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Tips On Hosting A Virtual Happy Hour

Updated: March 30, 2020

Remember the days when colleagues would stop by your desk to invite you out for a drink after work, and you would accept while thinking what you really wanted to do was go home to get in your PJs on the couch, open a bottle of wine, and watch Netflix all night long? Groupon Coupons remembers.

Of course 24/7 PJs are the new normal for most of us, and gathering together with friends at the corner bar to decompress is but a distant fantasy. The bad news is that—while no one can predict the future (believe us, we tried)—it doesn't look like the in-person happy hour is coming back any time soon in states strictly enforcing social distancing to limit the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The good news is that there's an alternative that is easy, fun, and doesn't require a designated driver (or even pants): the virtual happy hour! If you're looking to foster human connection by planning your own cyber soiree, here are some tips from someone who got through this last week by offering a few toasts to his laptop camera.

The Virtual Happy Hour Necessities

The Platform

By now you're probably very familiar with video programs like Skype and Google Hangouts for business concerns and FaceTime and Facebook Messenger for personal communications, and can identify the pros and cons of using your favorite. Personally, I like Zoom because of the gallery view, which organizes all of the caller windows in an optimal size, and because of the ease with which you can choose and use a virtual background to hide whatever chaos you have going on in your house. In fact, the virtual background is perfect for setting the mood for a cocktail hour. Consider using a screengrab from a show like Cheers to promote a convivial atmosphere:

Cheers Backdrop

Or for those with a somewhat darker sense of humor, there's The Shining:

The Shining Backdrop

The Booze

Can you have a virtual happy hour with no alcohol? Of course. Should you? Debatable. Luckily if you do like to partake, there's no reason you need to go without. Many states consider liquor stores to be essential businesses and so remain open. There are also services like Drizly and Instacart that do contactless delivery of liquor, wine, and beer. Even better, here in New York rules have been loosened on the sale of cocktails, and restaurants that served mixed drinks for sit down dining can now sell them to go (with purchase of a food item, of course). If you haven't checked out the menu of you favorite restaurant on GrubHub recently you should, because it can be wild:

Screengrab from the GrubHub page of one of my favorite local cafes

Also make sure you check out the Instagram and Facebook page of your corner watering hole. Many restaurants may not be able to update their main website to keep up with fast moving developments, but they can use their social media outlets to post to-go specials.

Finally, for those who must rely solely on the hodge podge odds and ends bottles they already have in the house before they began sheltering in place, you can make your own "Quarantini" by consulting Make Me A Cocktail. Just enter all of your available liquors and mixers into the site and it will spit out a list of drinks you can make, along with their recipes.

The Ambiance

With the tech and the drinks figured out, now you just have to answer the usual get together questions, like who to invite, when to start, and what to wear. Here are a few quick pieces of advice:

  1. It's 5 o'clock somewhere, but not everywhere. If you're on the east coast and plan on catching up with people across the country (or the world), remember to take into account the time differences. You don't want to give your west coast friends any more of a temptation to start drinking during their work day than they already are facing.
  2. Size matters. You know on work call when everyone is awkwardly interupting each other and then apologizing and overcompensating with extended periods of complete silence? Now imagine if everyone has had a drink and has been cooped up all alone without adult contact for a few days. The larger the group, the more chaotic things can get. Shoot for an intimate gathering rather than a kegger.
  3. Dress for the occasion. Getting out of your wfh pajamas will feel amazing, trust me. You don't need to overdo it by getting into a suit and tie, but maybe use this as an excuse to break out some looks you love but have felt self-conscious about debuting in the real world. I've been channeling my inner Hugh Hefner with a vintage smoking jacket that pairs excellently with a martini glass.
  4. Location, location, location. Think about where you and your computer want to be, and choose a comfy spot that isn't too noisy or dark. Remember, while cocktail bars are usually dim places, your computer camera probably will have a difficult time picking up your face if you're relying on tea candles alone. Though of course there is a difference between a room that is lit well and one that is well lit–don't kill the mood by blazing the overhead fluorescents.
  5. Work your angles. If you're putting your computer on a low coffee table in front of your couch, remember to prop it up with books until the camera is roughly at eye level. Otherwise you'll be looming over everything and your guests will get an excellent view up your nostrils.

All good things must come to an end, so remember to set an end time on the invite that you can stick to. If you need to go and others in the group want to keep things going for a little longer, remember to make someone else the new host or else the call will end for everybody when you leave. Cheers!