5 Steps to Throwing a Fabulous Virtual Happy Hour
Virtual offsites and corporate happy hours shouldn’t feel like just another meeting. Here’s a fresh take on how to spice them up.
By Logan Davis
September 10, 2020
Since quarantine first hit, Zoom stock spiked by nearly 250%. It seemed every team or group of friends had a video call planned to bond and reconnect. A month passed, then a couple more, and work from home became the new normal. In time, the well intended Zoom hangout became a drag. But as far as we can tell, virtual gatherings are here to stay, and we shouldn't have to settle for a monotonous social life while working remotely. Maker is on a mission to keep your virtual offsites and happy hours fresh and fun, because a mood boost, chance to build community while dispersed, and – if you do it our way – slight buzz is always worthwhile.
So, what’s our take on the virtual happy hour? Crack a can with some co-workers and connect over some independently produced, exemplary wine. No pretentious wine terms or terroir knowledge necessary – just an appetite for a good time (and wine, always wine). Whether you DIY it or go with Maker, here’s your how-to.
1. Keep the logistics simple
Well before the big day, pick a 1 hour time slot and put a hold on everyone’s calendar. Send out clear and concise instructions for joining ahead of time to avoid the dreaded 5 minutes of mayhem as people are trying to log-on or find the link – we’ve all been there. If you’re booking your happy hour with a service, choose a company that will send the goods right to everyone’s door to ease the hassle.
We recommend using Zoom or Google Hangouts and testing your wifi, camera and microphone before the event. 6-20 participants is the optimal size to keep that dinner party-like, conversational feel. For larger groups, utilize break-out rooms and pull the engaged talkers off mute selectively.
Most importantly, have your drinkware and a snack easily accessible during the event – hanger (hunger that turns into anger, we know it all too well) doesn’t pair well with a wine tasting.
Maker suggests snacks to pair with our canned wines so you get the full experience. Photo Credit: Mithi Studio.
2. Include a structured activity
Themed happy hours are fun, of course, but bonding over your colleague’s goofy Western Wednesday outfit gets old a couple minutes in. To keep everyone engaged – and give people permission to show up as they are – have an activity to do together to create a naturally structured experience.
A wine tasting can offer a fresh take and tends to encourage participation, because who doesn’t want free wine? And a canned wine tasting does so without adding the stereotypical snobbery (yes, this is somewhat of a shameless plug – of course we want to crack a can with you). Here are some other great ideas, too:
Give everyone a small budget to create their own craft cocktail, and share the recipes on the happy hour.
Choose two wines and do a blind tasting to compare the two.
Do a DIY craft together
"Tasting wine with friends over Zoom creates a shared experience that takes your focus off the computer and into the moment. We don't get to use our other senses together much anymore, so a communal, virtual wine tasting stands out from a happy hour where everyone is drinking their own unique beverage."
- Kendra, co-founder at Maker
3. Have a moderator or guest
We’ve all been to that happy hour where the same people talk and others wait until the appropriate time to drop off. Having a MC keeps the conversation moving throughout the hour and engages all participants. Some pro tips for moderators are:
Kick-off the event with an icebreaker question or prompt that speaks to your audience, or even by referencing an inside joke – setting a goofy tone puts guests at ease.
Be prepared to keep things smooth if your connection is lost or your voice breaks up by encouraging guests to ping the chatroom and speak up right away if things get fuzzy.
Don’t be afraid to keep the momentum going! Respecting people’s time and bringing everyone back together after a minute or so of side chatter keeps the energy up. And it’s always good to leave them wanting more than to go over time.
Want to elevate the experience? Invite the winemaker or local ambassador to join in on the fun and tell you about the wines.
4. Make it interactive
Preventing those awkward silences is key to a virtual happy hour worth writing home about. Here are some clever ways to naturally encourage interaction (without the dreaded cold call):
Ask participants to upload a background image prior to the call that represents where they’d rather be drinking. It’s a great conversation starter as people are getting comfortable (we find that the buzz helps loosen people up, too).
Encourage people to stay off mute throughout the hour (added bonus: your very own laugh track) and assign someone to man the chatroom.
Tell everyone to write down what they’re tasting in the wine, then ask people to hold up and reveal their tasting notes.
Poll the group and get full participation by asking everyone to raise a hand if they’ve tried wine from a can before, or set up a proper poll in Zoom.
Don’t forget to snap a picture at the end to commemorate the occasion!
Maker cracks a can over video with corporate, distributed teams
5. Bring on the Makers
At Maker, we’ve watched the evolution of virtual corporate happy hours from the very beginning, and have been lucky enough to be a part of a lot of these virtual gatherings. Our street cred: since April we've hosted over 100 virtual wine tastings for thousands of distributed employees at companies like Slack, Coinbase, Airbnb, and Lyft – and we still can’t get enough.
In part because of the amazing people we’ve had the pleasure of drinking with, and in part because canned wine is just delicious, our happy hours haven’t hit a lull yet. There’s something unique about experiencing the same wine at the same time that connects people in a sensorial way, despite being virtual. Drinking Maker is a fun, indulgent, and still very low-key way to connect with others and learn about something new – during a time where connection and inspiration seem hard to come by in the world.
"Kendra and Sarah brought the feeling of a Napa or Sonoma wine tasting to the comfort and safety of our own homes. It provided a brief but much-needed escape from our siloed work from home environment and allowed us all to learn about and enjoy the wine together."
- Mark Jeffrey, Director of Business Development at Carta
Our new 6-pack featuring Viognier, Rosé, and Pinot Noir. Photo Credit: Mithi Studio.