Looking for something fun to do? Why don’t you host a virtual dinner party? Some links in this article are affiliate links that earn me a commission if you purchase through them.
With everyone I know hanging out at home, sometimes you need to connect with people from the outside. This has been my lifeline, and it’s the only way no one has been voted off the island here in my small house.
Facebook is great, and so is texting. But we need face to face contact, especially a real and extended conversation.
While I enjoy the family walks we take (especially when my daughter dresses in her Halloween costume, much to the delight of people driving past), it isn’t the same connection I need.
With the advent of so many fun technology options, I started hosting virtual dinner parties with friends, and they’ve been a huge hit.
After the first two, I learned a few tricks to make them easier, but this is every changing. Do you have tips for me, too? Share them in the comment section.
Tips to Host a Virtual Dinner Party
Don’t invite too many people
Unlike a traditional dinner party or even my monthly First Friday get togethers, you can’t easily break off into smaller conversation groups. If you have 20 or 30 people at your party, people talk over each other while others sit and feel left out.
I find that between six and ten people is optimal. It lets everyone participate in the dinner party, but try something smaller to start.
Ensure someone is a good moderator (preferably the host)
Some people are naturally more comfortable “on camera” while others are naturally more shy in any setting.
It can be easy for someone or multiple someones to dominate the conversation. Don’t let any of your friends feel left out of the conversation.
This is where a good moderator is key. If you aren’t comfortable, tag another friend attending to be the one to make sure to ask a question of someone who hasn’t talked in awhile.
If someone starts on a verboten topic or is hogging the conversation, gently steer it in another direction and get someone else chatting. This makes for a more pleasant experience for everyone.
Communicate ahead of time
Whether you arrange to host your virtual dinner party via Facebook, text, WhatsApp, email, Evite, or another method, make sure you do it with enough notice. Not everyone can change schedules at the drop of a hat, and especially now, try to respect that.
Try to give people at least two to three days notice, but a week is even better. The earlier you communicate, the more people generally can attend.
If you plan to host a virtual dinner party regularly, set a standard day and time, and let people know what it is. They may not be able to make the first one, but maybe they can make a future event.
Know that not everyone can come – and be ok with that
When you send out your communications, emphasize that you would love for everyone to make it but know that schedules may not completely mesh. Remind people that you’ll do it again and keep inviting them even if they can’t make this one.
It’s tempting to try to keep moving the time until everyone can make it, but that’s a challenge, and something will always come up. Set a time you know most people should be able to attend, and then keep it unless no one can make it.
If you want to try to find a time that works with most people, try Doodle. This is a free meeting scheduling tool I’ve used for years when trying to figure out when people are available.
You simple select which times and days work for you and send out the link to whoever needs to respond. They select which ones they can make, and you can easily see which days and times work for the most people.
Have a theme for your virtual dinner party
I called my first two a “Fancy Pants” dinner party. For this, I asked that everyone get dressed up and put on makeup, something not all of us do every day. I might have changed straight from pjs to my fancy outfit last night….
Next week, we’re doing a pj theme. Know your friends and know what they will and won’t enjoy. Don’t make it too strict, but have fun with it.
If you’re up for it, have a theme for the dinner, too, whether that’s everyone cooking pasta like my favorite cacio e pepe recipe or enjoying Taco Tuesday (in which case, try my honey habanero tacos). Don’t force it, however.
If you want, try all cooking from the same recipes. Agree on the menu ahead of time, then compare your finished results during your video call.
For our virtual dinner parties, we’ve all enjoyed whatever food we wanted to eat that night. The important part is the connection.
Don’t forget to introduce everyone
It isn’t critical that everyone know each other when you host a virtual dinner party. Sometimes it’s fun to add someone new.
Be smart about it though. If you kept Josie away from Susie before, now is not the time to have Josie meet Susie – for whatever reason you originally had.
When you start the call, have everyone introduce themselves. We also had everyone give a little update on how they were doing, which is a great way to kick off conversation.
Another fun idea? We had everyone show the food they made, too. They just moved their laptops so that it showed the food and drink.
Having each person talk about what they made provided a fun icebreaker, too. And it made for great inspiration for future meals for everyone.
Set ground rules before the meeting starts
Some rules are obvious. Come clothes – we’ve all seen that video by now, right? But some rules help keep your virtual dinner party on target.
We didn’t set many, as my group tends to be one that gets together fairly often already. Use your discretion when you determine what you need.
Don’t have people talk over each other – remind them that virtual meetings make it harder to hear than face to face conversations.
No C-word talk. While we each gave a little update, once we passed that point, that was a verboten topic. Why? Both to reduce stress since this is supposed to be an escape, and to prevent different points of view from making things uncomfortable.
Mute yourself if needed. While all our kids are old enough to not interrupt (my daughter being the major exception, of course), no one wants to hear crying or whining or even the garbage disposal running. If you know there will be noise, mute!
Don’t talk with your mouth full. Again… people know this, so make it tongue in cheek (see what I did there)!
Come when you can. Again, you want people to enjoy the time and not feel stressed. If someone has to join 10 or 30 minutes late, that’s fine. Make sure they know that.
Stay as long as you can. On the flip side, people have things they need to know. Make sure people know that if they have to leave to put a kid to bed or get work done or whatever the reason, that’s fine. They don’t have to stay the whole period.
Find the right online meeting tool
For our dinners, we’ve used Zoom, but Microsoft Team Meetings and Google Hangouts are two other popular options. Whichever one you choose, the host (at the very least) needs to have an account.
Google Hangouts limits you to 10 participants, but you don’t have a time limit, which is nice. It has fewer overall features, but it’s great for a smaller group.
Microsoft Team Meetings require a subscription to utilize. Only one person needs to have the subscription to set up the meeting and have others join, however – this is the process my kids’ TKD studio is using for their virtual classes right now.
The cheapest option is the $8 per month Office 365 E1 plan, which also includes access to Exchange, OneDrive, SharePoint, Yammer, and Stream. This may be worth investing in and splitting the cost amongst your friends.
Zoom has both free and paid versions. The free version limits you to a 40 minute session once you have more than two people on the video call.
However, once your 40 minutes are up and it kicks you out, you can all simple click on the meeting again to rejoin it. This does tend to add difficulties in conversation continuity, however.
The Zoom Pro costs $14.99, and like Microsoft Team, only one person needs to have a license. This lets you have meetings up to 24 hours for up to 100 participants.
Don’t tell me you’re hosting more people or for longer when it’s a virtual dinner party! Split the cost with friends to keep it manageable – or ask around and see if one of your friends already has a license you can use.
Remember to adjust your laptop
No one wants to look up your nose, and an upward facing photo is never flattering. Don’t just place your laptop or phone on the table.
If you use a laptop, elevate it. I got creative and have used a sack of sugar and a tall pot, but an actual laptop elevated stand makes the most sense.
If you plan to work from home, having your laptop elevated is a good idea regardless for ergonomics. In that case, I strongly recommend an adjustable elevated laptop stand that lets you adjust the height depending on the situation.
If you use your phone rather than a laptop, use a phone stand that can keep your phone in a position where you want it. Again… get that puppy up high! The one I linked to is one I own and use all the time.
Consider using your earbuds
Why? Well, if you have kids around, sometimes that virtual dinner party conversation isn’t something little pitchers need to hear.
Sometimes it’s private information about people’s lives, and sometimes it’s more grown up topics in general. And yup, sometimes it’s the language.
I use wired earbuds, but you can connect your Bluetooth earbuds to your laptop. It takes a little work, but Wikihow has a great tutorial showing exactly how to do it.
Enjoy your virtual life, but remember your “real” one, too
It’s tempting for me to schedule a virtual dinner party with a different set of friends every night. Plus virtual coffee dates, and maybe a happy hour.
My parents want in on the action, too. They’ve called dibs on every Friday night to make up for the Friday dinners they usually have with my kids.
But tempting as it is to spend my time online catching up with friends, I need to take care of my family, too. I’ve set a limit for myself of no more than two outside the family events like this a per week.
It’s important to have those family dinners where we talk about the goofiness of the day. And it’s critical that I get my work done, too.
Know your limit, and don’t overextend yourself. But have fun, and start hosting!