How to Host a Virtual Cocktail Party

Chanoa Tarle

Senior Contributor

If there’s one silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the sense of community, unity and creativity that pushes on. One imaginative trend to emerge is the virtual cocktail party. Friends, family and colleagues are signing into video calling apps to drink in their respective homes collectively, creating new memories from afar. The human social condition prevails with this simple, creative solution for much-needed connection. Here are five steps to hosting your first virtual cocktail party with success... a welcome respite in strange times.

Choose the Time and Place

Think about your guest list when choosing the time and the place. If none of your invitees are working, even an afternoon cocktail party would do well. However, that may not be convenient for parents. Meanwhile, happy hour/aperitivo events are likely to align with most partygoers’ schedules, as do weekend events at nearly any time of day. 

Next, walk through your home to scout the most appropriate space for your selected date and time. Take lighting, background noise and your family member’s schedules in mind. 

You’ll also need to decide on a theme, if any. For example, you may want to celebrate your birthday with a virtual cocktail party in your yard or host a mixology-themed event, requiring you to be in the kitchen or near a bar cart. Finally, set an end time or let it trail off until almost no one is left. 

Set the Rules

Create a guest list and use an app like Zoom or Houseparty, designed to comfortably accommodate more sizable groups. During the actual session, get inspired by legendary hosts like Valentino Garavani and Tom Ford. They love to seat strangers next to one another and you can do the same in the digital realm.

Houseparty allows you to have up to 8 people in each room of your party, so you’d curate who you assign to rooms. Zoom allows you to host up to 100 people at a time, however, a group of 25 or less will keep things intimate. Use Zoom’s breakout room feature to help your guests get to know each other in smaller groups. FaceTime is another great tool, particularly for smaller groups. 

Today’s digital social life calls for updated etiquette and rules. Consider banning screenshots from your event. You can organise group photo sessions, however, your guests should not need to worry about every facial expression and gesture throughout the call. As with any effective in-person party, the key to its success is that the guests feel wonderful and relaxed. 

The other rules are up to you and should depend on who your guests are, the theme, how well everyone knows each other and so on. For example, the conversation should remain human resources-friendly for happy hour celebrations involving co-workers or employees. 

Set the Scene

Share a dress code in your virtual cocktail party invitation stipulating whether the event will be semi-formal, formal, cocktail attire or themed dress. Try to avoid casual dress as most people have been spending far too time dressed for spending time at home. The key is to bring everyone a dose of much-needed magic and excitement. 

As for your backdrop, aim for an attractive spot with the best natural lighting for a day event; for nighttime get-togethers, light some candles and leverage your lighting to enhance the atmosphere of your event. 

Finally, plan out your drink menu. Your drinks can be visually-interesting to add to your setting. Whichever drinks you choose, break out your finest glasses and make sure your drinks won’t take too much time to make unless you can prepare them in front of your guests and stay engaged.

Lead the Conversation

As a virtual cocktail party host, it doesn’t mean you have to be the main person talking throughout the event, however, just as you would at a real-life soiree, it is time for you to kick things off, make some introductions, nudge the conversation along if it ever requires assistance and bring the event to a close. 

Think about the role one plays as a person sharing a live stream on social media. It’s your role to keep things active, interesting and engaging. With the right guest list, you won’t have to do much. 

Make Mementos

Give your guests something to remember. Taking individual photography permission into consideration, organise a group photo to be taken by a screenshot or a separate device filming your screen. 

Virtual photography sessions are trending; speak to a professional photographer to determine the best settings for your camera or phone to capture the festivities. Or go the extra mile and ensure there’s a willing photographer on your guest list. Send everyone a copy of the final edited clips or images. You may also want to consider making it a philanthropic event; every guest donates a predetermined amount of money to the COVID-19 cause of your choice.

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