INTERIORS

A GUIDE TO MASTERING THE VIRTUAL DINNER PARTY

Here's how to do it.

April 29, 2020

As lockdown becomes the new normal we are getting increasingly used to socialising virtually, from dating, coffee, and now the esteemed domain of the ‘dinner party’ is transcending to a digital experience.

You may have already been invited to one, you may be hosting one or you may already be au fait with the burgeoning social ritual, but here is our guide to making the very best of one. Plus everything you need to to factor into this burgeoning social ritual; capacity, internet connectivity, tablescaping, the lot.Read more, ‘Tablescapes: Elevating Dinner At Home During Home Isolation.’

Plus everything you need to to factor into this burgeoning social ritual; capacity, internet connectivity, tablescaping, the lot. Get inspired by Aerin Lauder’s table setting.

There aren’t many things we can control at the moment, but there are some small actions that are still within our domain. One of them is the way we spend our time, with whom, and for what purpose.

If you’re practicing being more open in your friendships, invite six friends to a digital dinner, maybe on Zoom.

Is this an open house? Or a seated dinner party?

Think through what people need to do to prepare or bring. Should people be prompt? Does the door close at a certain moment? Or can they come and go at different times. Communicate in advance to your guests so they know what to expect.

You can even have six small parties now and no one will find out.

It’s never been easier to have different phases to an event, without it getting awkward or people bumping into each other between events. Particularly for milestone birthdays, create a few layers to your gathering. Maybe make an intimate phase for an inner circle and perhaps another one that invites the larger community.

If it’s a 50th birthday party, invite a larger group of friends and family to join a virtual drinks at 6 p.m., and then invite a smaller group to dine together online and share stories and toasts at 7 p.m.

And if you’re hosting the party for someone else, embrace your role.

One of the powers of gathering is that it gives people meaningful roles to play in their communities. If you’re hosting people on Zoom or a phone call or a group chat, welcome people as they enter.

Creatively use the mute button (which can also mean to allow for some joyful chaos!). Explain to people how the toasts will go, or where to put their camera while reading their chapter aloud, or how long they have to find all the objects in the scavenger hunt before returning to their screen.

Pave the way for success: If you’re doing something a little different, get buy-in.

Recruit early evangelists by texting two or three friends who may be at the centre of this new circle ahead of time. Explain the idea and get them on board. Then you can send out the formal invitation to the larger group so that these early evangelists respond enthusiastically to the email when it comes in. That sends a powerful signal to the rest of the guests.

Rarely exceed three laptops.

As appealing as it is to invite a rich mix of friends and acquaintances – when you finally won’t have to be the one shopping and preparing the food – often more ‘attendees’ can result in a dreadful plummet in sound quality. What’s more, the delay provoked by faltering the internet can make one appear a bit dim – if they’re not able to keep up or contribute.

Prioritise high-speed broadband over high-quality conversation.

Your most erudite, go-to dinner party companions may be more than available, but more importantly, do they have ultra-fast broadband and high speed connectivity? If not, it’s possible that their usual good jokes will be lost in a stilt, a jolt or a slur.

Those with microphones and all the apparatus, are in this context, more fun.

Your technologically souped-up friends will speak out louder, clearer (and it will feel like they are practically, gloriously there).

Background goals.

You need to be at a table to eat your dinner ideally, but do think of some fun background possibilities (even, opportunities). Is there a strip of especially evocative wallpaper in your home or a particular wood panelled backdrop that would add an air of dinner party sophistication? In these mobile days, seize on this opportunity to lay your table at the most compelling place, possibly in a spot where you’ve never dined before. Read more, ‘Tips For Remaking Your Space While You’re Homebound.’

Fiona Leahy Design, whose tablescaping is pictured, above, is a great person to seek inspiration to master your virtual dinner party – even if you’re only setting the table for two.

Tablescaping.

Here one can really re-energise the joy of entertaining in a relatively normal way, sprucing up the table with your finest and most shapely wine glasses, Liberty patterned napkins or hand-painted Casa Cubista plates. Fiona Leahy Design, whose tablescaping is pictured above, is a great person to seek inspiration from. Get creative with the camera angle as the evening evolves, so the studied details can be enjoyed in absolute. Read more, ‘How To Set a Stunning Table’.

Cocktails all the way.

Because Zoom is an inherently visual medium, your co-diners may have all the more fun if you opt for a zingy, fruity cocktail in sunset shades over a one-shade red or white wine. Follow Laura Jackson, founder of Hoste dinner club, for technicolour margarita tips.

Look the part.

On Zoom, there really is a ‘touch up my appearance option’ that allows one to ‘retouch’ video displays with a softer focus, helping ‘smooth out the skin tone’ and present a ‘more polished looking appearance’. Ideal for that aspirational pearly dinner party glow, rather than a ruddy ‘red wine cheeks’.

Remember, in the age of Zoom, whoever’s talking, gets the screen – take advantage.

In these mobile days, seize on this opportunity to lay your table at the most compelling place, possibly in a spot where you’ve never dined before. Aerin Lauder’s table setting.

Agree on a single soundtrack.

It would be disastrous, a real cat’s chorus, if one household’s jazz clashed with another’s millennial pop, agree on one, and then all homes can co-delight in a mutually enjoyable sound.

Invitations.

Usually, we would advise against email invitations, in particular group emails (‘it should be a mystery who else is attending’), but in this case, it’s the most efficient way to go. A postcard with a written zoom link is not particularly useful, and certainly not a good use of time (even if the postcard is beautiful).

Speeches.

Can still happen! If a speech is on the cards, listeners mute, to avoid obstructive, off-putting sounds that will put the speaker off when addressing the attendees.

This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in Tatler magazine.

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