- Lifestyle

Dinner parties go digital during coronavirus outbreak: ‘We lock in every Saturday night’

I’ve been using technology to organise virtual drinks with friends for a few years now. But what started as an idea to drink with interstate mates is now becoming the norm for social interaction.

My friends and I have loved our virtual catch-ups as a way to check in with one another. There’s always an “Oh wow, I needed that” text message afterwards from someone in the group. When you’re together but separated, it facilitates honest conversations. There’s a different energy than you’d have talking on the phone one-on-one.

How else would I have learned that one of my friends used to spy on her classmates as a pre-schooler? How else would my friends know about my dislike for wearing pants at home (like Donald Duck), if I had not got up off the couch to pour more gin and accidentally flashed everyone?

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In these times of isolation, whether it is self-imposed quarantine or for other reasons, we need to try to stay as connected as possible. It takes a little bit of planning, but bringing a group dynamic back to your socialising is something that can provide a bit of levity and joy when the days stuck indoors stretch on longer than normal. All you need is a computer or phone, an internet connection and a comfy place to sit.

Through a bit of trial and error, here’s what I’ve learned about hosting a virtual dinner party.

Step 1: organise your guest list

Any good party planner will tell you that your guests can make or break your party, so create a group chat of all the friends you want to invite.

Four or five guests is large enough to get some good banter going (especially when the drinks start flowing) but small enough that no one feels left out of the conversation. Too many guests means people talking over one another, a big consideration when you’re not there face to face to read the room.

Step 2: familiarise yourself with the platform

FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype and web meeting tools like Zoom are handy platforms for hosting video conversations for multiple people. If it’s your first time, give your group a couple of days before you want to “meet up” to download any apps and familiarise their way around them.

It’s a real mood killer when most of your group are logged on and there’s one person frustrated and yelling because they can’t seem to work out how to get the video to show up – or can’t log in at all because they’re an Andriod user and you’ve decided to meet over FaceTime.

For Saturday night’s drinks we trialled Zoom, which worked brilliantly but took a little setting up. We had to make sure everyone had an account, then create and schedule the “meeting room”, then send out an email or text so that everyone could access it. So if you’re trying to stay connected with your folks, stick to something simpler, that they’re already familiar with.

Step 3: food and beverages

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Set the tone just like you would for an adventure out in the world. Try having a dinner party where everyone cooks the same dish in their own home from the same recipe and laugh at how badly they mangled it, or see which one of your friends has been hiding the expert cooking skills.

You could also order delivery from different restaurants (they need your support now more than ever) and chat about them.

When choosing the drinks selection, many restaurants around Australia are opening their cellars to the public for takeaways. Plus, independent wine shops, such as P&V, Drnks, Upstairs Wine and Different Drop, have fantastic curated packs for different price points and taste preferences – and they deliver nationally.

Step 4: have fun
When things are difficult, it’s important to check in on everyone, to make sure they’re coping with the changes going on around them. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the doom and gloom of current events, which have a way of hijacking your uplifting drinks session.

Step 5: plan the next event
So you don’t lose momentum, plan the next event while you’ve still got everyone online. We lock in every Saturday night for drinks with the crew and agree on a host (and someone to organise the wine delivery to each of our homes). Then we schedule it like a meeting so we don’t lose touch, just like you would in the real world.

A shared connection that gets everyone linked again and thinking of happier times should provide you with a bit of needed respite from the constant barrage of stress in uncertain times. Try not to feel guilty for having a couple of hours to laugh and forget the world for a moment – it will still be there when you hit the end-call button or turn off the laptop.

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