VIRTUAL DINNER PARTY
Alex chatted to Hannah from stylist about how best to host a virtual dinner party. A few of the extracts below include top tips on making your night one to remember for all the right reasons!
Published in Stylist 01.08.20
Written by Hannah Keegan
For the average home dweller, the pre-pandemic dinner party was a particularly intimate affair: wine was shared, forks were dug into neighbours’ plates and more chairs were crammed around a table than was really advisable. Now, however, the world has changed and the chances of having friends over anytime soon are doubtful.
Before you despair, we have some news: the dinner party isn’t totally dead. Take the events planner Lavinia Stewart-Brown, for example, who recently organised a socially distanced dinner for a family scattered across west London. “They were in four different homes but still wanted to have a night ‘together’. I had food hampers with canapés and champagne delivered to each of them and they ate over a video call,” she said. “We’re all craving a sense of sharing right now.”
HOW TO DECIDE ON A PLATFORM
When a dinner party is virtual, picking the right tech is perhaps the most crucial part – and you have options. FaceTime, Zoom, Houseparty… the list goes on. Your decision, though, will likely rest on how many people the platform needs to accommodate.
Zoom’s features depend on whether the host has a Basic or Pro account. On Basic, you can host up to 100 people – which seems ambitious – but you will need to upgrade if you plan to run over 40 minutes. While on Pro (£11.99 a month) a call can run uninterrupted for up to 24 hours. “It’s a good option for a big group,” says Alex Head, founder of Social Pantry. “It also allows you to send an invitation over email, which will make the evening feel more like an occasion. I would recommend giving your guests about a week’s notice to make sure they have all the food and drink they need, which is of course a bit more difficult than normal at the moment. It gives you time to get excited, too.”
HOW TO PICK THE MENU
While the only person who’ll know if it all goes horribly wrong is you, it’s still important to put in the work on a menu ahead of time. And there are a few ways to tackle it, says Head.
Make it democratic. “You can hand some of the power over to your guests and ask everyone to take control of a dish. One person will circulate the starter recipe, for example, while another will take the main and someone else will be in charge of the dessert (grilled peaches with honey, toasted almonds and crème fraiche is a favourite of mine for a dinner party). Then you each cook it at home.”
Cook along. “This is quite a fun way to do it. Select a dish – preferably one you feel confident with – and ask your guests to cook it at the same time while on the call. It’s a good way to decipher who among the group is a budding chef and who’s useless in the kitchen, too. Try pan-seared cod with leek, butterbeans and artichoke, for example, or tagliatelle with herb pesto, garden peas, ricotta and pine nuts. If you’re still feeling uninspired, A Modern Way To Eat by Anna Jones is my go-to cookbook.”
Stick to old favourites. “This could be the moment to ask friends to make a dish you love. But remember: keep the dish seasonal and simple. A risotto would work well right now – most people have peas in the freezer and some kind of cheese – or a lovely summer tart. Prepare the ingredients as much as you can in advance to avoid getting stressed on the night.”
Or order in. “Many people are still working full-time, or have kids at home, so don’t fancy spending ages in the kitchen. Equally, maybe your group just aren’t big foodies. In that case, ordering in is an option, too.” We recommend Pasta Evangelists, who will send you restaurant-quality pasta (think wild mushroom triangoli) for you to rustle up in minutes at home. If you want something that arrives hot, however, your local takeaway is the way to go.
HOW TO MAKE IT SPECIAL
It can be tough to muster the same excitement for sitting alone at your dinner table, staring into a laptop, as you would for a regular dinner party. Decoration, then, is key. “The way you approach decorating a table can totally change your feelings about an evening. It can make an ordinary night glamorous. Use things you already have in your house, like candles and placemats. Make some name cards, too, even if it’s just you – it will make it feel like a treat,” says Head.
Head also recommends making a drink you don’t usually pour at home. “Chilli lemonade is unexpected and always popular. You just add a pinch of chilli and a pinch of cumin powder to a pitcher of lemonade, served with a lot of ice, fresh mint and lemons. You can also add in some whole chillis to make it look good – frozen ones are great for this,” Head says. Similarly, Stewart-Brown suggests making a special pudding to add to the occasion.
HOW TO CALL IT A NIGHT
Finally, when the time comes, you can log out. “This is where being prepared works out well. If you’ve jotted down loose timings for things beforehand everyone will know roughly when it’s time to call things a night, usually around 11pm,” says Head. “If things have got wild then everyone can stay on the call. But you’re also free to press exit without feeling rude, too.”