Dig deep, friends.
As we rally the last vestiges of 2020, it’s important to focus on the valuable life skills we’ve unintentionally mastered this year: adaptability, resilience, responsibility and tolerance (and more fucking virtual meetings than we have ever had in our entire lives). Whether it’s been free-range children wandering in on Zoom calls, barking dogs overpowering important presentations, or Wi-Fi outages bringing your day to a screeching halt — we’ve all been there. And somehow, we’ve all found unconventional ways to make it work.
The holidays should be no different. If necessity truly is the mother of invention, then finding ways to share special holiday memories with loved ones amid this year’s socially distant reality should be mankind’s modern-day Creativity Revolution. Plenty of options still exist for creating holiday moments just as special as those we had when we could simply show up at each other’s homes.
We all started 2020 the same — enjoying the novelty of online Happy Hours with family and friends — but the freshness of that blue-lit facetime quickly wore out as digital fatigue sunk in. But that doesn’t mean we should completely rule out the ripe opportunity that virtual experiences can provide for maintaining vital connections with each other. After all, your face + my face still equals face-to-face (only now with the added benefit of a mute button to silence anyone who gets too far out of line).
Like everything else in life, a little ingenuity can go a long way to break through the boredom. The winning ingredient for digital socialization is to center your meetup around a specific activity. Get fancy and hire a professional to facilitate an organized evening, or go as simple as creating your own private group on Facebook or Zoom and inviting friends and family to gather online.
Need a nudge? Here are a few starters:
1. Curated Cocktail Hour
(Wait, didn’t we already establish that going online and drinking got boring months ago?)
Well, yes, but there are ways around this. We recommend curating an experience. I absolutely love a shared experience where everyone can focus on something you are all doing together. Throw out a quick poll, or suggest a cocktail for everyone. Make it something new and novel, and instruct your attendees to get the ingredients ahead of time. I am a big fan of mise-en-place when I cook, and making craft cocktails is no different. Order the components online, get them all ready, and then the host can give a mixology lesson to the group. At the end of the evening, everyone will have added to their personal repertoire of tried-and-true drink recipes — perfect to resurrect when we’re all able to gather in person again.
My favorite craft cocktail that I have found this year is a recipe for the Aviation. This is a great pre-prohibition cocktail that deserves some respect. We had the great fun of making this during a cooking class with the team from Truffle Shuffle — and being virtually connected with my parents in the audience, as well. I’ll go into more detail about them below, but the short version is that they are former French Laundry-trained chefs that have started a virtual cooking class company. Think Michelin-Star Hello Fresh, with a teacher.
I was able to source MOST of the ingredients for the cocktail locally — the lemon, eggs, Maraschino cherry liqueur, gin, etc. — but the creme de’ violette was a special order. Dad to the rescue: he overnighted me a bottle to make this all work. Who doesn’t love getting a physical package in the mail these days? It was a bit MacGyver, a bit of Tom Hanks in the opening scene of Castaway, and a whole lot of fun.
Point being, don’t just “be,” take the time and effort to curate the experience.
Here’s the recipe:
- 2 ounces gin
- 1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)
- 1/2 ounce crème de violette
- 3/4 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- Splash Simple Syrup
- Garnish: brandied cherry
- Enhancement: One Egg White
- Add gin, Luxardo & violette with a splash of simple syrup, lemon juice and egg white.
- DRY Shake the ingredients (no ice) for 60 seconds
- Add ice and shake for another 30 seconds
- Strain over new ice into a rocks glass.
- Garnish with a brandied cherry.
2. Dinner Date
On to the team from Truffle Shuffle. If you are looking for a virtual dinner date, consider another curated experience — sensing a theme here? This particular business is a couple of chefs that were formerly at the French Laundry, and opened up a Zoom-style, learn-to-prep-and-cook-a-meal mail order business. They are rock solid, have great production value and keep the hour-and-a-half class moving.
We learned about the Truffle Shuffle team through the Mondavi Sisters. They offered the cooking class with one of their Dark Matter wine pairings. We loved it so much, we booked a second class. This is a great way to connect with customers or friends over the holidays and gives everyone a great story to talk about. It also includes EVERYTHING you need for the meal in one package.
We’re definitely seeing more of these particular cooking-class-style mail order classes out there, so keep your eyes open for new offerings as well as wine pairings to take this to the next level.
Do your own search for sommelier-led, around-the-world wine tastings like the list Food and Wine recently put out. And if you are a current client of Decibel, look for your Truffle Shuffle invites coming early next year. We like it so much — and it’s so in my wheelhouse — that we are planning to roll this out for some great client connections, as well!
3. Game Night
Who doesn’t love a good game night? If there’s anything this year has taught us, it’s that the simplest ideas can turn out to be the most fun. This type of virtual get-together provides easy interaction for a diverse group of friends who may not all know each other well, or for family (who may sometimes wish they didn’t know each other so well). Grab the box of Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Scattergories or Yahtzee, dial into the video call, and let the showdown begin. Multiplayer video games like Call of Duty and Mario Kart can also be shared online, many with chat functionality to smack talk your buddies as if they were sitting right next to you. The last time the family got together to do this, we ended up dueling for hours. I definitely recommend this for an easy impromptu connection that doesn’t require heavy pre-planning or coordination.
For a more in-depth adventure, we’ve seen in-person team-building activities like Escape Rooms morph into online experiences this year, too. Once again, centered around a shared objective, escape rooms are a different and unique way to gather a group of people and create some excitement and connections (something we’re all craving these days). Just like the traditional escape rooms, the collaboration and competition among allies is great fun and the shared victory in the end is a memorable reward in itself.
4. Gift Exchange
This one may take a little advanced planning, but with the help of a free service like Elfster, you can generate a secret gift exchange and host an across-the-miles unwrapping party with each other.
Or you can go straight pyramid-scheme. Have you seen the Holiday Bourbon Exchange going around Facebook? By the time you read this, the pyramid should be complete — but there may still be time. The basic premise is that a friend of yours tags you on Facebook and offers you to sign up for the “Holiday Bourbon Exchange.” The rules are that you buy ONE bottle of bourbon for your friend’s friend, then put your name on the list and send the instructions to your friends. Bottles of bourbon start appearing at your doorstep. Is it a windfall? Not really — I sent my one bottle and (as of this writing) have received about five in return. Not a bad return, but not the three dozen that the letter promises. Why? It’s a chain letter pyramid scheme. People drop out, don’t continue the trend, are wary (as they should be). It’s why pyramid schemes don’t work.
Why was this one different? We’re all missing the human connection. I jumped on this because it was a fun idea, and thought that at $45, it was worth the buy-in to see what happened. It was worth it to do something nice for someone I didn’t know (but was a friend of a friend) and thought I would love to connect with some new people. That worked in spades. It’s likely my most commented post on Facebook, I have connected with friends that I have not seen in a long time, and absolutely got $45 in value out of the experience.
Why are we talking about this here? I’m not expecting or suggesting you run your own pyramid scheme. But take this as an awesome experiential lesson and a magnifying glass to 2020. Virtual/digital is not enough. Your clients and audience are LONGING for a physical connection. Even more than in years past. Those brands and corporations that figure out a way to crack that barrier will end up out front. Every.single.time.
No matter how distant you may physically feel from friends and family this year, make your 2020 holidays a time for social creativity — get inventive, get virtual, and get celebrating.
Have some ideas of your own? Be sure to share them in the comments below.