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How to prep your home for a virtual dinner party

A few small changes to your space can go a long way in putting your best (remote) foot forward

As people social distance and adhere to widespread stay-at-home orders, the vibrant dinner parties of 2019 seem a distant memory in today’s no-hug world. But don’t despair—you can still break through the ho-hum dinner routine with a virtual bash that works for both friends and family.

In most ways, prepping your home for a remote dinner party is easier than a traditional soiree: You don’t need to clean your whole house, cook a multi-course meal, or set a table for a crowd. Still, a few small changes to your space can go a long way in putting your best (virtual) foot forward.

From optimizing your lighting to picking out glassware, here’s how to arrange your home for a winning virtual happy hour or feast.

Pick your spot

When you’ve been stuck at home for weeks, a change of scenery can really help. Sure, you can easily use your dining room table, but what about your kitchen counter or even moving a coffee table or chest someplace new? Have a guest bedroom with a soothing patterned wallpaper that you’d like to showcase? Set up a table in there.

Wherever you pick, pay attention to your background—that’s what other virtual guests will be able to see. “I think the background rules are pretty close to the good Instagram photo rules: shallow depth of field, not more than three colors, keep it simple,” says Curbed’s architecture critic, Alexandra Lange.

Curbed editor-in-chief Kelsey Keith says to “consider one saturated color, a jungle of plants, or texture.” A virtual dinner party with friends is more fun than your everyday remote conference calls, so don’t be afraid to choose a bold, more cheerful spot (read: not your home office).

Optimize your lighting

As you’re choosing your backdrop, don’t skimp on the lighting. Set things up so the light isn’t behind you—otherwise you’ll look dark and shadowy on screen. “If it’s just you in a room, natural light is non-negotiable,” says Keith, so try to position yourself to take advantage of windows. If that isn’t an option, position one lamp directly by your face for even, steady lighting that reduces shadows.

You can also think outside the box when it comes to lighting; an early-evening gathering could work well on a patio due to great sunset light, or you could dine in front of a cozy, crackling fireplace.

Elevate your video device

Whether you’re using a laptop, tablet, or even a phone, use a stand and place it so that the camera is higher, at eye level. This provides a more flattering video angle. It’s also crucial to enjoy your conversation hands-free; it just won’t work to try and hold your phone for an hour-long party. Don’t have a laptop or tablet stand around? Stacking a few boxes or heavy books will do the trick.

Another important point: Don’t get too close to the camera. The cameras on smartphones and webcams are wide-angle, so if you get too close it will look distorted.

Set your table

A virtual dinner party is the perfect time to fancy things up a bit. Bust out your favorite tablecloths or any fun printed fabric to eat on, and think about adding special touches that fit with your personal style. (Note that if you’ve gone with a bold, colorful background, a neutral tablecloth might work best.) A beloved candle, family heirloom, or funky salt and pepper shakers will not only look cool, but can also spark conversation.

Don’t have anything on hand that fits the bill? Head outside and gather a few small flowers or sprigs of plants that are in bloom, then place them into a tiny bud vase or small glass cup. The vase will add a bit of pizazz and sophistication to your table without being so large that it becomes distracting on camera.

Finally, a pro tip: Set up everything before the party starts. A few moments away from the camera are to be expected, but it’s rude to disappear for 20 minutes to prepare things after the party has begun.

Pay attention to your glasses

If you really want to go all out, now’s the time to use any treasured china or specialty plates you have stored away. Of course, everyday plates will work just fine.

What your virtual guests will actually see the most of are your glasses. Make a fun cocktail or mocktail (maybe it’s tied to your agreed-upon theme) and don’t skimp on the accoutrements—think slivers of limes, decadent bourbon cherries, and lemon twists.

Colorful or unique glassware will also stand out; at a recent Mexican-themed virtual dinner party hosted by a Curbed staffer, for example, all of the guests made margaritas and showcased them in a dazzling array of rainbow glasses.

Or you can always hit the easy button

Want to host a virtual dinner party but don’t have the time or energy to curate your space? Choose from one of these gorgeous Zoom backgrounds, which we’ve carefully curated to look sufficiently realistic.