How to elevate your virtual happy hour, per local party planners

Whether it’s on Zoom, FaceTime or another video app, your virtual hangouts with friends don’t need to get stale. Here’s how to shake them up with fun tips.

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Virginia’s stay-at-home order is giving people extra time in their homes, and it’s also causing a lot of residents to miss their family and friends. Since social gatherings can’t take place in person, many are turning to video apps, like Zoom and FaceTime, to connect with their friends.

Stirring up a cocktail and throwing on pajamas to talk with friends is nice and casual, but after a while you may want to elevate your experience and make your virtual happy hours resemble what they would look like if you could meet in person—especially if the virtual party is taking the place of big celebrations like birthdays and baby showers.

We spoke with two local event planners, Tabitha Roberts of Roberts & Co Events and Tara Melvin of Perfect Planning Events, to get their tips on how to make virtual happy hours more exciting. See highlights from our conversations below.

tabitha roberts
Photo courtesy of Tabitha Roberts

What are ways to spice up a virtual happy hour? Many people are just sitting on their couches, FaceTiming their friends with a glass of wine and that’s it, but what should readers do if they want to add fun touches to the call?

TR: Bring some fun into the mix. We shared (sanitized) treat bags with friends of popcorn, drinks, Cards Against Humanity and a handwritten note for our local friends one day. We set up a couples date-night Zoom call for Saturdays and have a standing game every weekend. It’s such a nice relief to laugh and have something to do when catching up. Have theme nights or special dress-up ideas, like ’80s night or a beauty tutorial night with the girls. Have everyone bring a demo or example of something to do for your beauty routine to share with the group.

TM: Virtual calls are on the rise due to social distancing. I has become the new norm to socialize with friends and family in the absence of physically being present.  Here are three ways to spice up your interaction for a virtual happy hour:

  1. Gather a group of friends that have similar interests around a book or television show.  Each member participating in the virtual call can be assigned a character and provide an interpretation of the character’s scene. Take it a step further to dress up in character. A simple discussion of your favorite TV show or novel is now brought to life with the creativity of your friends.
  2. Have a dance contest. This could be for couples or singles dancing to their favorite tunes. Keep the competition small with only four teams, and then invite others to participate in the virtual call as judges.
  3. For one solid week, invitees of your virtual group would host a “what’s cooking seminar showcasing them in the kitchen creating their favorite recipe so that it can be shared amongst friends. This particular activity would need seven friends, one for each day of the week, and each day there would be a virtual live cooking demonstration of swapping recipes. You can break this down further by assigning your participants an entree, side dish, dessert, cocktails, etc.
tara melvin
Tara Melvin (Photo by Procopio Photography)

What cocktail or drink of choice would you recommend for setting a fun mood for the virtual happy hour? Something that everyone could respectfully make in their homes but drink together? 

TR: I’m a lover of starting with a mocktail and enhancing it. Make the drink fun with unique garnishes that you can make from elements at home like orange slices, lemon peels or a sprig of rosemary from that garden we have all started from the amount of home time we have on our hands! Pick a base and build, such as seltzer or Sprite, and add two types of juices such as cranberry, pineapple or orange juice. If you want to add alcohol, flavored vodka or rum is a topper to any fruity mocktail. Here’s a great mocktail we love. 

TM: Two simple recipes that come to mind are a mango berry Moscow mule and a lemonade wine cooler. The mango berry Moscow mule consists of two-parts mango juice, one-part Gosling’s ginger beer, one-part Tito’s Vodka, topped with sliced strawberries and blueberries; stir and serve in your favorite stemware. The lemonade wine cooler is quick and simple; the ingredients include one-part Simply Lemonade (pink) and one-part sauvignon blanc. Stir and serve in your favorite stemware.

Would you recommend the group dress up, wear makeup, do their hair, etc. or is quarantine attire (sweats, PJs, etc.) better? 

TR: The beauty of it is that anything goes! We miss getting glam and pretty, so one night pick a theme that requires full makeup and a new outfit just acquired through all of the online shopping you just did! However, sometimes after a long day of kids and life, a full on PJ fest is just what the tribe needs to relax. Pick a sleepover theme and go for pajamas, messy hair and face masks. 

TM: The dress attire depends upon the occasion. I suggest inquire with the host of the virtual meeting first before joining the event.

If the virtual happy hour is being held in place of a celebratory day, like a birthday, anniversary, baby shower, wedding shower, etc., what can people on the call do to make the special person’s day the best it can be given the circumstances that they can’t be together in person? 

TR: Make it all about the person being celebrated. Mail them gifts in advance, so they can open them on the call. Use programs like Cameo to send them celebratory congrats via their favorite celebs. We have a client who is missing her baby shower, so we had the attendees send her the gifts in advance and she opened on the call with everyone. We had everyone give baby advice or parenting stories when she opened the gift, creating engagement with everyone on the call. 

TM: For celebrations or anniversaries, this is definitely a time to be creative and make someone feel special.  Here are ideas to ignite the celebration: As a group, sing Happy Birthday together, possibly with your own version or twist and create birthday banners and posters in the background to create a festive environment. You can also create a slideshow in honor of the honoree for all to view as a walk down memory lane. Slideshows can have funny pictures from childhood to pictures of the honoree at some point in life with each individual on the webinar. There is also always dancing at a party. Designate one person on the virtual happy hour to be the DJ host to play all your hits to keep the party live.

If the virtual happy hour is being held in place of a fundraising event for a charity or another business, how can they keep the call professional? What can they do in advance to ensure its success? 

TR: Honestly, we have not encountered this yet. But our advice would be to ensure that mute is on for people on the call. Make sure everyone visible on the call is dressed for professional attire and the occasion to make it feel less informal. Hire a professional team who handles digital media or presentation to help navigate the quality of the virtual program to ensure raising more money and less technical issues. 

TM: For a virtual fundraiser, prior to the event, create energy around the event by creating flyers that can be emailed or posted on social media to inform everyone of the worthy cause, how they can donate and information on how to join the event live. You definitely want to have a host for the event who will coordinate the flow of the event and introduce members that would be speaking on behalf of the fundraiser. As with any event, set an agenda for the virtual fundraiser to create clarity and purpose. The agenda will aid in keeping structure and professionalism, and allowing the audience and participants the information needed to be inspired. If you want to provide consistency with everyone having the same backdrop to create a brand identity, Shutterstock has several virtual backdrop options to choose from for your event. These Shutterstock backdrops work perfectly with Zoom, a user-friendly, cloud-based video conferencing service that we utilize often in our business and is used by many who seek a virtual conferencing or web experience.

What other tips would you like to share?

TR: Remember to have fun. Interaction is the key to staying engaged with friends and family. Virtual Happy Hours don’t have to be for just drinking. Try something that will make you laugh, experience a new recipe, workout or something that can distract you from the mundane side of quarantine life. But remember, above all else, they are not meant to be stressful. Just enjoy the ones you are (virtually) with!

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