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Community While You Quarantine: A Practical Guide to Virtual Dinner Parties

No need to dine alone while social distancing. Here’s the SideChef guide to a virtual dinner party.
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As entire cities and countries begin to shut down around the world, millions of people are settling into their first few days and weeks of staying at home.

Whether you're in self-quarantine, shelter-in-place, lockdown, or some other version of the concept, the circumstances can feel isolating for many who rely on social interactions as an essential part of their well being. These important measures for public health can begin to feel a bit like house arrest. Luckily, social distancing doesn’t have to be so lonely.

In the spirit of togetherness, we’ve put together a guide to help you host a virtual dinner party. All that’s required? An internet connection and some food.

The first step to hosting a virtual dinner party is deciding how you'd like to host. Here are three options to consider:

Option 1: All parties cook the same dish.

Create a poll for your virtual dinner party guests and vote on a recipe that you’ll all cook. This is a fun way to get people out of their comfort zone as well as to unite the group and create the true sense that you are sharing a meal together. You could even incorporate a plating challenge to see who can make their dish the prettiest.

Here are three recipes we recommend if you decide to go this route:

QUICK AND EASYNUT-FREE
Teriyaki Chicken
Wok & Skillet

This super easy Teriyaki Chicken will be your new favorite go-to weeknight meal. The chicken is so flavorful, and the sauce is rich and thick. Nobody will believe it took just minutes to prepare!

NUT-FREEGAME DAY
Vegetarian Barbeque Jackfruit Nachos
Lemons and Basil

As the jackfruit, seasonings, and sauce smolder, its mild flavor transforms into a perfect, smoky meat-impersonator. The rest of this dish comes together with ease. Simply layer a bed of crisp tortilla chips with this BBQ jackfruit, then top with a generous layer of cheese, and voila--you have the perfect base for all your favorite nacho toppings.

SOY-FREETREE NUT-FREE
Classic Lasagna
Nicko's Kitchen

Looking for an Italian lasagna recipe that's just like the grandmothers make it in Bologna? Look no further!

Option 2: All parties cook within a theme.

This concept allows people to use the ingredients they have available, while still providing a cohesive element. Each person will get to show off their unique take on the theme so you get a sense of everyone’s cooking style.

Here are some theme ideas:

A cuisine, like Italian
An ingredient, like chickpeas
A diet, like vegan
A cooking method, like baking

Option 3: No constraints. Everyone just eats dinner together at the same time.

This is a great simple option--everyone’s gotta eat anyways! The act of eating is enough of an excuse to sit around the virtual dinner table.

Logistics

There are tons of free video chat services you can use to connect with your friends for your virtual dinner party. Here are our top 3 suggestions:

Google Hangouts: Up to 25 participants, all you need is a Gmail account
Skype: Up to 50 participants, free to download on mobile or desktop
WhatsApp: Up to 16 participants, free mobile and desktop app

Rally the Troops

Give your pals at least 2-days notice for your dinner party, so they can grocery shop or order what they need online. I’d suggest sending them a calendar invite with all the important information: time of the event, a video chat link, and an explanation of how it will work, including any themes or specific recipes.

Lead the Way

As the host of the virtual dinner party, take the lead on welcoming everyone to the virtual hangout, and introduce anyone who might not know each other. Give a little recap on the dinner party version you chose, whether you all cooked a specific recipe, embraced a theme, or did your own thing.

Try to encourage everyone to share a bit about the food they made. You can inspire some conversation with questions like: Was this your first time making this dish? What was the hardest part? What would you do differently next time?

A meal together is a surefire way to soothe the soul, especially in uncertain times. Something to look forward to, a fun personal challenge, a way to make some unique memories--we’re sure your virtual dinner party will be a huge success and greatly appreciated by your friends.

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