‘Mute your mic when you chew’ – 10 rules of virtual dinner parties

The host of one of many ‘virtual parties’ this weekend has set a few ground rules

“I invited five people but only four can make it. The fifth person’s excuse was that he was already having a virtual drink with another friend.”

Brian McIntyre, who lives in Dublin, is experimenting with his first virtual dinner party via the Zoom video-meeting app on Friday night.

The food doesn’t matter, in that nobody except him will actually taste what he’s cooked. It’s about having a laugh and celebrating friendship, done via the app that so many people are now suddenly familiar with.

“Zoom is the breakout success story of coronavirus,” McIntyre jokes. “The dinner party was my idea. There are two different narratives going on at the moment. One is cocooning with your family. The other is exactly the reverse – the people who are at home alone. I’m here alone, in solitary confinement, and my ambition is to fill my diary with things I can look forward to.

“I think the big thing that has changed for those who live alone, we’ve always worked our diaries. Most weekends, I have two things on every day. I invite people to my home a lot, and I get invited to people’s houses a lot. It’s not about the pub for me; it’s meeting over food, to talk. Life is thrown up in the air right now, but I can still try to fill my diary.”

Two diners will be at their table in the Netherlands, and the rest scattered in Dublin; all of them old friends who know each other well.

Specific rules – McIntyre calls them his “virtual dining etiquette” – have been sent in advance to each fellow diner. Yes, he made lots of tongue-in-cheek rules. We all have a lot of extra time these days. They are as follows.

Virtual dinner party rules
1. Have cooking sorted and table set before we start
2. Plan your lighting for the camera, not yourself
3. Linen
4. No one wants to hear you chew
5. Wear something fabulous, above the waist
6. Sort the technology; Luddites are losers
7. Take a drink. You're not driving
8. If you need a sidebar, there's always WhatsApp
9. For Broadway performances / musical numbers, mute your mic
10. You may be invited to give a virtual tour of your crib

“We are good friends, and know each other well, so it is going to be a laugh no matter what,” says McIntyre.

The virtual diners have been told that drinks are at 7.30pm, dinner at 8pm. Cooking is to be done in advance. “I wanted to get the logistics out of the way in advance, so nobody is faffing about in the kitchen, when they could be having fun on the iPad.”

He is aware that “they might all ignore the list, but with an etiquette sheet, there is a better chance that they’ll obey. It’s like delegating your own hosting.”

And what about going home time, when you are already at home? Who’s going to leave the table first and break up the virtual dinner party? There’s no rule for that, apparently. “We know the start time, but not the finish time.”

“I only half know Zoom myself so we will all be learning. I did notice it has a ‘Touch Me Up’ option, so I’ll be using that to make myself look the best I can. I’m also considering candlelight. I need to model best-practice Zoom on this dinner party, which is a total piss-take experiment for the changed times we live in.”

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