The lexicon of coronavirus is as littered with linguistic carbuncles, from the unromantic designation ‘COVID-19’, which might be an inhospitable sector of the Star Wars universe, to the ghastly ‘self isolation’. I mean, is there any other type of isolation? And so when I decided to throw a ‘virtual dinner party’ I couldn’t help cringe at the phrase. But what about the reality?
Who doesn’t enjoy a dinner party? For the reasonable price of a bottle of wine and an Uber someone else will do all the cooking and invite a group of interesting new people into the bargain. They’re a place where friendships are made, cuisines are discovered and lovers are brought together. Plus you get a free meal and the chance to nose around someone else’s downstairs loo. The virtual dinner party turns a lot of that on its head. Here’s how to navigate this new reality.
1. ‘Seven-thirty for eight?’ – Pre-dinner tech check
My usual pre-dinner party ritual is to dash around the house in my towel desperately trying to shower, vacuum, dust and prepare canapés in one not-very-graceful whirl.
This flurry of activity is largely circumvented by the virtual dinner party, sure plump the odd cushion but nobody’s going to notice the film of dust on the occasional table. But they will notice if you don’t show up because you don’t know how to get Zoom, Skype, Houseparty, Whatsapp on your iPad.
Top tip: Familiarise yourself with the tech, how to invite others and which settings work best before getting on the call
2. You’re a glucose intolerant vegan? Ideal! Menu planning…
Putting on a dinner party is an expensive business, if you’re used to regularly feeding 8-12 people butcher-bought meat and kicking off with a bottle of Champagne then the virtual dinner party comes with a key advantage, you’re just doing the cooking for two!
So beans on toast, right? Not so quickly, Gordon Ramsay! There’s an inevitable one-upmanship involved in the virtual dinner party that risks turning the proceedings into a low-rent version of Come Dine With Me. Given there’s no way for any of the other guests/contestants to taste whatever you’ve made, remember it’s all about style over substance.
Top tip: Why not agree the menu in advance so that everyone can eat the same thing at the same time?
3. ‘And action! The Cinematography of dinner
Get ready for your own Quentin Tarantino moment. Except significantly less bloody. The usual rigmarole of cleaning your home like the queen’s coming to ‘declare this kitchen-diner open’ is off, you just need to make sure that the 45 degree angle from your laptop, iPad or phone is looking en pointe.
Of course, as you dress your ‘set’ remember that all bets are off if anyone demands a ‘tour’. Tell them that your device needs to be plugged in and then mute them for the rest of the meal…
Top tip: If you’re a couple, sit side-by-side with your ‘guests’ on the opposite side of the table.
4. ‘Anyone heard of COVID-19?’ – Chat in the time of coronavirus
Coronavirus is the new weather. The pandemic is the ideal conversational crutch, you can discuss it with strangers on the street (at a respectable six foot, broom stick distance) or in depth over a virtual dinner party.
Top tip: Play snog, marry, avoid with: Boris, Rishi and Prof Whitty
5. ‘It’s all about the people’ – Like, actually
The government, rightly, has cracked down on movement, has sent us all home and confined us to our houses, but they’ve not outlawed fun. The joy of hosting a dinner party might now be different, but the element of fun that makes it all worthwhile is the people you share your time with.
It’s genuinely lovely to spend time with friends and you’ll quickly realise that the distance hasn’t separated you at all.
Top tip: Just enjoy sharing time with your mates
6. And as for the dishes…
If your dinner parties leave a trail of dirty dishes, each soaking for a good week while everyone promises to do them ‘at some point’, the online dinner party is a mess free zone. The real joy is that at the end there’s one plate (two if you’re fancy and make a starter), cutlery and whatever you used for cooking, and that’s all!
Top tip: Use the saved time to sit down and plan your next virtual dinner party!