States and cities around the country have begun shutting down bars, restaurants (for all but takeout and delivery), and most other places where people like to meet up and socialize. This new state of affairs certainly isn’t a welcome change, at least judging by the frustrating number of people who packed into bars on the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day.
But just because we’re social distancing doesn’t mean we need to cut ourselves off from friends and loved ones. That’s where the concept of the video conference dinner party comes in, the best way to go out while staying in. Here are some tips for how to go about it.
Obviously, the first and most important thing is a way to pick a group of people and connect them. If you have an existing group thread with your friends or family, that’s a great way to pick the invite list. Hopefully scheduling shouldn’t be too much of an issue since we all should pretty much be stuck inside. If they aren’t, try to gently but firmly encourage them to stay in for the good of their community if they’re at all able to, and use this as a way to remind them that they don’t have to become a total hermit.
Next, figure out how to get everyone on the same screen. The first time I tried this out, we used Zoom, which you might be familiar with through work video conferences. It worked well for getting a large group on screen together, especially once you toggle gallery mode and can see everyone at once. It’s free to sign up and host a meeting, but video conferences of three or more are limited to 40 minutes unless you upgrade your membership. If you know someone who gets access to Zoom through work, put them in charge of setting everything up and hopefully you can bypass that restriction. If that doesn’t work, Skype lets you put together video calls of up to 50 people at once. If everyone’s in the Apple ecosystem, Facetime can handle up to 32 people at a time.
Now, the fun part: eating together. If your family/friends know their way around a kitchen and have the ability to stock up on ingredients, pick a recipe (maybe a family favorite) and try to make it together, possibly incorporating cook time into the chat to help out anyone who needs tips. Ideally, opt for something simple—both in terms of culinary skill and required ingredients—to make it easier for everyone to participate.
If cooking isn’t your thing, turn it into a de facto night out at a restaurant by ordering delivery from a local favorite that’ll definitely appreciate the business. If you live in the same neighborhood but social distancing is keeping you separated, you can even think about ordering from the same place so it’s really like you’re all sitting down at the same restaurant together.
From there, all you have to do is set up in an appropriate spot and enjoy some tech-assisted time together. If you’ve stocked up on booze, there’s no reason this video dinner party can’t transition into a regular party either. Thanks to screen/audio sharing (at least in Zoom), you can all put on the same playlist or movie and enjoy a night out from the comfort of your couch. If that doesn’t work, syncing a shared streaming playlist on your phones is super easy. From experience, I can attest that drinking with friends remotely is a lot more relaxed than a night out at a crowded bar— not to mention healthier for both your wallet and the general public at large.
We’re all going to give up on certain things we’re used to if we’re to pull through this together, but that doesn’t mean giving up on your social life. WIth the right technology, good food, and great company, we can all enjoy a little time together even in a moment like this.