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The Art of the Virtual Dinner Party

How to eat together when you’re apart.

 

In-person gatherings may be cancelled for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean the dinner party is dead—it’s just evolving. Communal meals are going virtual as we learn how to have social lives in the era of social distancing. Just as platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts have become the foundation of our new digital work lives, they’re also at the heart of the distance dinner party trend.

We may not be welcoming people into our homes the same way, but hosting this new breed of dinner party is as much an art form as ever. Here are some tips on successfully entertaining a group when you’re dining together, but separately.

Keep it small

Less is more when it comes to your distance dinner party guest list. Hangout apps limit our ability to break off into smaller conversation groups the way we might at a traditional dinner party, so inviting a comfortable number of people becomes even more essential.

The more people you invite, the trickier it gets to avoid talking over one another (a vibe that’s lively at an in-person dinner party but can feel like chaos over Zoom). Four or five is generally a good number of people to include, because it feels sizable enough to qualify as a party but it’s intimate enough that each person isn’t fighting to get a word in.

 

 

Set the scene

If you have similar culinary skill levels, it can enhance the sense of togetherness for you and your guests to all cook the same meal. If you live nearby one another and don’t want to cook, you could also consider ordering takeout from the same restaurant. Alcohol delivery options have diversified since social distancing became the norm, so it’s possible to order the same bottle of wine or get ingredients to make the same cocktail. Get ready to jam your glass up against your video camera for a group toast.

It feels most natural to begin the video chat when you’re all at the same stage of your meal. Decide ahead of time if the dinner party will start when you’re sitting down to eat or when you’re cooking the meal. Some groups like kicking the party off during dinner prep, while others find it too distracting (and depending on your kitchen set-up, it might be awkward to have your laptop or tablet in the mix while you’re chopping veggies).

Tread lightly with topics

Although virtual dinner parties can be a welcome distraction from the challenges we’re facing as a global community right now, they’re also a key time to have an honest check-in with our loved ones.

While no one will benefit from letting the conversation devolve into full-on fear mongering, it’s good to use these moments of connection as opportunities to share our anxieties and express support for one another. Try to find a balance between COVID-19-related discussions and other topics.

As with a traditional dinner party, games can take the pressure off the conversation and introduce some levity. If you haven’t yet discovered the joys of playing online versions of your favourite physical board and card games, get Googling.

Most important, let’s go easy on ourselves. At first, the conversation probably isn’t going to flow as freely as it would in person, and that’s okay. Virtual dinner parties start to feel more relaxed the more you participate in them. For better or worse, it seems like for the next little while, we’ll have plenty of time on our hands to work on perfecting the art of hosting them.

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