FOOD

How to Host a Digital Dinner Party or Happy Hour

April 6th, 2020

Socializing is looking a bit different lately. Instead of meeting up for weekend brunch with friends or having a neighborhood potluck, our social interactions have suddenly gone digital. But it’s 2020—and being social doesn’t have to mean sharing a physical space with someone. While the transition to social distancing has been an adjustment for all of us, there is one major silver lining: We’re all in this together.

At Thrive Market, we’ve always believed that food connects us as a community. And that’s why we’re here to help you plan the ultimate virtual dinner party or happy hour with your friends, family, and colleagues. Let’s celebrate the birthdays, the wins, and everything in between—even from afar.

First Things First: Pick Your Platform

We’re lucky to have lots of options for virtual connection. Here are a few of the platforms we’ve used to connect with our loved ones:

Skype

Best For: Dinner parties
Cost: Free
Capacity: Up to 50 people for video or audio conferencing.
Fun Features: In addition to traditional phone and web use, you can also configure Skype to work with Google’s Alexa and Xbox.

Zoom

Best For: A quick drink
Cost: Basic plan is free, but there is a 40-minute limit for each meeting.
Capacity: Up to 100 people for video conferencing.
Fun Features: You can get pretty creative with your backdrop. Want to be in Hawaii? Or in a log cabin? Virtually transport yourself and fool your friends.

Google Hangouts

Best For: Small group happy hour
Cost: Free, but must have a Google email address.
Capacity: Up to 10 people for video conferencing (only available on desktop).
Fun Features: Google’s Draw app within Hangouts can make a drawing challenge game come to life.

FaceTime

Best For: Any social gathering
Cost: Free, but must have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
Capacity: Up to 32 people for video calls.
Fun Features: Take “Live” photos and superimpose your personalized “Memoji” to your face.

Houseparty

Best For: Game night
Cost: Free
Capacity: Up to eight people at a time on mobile or desktop.
Fun Features: Play games like Heads Up!, Trivia, and Quick Draw directly in the app.

Find a Fun Theme

Choosing a theme is an easy place to start when planning a dinner party or happy hour. It helps give your friends and family some inspiration to make creative dishes, drinks, and plan activities. A few of our favorite themes are listed below—and while some of them are associated with a specific day of the week, there are no rules here!

Make It Together Monday

To kick off the week in a fun way, make the same recipe with your friends. You can also agree to a general dish and see how everyone applies their unique twist. We’d recommend something simple like a Pantry Pasta, Italian Baked Chicken, or Roasted Salmon with Cauliflower Rice.

Travel the World Tuesday

We may be staying at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t virtually travel the world through cuisine. Encourage your friends and family to choose a different international dish. Some of our favorites are Raw Carrot Pad Thai Recipe, Baked Meatballs, or Instant Pot Chicken Tinga Tacos.

Wine Wednesday

A mid-week happy hour with colleagues is the perfect way to break up the week and decompress. But why not go beyond your normal routine by making wine-based treats to accompany your go-to glass? Try making a Red Wine Latte, White Wine Fromage Fort, or Red Wine Brownies.

Throwback Thursday

Think back to the recipes that you loved as a kid. Chicken nuggets? Hot dog casserole? Go back into the archives of your memory for a nostalgic approach to your next dinner with friends and family. While we encourage you to make your own original recipes—if you’re looking for a new take, we love these Cauliflower Mac and Cheese and Paleo Chicken Nugget recipes.

Movie Night

Planning a dinner around a movie is a fun way to connect and laugh with friends and family from afar. If everyone has Netflix, you can get the Netflix Party Chrome extension that allows you to watch movies together—starting and pausing all synchronized. Watching The Godfather? Try these italian recipes. You get the idea!

Brunch in Bed

We’re giving you full permission to eat breakfast or brunch in bed this weekend. Gather your friends, pour mimosas, and indulge in a brunch together. There are so many breakfast recipes that you can use from pantry staples already in your kitchen. Get creative and have some fun!

Create Your Social Sanctuary

Now that you know how you’ll be hosting your dinner party or happy hour and have chosen a theme—it’s time to create the perfect space. When you’ve been inside all day, a change of scenery is everything. Try to make the most of all the spaces in your house or apartment. If you’ve been sitting at your desk or dining table all day, take the party to your kitchen, bedroom, outdoor patio, or the floor in front of your fireplace.

You can also make any space special by setting it up with easy decor. Think outside the box with your decor—use cloth napkins as placemats, duvet covers as a tablecloth, pillows as poufs for floor seating. The biggest thing to remember is that none of this needs to be perfect. Using what you have around the house to create the same ambiance you’d find at a nice restaurant is easier than it seems, and kicks your creativity into gear!

And remember to treat yourself. You know that bottle of wine that you’ve been “saving for a special occasion”? We think you deserve it now. Been waiting for a birthday party so you can bake that new cake recipe? We think getting through your work week is cause for celebration, too.

Choose an Activity

While this may align with the “theme” that you wind up choosing, selecting an activity is a fun way to add an extra level of engagement to your dinner parties or happy hours. But don’t feel obligated to go above and beyond if you’re just not feeling it. Simply catching up with loved ones can be the best form of entertainment.

If you’re looking for a few easy ways to engage your virtual guests, we have the list for you.

Virtual Workshop

Key into your friend’s unique hobbies and talents. Is someone a painter or writer? Have them teach you how to paint with watercolor or write a poem. Who is the self-care guru in your group? Have them teach you how to perfect a manicure or advise on a face mask everyone can make at home.You know your friends and family best—so ask around and see who might be interested in offering up expertise for the group.

DIY Cocktails

Now is the time to get creative with your cocktails. Circulate a cocktail recipe before the dinner party or happy hour and then make it together. Another variation? Invent your own creative cocktail during the happy hour, using things you have around the house.

Game on!

Play virtual games with apps like Houseparty or Nintendo Switch. You can also go the more traditional route with puzzles, drawing challenges, and charades. Order the same puzzle ahead of time and start it during the happy hour—compete to see who finishes it first. If shipping times are too delayed, make your own puzzle! For drawing challenges, use a random word generator and see just how artistic your friends are.

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Lily CombaLily Comba has never met a baked good she didn't like. When she's not baking, you'll find her writing, taking a Pilates class, or collaborating with the editorial and social team as a Senior Content Writer at Thrive Market.
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