The idea of going from one friend's home to another for each course of a dinner is super fun and funky, and it's totally doable. A progressive dinner party takes a little more planning than other kinds of potlucks, but it has lots of advantages. It turns the entire evening into an interactive dinner event and lets everyone in your friend group play host. Plus, it lets each person focus on a specific dish so nobody has to make an entire meal. Throwing this kind of party is actually pretty easy.
Start Your Progressive Dinner Party Planning With a Map
With a progressive dinner, you go from one house to the next as a group. You'll have appetizers at one place, salads at another, soup at a third, and so on. The key to making this work is looking at a map before you start. The houses shouldn't be too far apart (that's a recipe for cold soup, after all), and they should be in some kind of consecutive order. Your route should lead naturally from one house to another.
If there will be alcohol involved, you'll either need a few designated drivers or houses that are within walking distance of each other. As you plan, keep the house locations and whether you're serving alcohol in mind.
Figure Out How Many Courses/Houses You'll Include
Next, take a few minutes to figure out how many people will participate in the progressive dinner. That's how many courses your meal will have. You just have to decide from there which courses they will be. Here are a few possible options:
- Three houses/courses - Soup or salad, main dish, dessert
- Four houses/courses - Appetizers, soup or salad, main dish, dessert
- Five houses/courses - Appetizers, soup, salad, main dish, dessert
- Six houses/course - Appetizers, soup, salad, main dish, dessert, after-dinner drinks
- Seven houses/courses - Appetizers, soup, salad, main dish, cheese plate, dessert, after-dinner drinks
- Eight houses/courses - Appetizers, soup, salad, first main dish, second main dish, cheese plate, dessert, after-dinner drinks
Pick a Date and Time for Your Progressive Dinner
When you know who will be involved, pick an evening that works for everyone. Because you're travelling from one house to another and there may be cooking time involved between courses, expect this moveable feast to take a few hours. Plan travel time between houses, the time it might take to finish preparing the course at each house, and a little cushion of time for chatting and getting organized at each place. Work backwards from there to set the time for the party.
One option to consider in your timing is having the hosts at the next house leave a little early from the previous venue. For example, if everyone is having soup at the Smiths' house and the Johnsons are hosting the main dish next, the Johnsons can leave the Smiths' about 10-15 minutes early to start getting the main course ready. Then, when everyone shows up at the Johnsons' house, the main course will be just about ready to serve. This keeps downtime to a minimum and lets the progressive dinner run smoother and be a little shorter.
Consider a Theme for Your Moveable Feast
A theme can make any party even more fun, and progressive dinner parties are no exception. You can use the theme in menu planning, decorating, invitations, and anything else you like. Here are some fun and creative ideas to try:
- Ethnic cuisine - Pick your favorite ethnic cuisine and have everyone make food that fits with that.
- Mystery - A mystery dinner party is always fun, and the moveable nature of this one will make it even more exciting.
- Scavenger hunt - Add a scavenger hunt to your progressive dinner so people can compete to find specific items as they move from house to house.
- 80s - Channel everyone's favorite decade with 80s dinner party menu ideas and decorations that are totally radical. Include a special 80s-themed cocktail hour.
- Holiday - Have a progressive dinner party to celebrate Christmas or another favorite holiday, or make it a friendsgiving party that's all about food and friends.
- Tapas/small plates - Instead of full courses, have each location offer a few small plates for guests to enjoy along with wine or drink pairings.
Sign Up for Courses and Send Out Invitations
Once you know how many people will be hosting and the route everyone will take from house to house, you can start signing up for courses and planning your menu. Then, send out invitations to everyone who will be attending. Your invitation wording should include the basics about the number of people, the location and approximate time of each course, and whether kids are welcome. Here's an example to help inspire you:
Please join us for an adults-only progressive dinner for six people on Saturday, July 8! We'll be starting with drinks and appetizers at the Smiths' (123 Main St.) at 5pm, moving on to the Johnsons' (456 Elm St.) for the main course at 7pm, and finishing up the evening with dessert at the Martinez house (789 Birch Rd.) at 8:30pm. Let us know if you can attend by RSVPing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you're planning, don't forget to take food allergies and sensitivities into account. Check in with guests ahead of time and include any food allergies on your invitation with simple wording such as, "Please make sure food is dairy-free to accommodate food allergies."
Pick Some Great Food for Your Party
Your party menu will depend on the theme and whether anyone has a specialty they want to try. The party food can be as fancy as lobster or as simple as grilled burgers; it's up to you. These are a few dishes that work super well for this kind of event:
- Risotto - Because it reheats so well, this dish is ideal for making ahead and then reheating when people get to your house. You can add extra risotto ingredients to make it super tasty.
- Brie appetizers - Almost everyone loves brie, which can make it a perfect appetizer for this type of event. There are lots of ways to serve brie too.
- Quesadillas - Whether you choose a vegetarian quesadilla recipe or one with chicken, beef, or another meat, you can prepare the inside ingredients ahead of time and then just fill and cook them when you're hosting.
- Ribs - For a main course, slow cooker ribs can work really well for this type of party. They can cook while you're at other houses, and you don't need to leave the previous party early to get them going.
- Chocolate dip or fondue - Dipping things in chocolate is an interactive and exciting treat, and it's a perfect progressive dinner party dessert because you can do most of the prep ahead of time. Have all the dipping options ready ahead of time and then just make the chocolate dip or fondue right before you serve.
Have Fun Cooking, Chatting, and Sharing Hosting Duties
No matter what you choose to eat or how many courses you have, a progressive dinner party is a fun way to get to know your neighbors or share the hosting duties with friends. Have a great time planning and an even better time sampling food and chatting with people at this unique event.