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How to Host a Progressive Dinner Party

Filed Under: food, entertaining

"What is a progressive dinner party?", you might be asking. It is a party where each successive course is eaten at a different host's house -- the guests progress from house to house. Hence, the name progressive dinner party.

I'll admit here that the first time I heard of a progressive dinner party I thought of the word in terms of being new, innovative, and hip! Which maybe it was in 1950, when these types of parties first made an appearance. Progressive parties declined in popularity during the 80's and 90's, replaced by catered affairs. Oh, those glorious days of disposable income! In recent years casual entertaining has enjoyed a resurgence and the progressive dinner party is making a comeback.

Essentially it is like a potluck dinner, but instead of the food traveling to one location, the guests travel to the location of the food. Everyone begins at the first house with appetizers, they the guests move en masse to the next house for the next course of the meal.

The pressure is off of any one person to be the sole host of the party, both in the entertaining and cost. And in this current economy, this struck us as a great DIY topic.

So, just how do you have a progressive dinner party of your own?

Select the hosts -- 3 or 4 is usually enough.

Form a guest list, keeping in mind the size of everyone's homes. While 24 people might easily fit in the house of the person who is handling the appetizers, they might not comfortably fit into the home of the person serving the main course, where the guests are more likely to be seated.

Keep the homes close together. Even better if you can plan a party with your neighbors so there is no driving involved, and therefore no need for designated drivers.

When planning the menu, consider foods that can be prepared in advance so that the hosts can also relax and enjoy the party.

What about the kids? You can include them in the dinner party if you want. Another (better!) idea is to have the kids at the last house with a babysitter or two. They can watch movies and eat kid-friendly food while you are enjoying adult conversation. Then you join the children for your last stop -- dessert -- which is probably the only one that the children are interested in anyway.

What about you? If you've thrown a progressive dinner party, any tips to share? Do you have other clever time- and money-saving tips for entertaining?

  • Deb

    While in theory this seems like a nice way to go, I picture four houses needing to be cleaned for one meal. I vote for a nice potluck held at one house at a time. Four great get-togethers, and only one house needs to be cleaned!

  • Stephanie

    Deb - I'm with you. In theory it is supposed to make things easier but actually puts out 3 or 4 familys to clean their houses. I would never do this type of party. If folks want to save then have one big potluck at each house and you get 3 or 4 nights out. Spot on Deb. I would happily have a potluck with you but I live in Toronto. :)

  • jen

    Don't knock it 'til you've tried it! We've done this dockside when we kept our boat at a marina. 16 to 36 couples, four courses, and one very intricate flowchart. We structured it so that you never ate a course with the same group more than once. I was skeptical, but it turned out to be a LOT of fun. We kept the menu simple, and it was loads easier to prepare(and clean) one dish than to plan an entire menu. Although we didn't know many of the participants at the beginning of the night, we made several new friends. Having our "houses" only yards apart definitely helped eliminate concerns about alcohol.

  • Karie

    The only problem I see is that most of my friends don't live close to me. I would love to have a progressive party, but I don't think the whole "get in the car and drive" would work. And I don't know my neighbors well enough to suggest something like this.

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