This is usually the season for parties, and with COVID-19 infections on the rise, more of us may be considering hosting virtual events.

For advice on hosting a great – and we hope stress-free – online event, we turn to two faculty members from the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, Jeannie Hahm and Michelle Holm, who recommend:

  • Communicate details. Your virtual event won’t be like a giant in-person party or last year’s face-to-face holiday meal. And that’s OK. But be sure you set your guests’ expectations. Tell them what will be happening at the event and provide suggestions for how they can best engage. You may have grown familiar with Zoom meetings, but some guests may not have much experience with virtual platforms. Include technology tips in your invitations/party communication. Be sure everyone has a good WI-FI connection. Share suggestions about lighting, backgrounds and party etiquette. Suggest ways they can add to the fun – such as wearing a costume or using a funny screen name or background. Communicating frequently before your event also helps build excitement and also provides a way for guests to share ideas that can make your event even better.
  • Create fun, shareable activities. Some virtual party hosts hire a DJ and have everyone dance to the same music online. Consider hosting a fun competition – if it’s an adult party, have each guest make their most creative cocktail and then share the recipes. Or have everyone buy a gingerbread house kit and build the house at the party. Have a cookie baking/decorating contest with prizes for the winners. Think about ways to share food remotely. Some hosts – whose guests are in the same community – cater the event and have a boxed meal delivered to each guest so they can enjoy the same food together. Another dining option is to have each guest make a favorite food for the party and share the story of how that food fits into their family history or culture. Having a birthday party? Have your guests get their own cupcake and candles so they can enjoy the festivities at the same time the birthday celebrant blows out his or her candles on their cake.
  • Set a realistic time limit. It’s hard to stay engaged for hours on a Zoom call, so limit your party to 30-60 minutes. If you want to go longer, plan a break where guests can get some down time, go outside or wait for the contest cookies to finish baking. Then have them come back to the party for the close.
  • Make time for everyone. Consider having someone serve as a moderator who can have each guest say hi or share a short holiday story – perhaps something for which they are grateful for this season. Have each person say something to the birthday celebrant – or the newest member of the family. A moderator also helps keep 20 people from all talking at the same time.
  • Be flexible. Virtual events are new territory for many of us. So be patient with yourself – and flexible with your plans. Remember that if you’re sending things to your guests pre-event, deliveries are taking longer. And it may take longer to find supplies for your event. Remember that the most important reason for a get-together is to engage with people you care about, so have fun.