Happy hour via Zoom has become popular with so many people stuck at home in lockdown.
People who had never heard of Zoom a year ago are now navigating the video conferencing platform with a drink in hand.
In case you haven’t yet been invited to a happy hour via Zoom, here’s how it works. You arrange your beverages and snacks around your computer, make sure your webcam is set up and click a common link, which takes you into the Zoom meeting. Then enjoy your drink and nibbles while chatting.
Zoom executives were amazed to see their enterprise tool turn into a party platform. “It humbles us a little bit to see how people are using Zoom and how they are being creative,” Colleen Rodriguez, a Zoom spokeswoman, said.
But the happy hour via Zoom, like all social gatherings, relies on good manners to keep the experience pleasant for all. Just like in the physical world, there are people who won’t stop blabbing, who stare at their phones or who show up with surprise guests.
Happy hour via Zoom is a fabulous new way of socializing and extremely user-friendly, convenient and inexpensive,” said Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach. “Yes, there are some things you should do and not do, but the rules for virtual happy hours are still evolving…”
They’re not for everyone. If you’ve always loathed cocktail parties or you don’t want to appear in public with bad quarantine hair and hideous lighting, you might not be into this.
Do take your host duties seriously
If you are hosting the party and send out the Zoom link, you have a responsibility to your guests. Depending on your settings, you may have to be in the session before anyone else can join. Be ready to welcome the group, and once everyone’s online, do introductions if you need to, Whitmore said. It’s your job to keep the conversation going. “It’s hard, but don’t let one person hog the spotlight,” she said. People are going through many emotions during this scary time — and they may have a lot to say.
As the host, you set the length for the party. It’s good to put a limit on it, maybe one possibly, two hours. “It can be exhausting staring into a screen without a break,” Whitmore said. “People get tired and bored after a while. At a regular cocktail party, you can get a drink and work the room. But you can’t get away from the people on Zoom. They are all there for the whole time, and if you have somebody who is a bore, you have to listen to them with no place to go.”
Don’t share the link without telling the host
Hosting a virtual cocktail party is similar to hosting in the real world, Whitmore said: A good guest would never show up with more guests without clearing it with the host in advance.
“Some people don’t care and just feel like the more the merrier,” she said. But unless you know your host feels that way, don’t force any more people into the mix.
“It would be rude for you to give your Zoom link to people who were not invited by the host,” Whitmore said. “If you feel like somebody can contribute to the party or if that person is staying at your house, ask the host if it’s okay.”
Be prepared to have your idea vetoed. “As the person hosting,” she said, “you can say, ‘I want to keep this very intimate…”
Don’t show up late
There’s no “fashionably late” when it comes to Zoom entertaining.
“It’s depressing to be staring at an empty screen with your cocktail,” Hirschfeld said. “You should be right on time, especially if you are the host.”
“Even though this is a cocktail party, you should treat this as you would a business meeting, whether real or virtual,” Whitmore said. “Be on time.”
If you absolutely must be late, let the host know. Otherwise, Whitmore said, the rest of the guests might sit around waiting for you, delaying the conversation.
Do acquaint yourself with the mute button
Your fellow partyers don’t need to hear your kids fighting. If you are new to Zoom, take a minute when you sign on to find the mute button. Rodriguez said she mutes if her dog is barking “or if I am sitting outside and a neighbor is mowing their lawn.” Just remember to unmute yourself when you want to say something.
Do keep the numbers reasonable
“If I were to host a dinner party, I would invite six to eight people,” Whitmore said. “Those are the perfect numbers for a Zoom party as well. It allows for time to meet everybody, even if the cocktail party is scheduled for only one hour.”
If you have more guests than that, it might get complicated if someone starts to monopolize the conversation. And if people get bored, they might be tempted to leave the party. If for some reason you do need to leave, say goodbye.
“People looking at their phones is a no-no,” Hirschfeld said.
Although it’s tempting, he said, “it’s rude.”
“When someone’s physical presence isn’t in front of you, you think you can multitask,” he said. “People may be used to doing this at work, but you would never do that in a social context. It is also not o.k. to type on your computer while everybody else is deep in conversation.
If a host sees people drifting off, perhaps it’s time to step in and give people a gracious out. You could say, ‘We’ve been here for an hour now, and if some people need to go, that’s fine, and if a few people want to stay on for an additional half-hour, that’s great,’ It gives permission for someone to exit without feeling awkward.
But some people just want to keep talking. “Be sensitive to people who are going through a hard time. Try and bring everyone into the conversation,” Whitmore said.
We all need our friends even more these days.