Dining in a restaurant is about so much more than the food. There's no better way to bring people together than over a delicious meal in a fun, lively environment. There was nothing I missed more when restaurants were forced to close under Chicago's indoor dining restrictions in the beginning of the pandemic. As restaurants started to reopen, indoor dining was a risk I was willing to take. With Governor Pritzker's most recent, second ban on indoor dining, I've been getting creative at home to indulge my inner foodie.

Here are some cheap and easy ideas to spice up your at-home dining life. Food doesn't have to be just a necessity. Have some fun and make it an event!

Fondue Night

Sometimes when under stress, all you want to do is eat an entire pot of cheese. Disguise your craving as a fancy fondue night to make it more socially acceptable. A fondue pot is nice, but you can just as easily melt grated cheese in a saucepan. Creamy cheeses like swiss, fontina, gouda or gruyere work great. Pick your favorite assortment of fruits, veggies, meats and bread, and you’re set for a decadent fondue night. Have it with friends or have it all to yourself. Who says you need to share?

Baking Competition

I've always dreamed of "cheffing it up" in a competition like they do in The Great British Baking Show. Thanks to Zoom, you can have a virtual baking competition with your friends. Decide on a recipe and see who makes the best-looking dessert or stock your kitchens with the same set of ingredients and see who make the most creative dish under a time limit. You won't be able to taste each other's creations, but that might be an advantage. You can crown yourself the winner regardless of how your dessert actually turned out.

Takeout Picnic

As the weather gets colder, many restaurants no longer have the option of outdoor dining. Instead, have your own socially distanced takeout picnic. All you need to spice up your takeout game is a blanket, a park, some decent weather and food from your favorite restaurant (and some layers if it’s chilly). If you’re feeling fancy, order bites from a few of your favorite eateries and enjoy a smorgasbord of appetizers. Bring some cloth napkins and reusable silverware to cut down on waste, and elevate your picnic game to the next level.

Cocktail/Mocktail Night

Cocktails from restaurants and bars can be really expensive. Instead, buy the ingredients to make your favorite cocktail or mocktail at home. You’ll save a lot of money per drink and finally get to use that fancy cocktail shaker you’ve been meaning to test out.

Fine dining doesn't need to be limited to restaurants. With these ideas, you can have an equally great experience with delicious food, drink and dessert, all while having (socially distant) fun with friends.