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Tips for hosting your own virtual happy hour with friends

Pour a glass of wine and stay connected from the safety of your own couch.
Pour yourself a glass and gather around Zoom for a virtual happy hour. [LUCA BRUNO  |  AP]
Pour yourself a glass and gather around Zoom for a virtual happy hour. [LUCA BRUNO | AP]

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Like it or not, a lot of us are doing much more teleconferencing these days thanks to the coronavirus.

But those platforms have a party side, too.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been logging in to happy hour on Zoom with a small group of friends, all of whom are either working at home or retired.

We toast, we rant, we gossip, we laugh, we check on each other’s health, we refill our glasses. We even watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico, thanks to one friend who lives in a waterfront condo where she can perch her laptop on the balcony for the view while she appears on her tablet.

The whole time, we’re not just 6 feet apart but miles away from each other, in our own homes.

Apps for teleconferencing have become much easier to use — Zoom is a breeze. There are rules for virtual business meetings, like muting your mic when you’re not speaking and (if you can) keeping kids and pets out of the room.

We’ve blithely disregarded those rules. At happy hour, it’s natural for people to talk over each other. And hearing everyone laugh at the same time might scramble the audio a bit, but it’s balm to the heart in these stressful days.

As for impromptu visitors, we’ve welcomed various pets. I think my dog wants me to ramp up the snack selection, though.

Here are a few more tips based on my recent virtual happy hours.

Agree on a day and time to hang out, and designate a host to set it up and send invitations. Timing for my group is easy because we all live around Tampa Bay, but you might need to negotiate if you’re drinking with friends in other time zones.

The free version of Zoom limits a conference to 40 minutes. Sign up for one of the paid levels to sip and chat longer.

Keep the group small, no more than about half a dozen people. That will allow you to see everyone and track conversations. Our group numbers four or five, which works well.

Despite social distancing, spruce up a little, as you might for real-world happy hour. Brush your hair. Put on a clean shirt. Changing out of pajama pants remains optional.

Put down your other devices and be present. It makes for a happier happy hour.

What to drink? Whatever you like. My friends and I are wine drinkers, so we’re hoisting reds and whites and, for one friend, always bubbly.

Fortunately, in stores wine remains a lot easier to find than hand sanitizer. (Before you plague profiteers get any ideas about converting it, the alcohol content is way too low to slow down the coronavirus.)

As the weather warms up, I always lean toward crisp albarinos and sauvignon blancs. One friend is a fan of reds; in summer, you might try lighter ones, like pinot noir. And there’s that one friend for whom it’s always bubbles. Until we can all share a bottle of sparkler with her in real life, it’s good to Zoom. To your health!

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