reason to think you can’t successfully host a virtual version of dinner as well! Here’s a step-by-step guide to throwing a radical virtual dinner party: 

Pick a meeting platform

Two months into social distancing and thousands of Zoom memes/clips/videos later, this may seem obvious. However, it seems like there is an almost unlimited number of different options to choose from here: Good old fashioned FaceTime will still do the trick, and there are more Zooms and Google Meets and whatever else out there so just do some research and see what the best option will be for your situation. Zoom is a popular choice because it is free and extremely easy to use. There is a cap on the number of minutes you can have in a free meeting before having to start another one, however, which is kind of obnoxious. You will just personally have to weigh out the pros and cons. 

Pick one universal meal/recipe for everyone to follow

This is by no means a requirement: People can clearly make and eat whatever they want to, especially considering they will be the only person eating it. However, there’s just not much of a point in a virtual potluck if you can’t sample all of the goods, and the shared commonality of all making and eating the same recipe adds just another layer of shared interest/experience. It is recommended to pick something that’s pretty easy to make well and fairly quickly, so as to appeal to the broadest spectrum possible of potential guests (and their cooking abilities).

Invite the right crowd.

Any person that likes to party knows that the people are what makes the party a fun one or a lame one. Sure, there are bells and whistles or amenities that will dramatically increase or decrease the wow factor of a good party, but ultimately, the people there are gathered to interact with one another. So, if the people (or mix of people, the group dynamic) suck, it follows that the party will also suck. Who thought the transitive property would ever actually be useful?

But seriously, some useful things to consider here are factors like: Group size, personality types within the group, shared interests, etc. 

Pick a theme (optional)

Themed parties are awesome when executed correctly, and we all could use a little silliness/fun in our lives right now. 

Pick the right time

This will largely be based on your guest list, your own personal schedule, etc, but the important thing to consider here is that increased prevalence of WFH does not mean everybody just stopped having to live their lives and do other stuff. Be considerate and thoughtful: Consult with the others on the list to find out what times will work well for them, too. This will ensure your best turnout. 

Get a meeting invite sent out

Putting a concrete, tangible marker on peoples’ calendars will ensure everybody knows it is happening, and provide reminders throughout the week so they can plan accordingly. It will also give you a fairly accurate count of who to expect. 

Plan games, music, other activities

From the new Netflix watch party feature to Spotify’s shared group music sessions, virtual activities on top of the Zoom/call will also enhance the dinner party, adding an element of life/engagement to it that will likely be inevitably lacking without the in-person human contact. This can be as complex as setting up an online poker room to play against your buddies, or as simple as a game of Truth-Or-Dare getting played around the call. Whatever you decide on (if anything), just know that it can add some spice to a less-than-ideal situation. 

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