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How to Plan a Progressive Dinner Party

Updated on April 11, 2012

Are you looking for a different way to ring in the New Year? Do you need a great idea for a birthday party? Or are you simply trying to beat the winter blahs? A progressive dinner party is a great way to celebrate a special event or to make even an ordinary Saturday night seem special. This guide will tell you everything you need to know to plan your party, including menu suggestions and recipes. Round up your food-loving friends, plan your travel route and menu, and get ready for a truly memorable night of food and fun.

The Basic Concept

Each course is prepared and eaten at a different host home as you progress through the dinner. Because you'll be traveling between courses, it can take several hours to complete the entire meal. If you time it right, you'll be eating dessert shortly before midnight, which makes this party idea a particularly good choice for a New Year's Eve celebration or the evening before a milestone birthday.

Toasting the first course of a New Year's Eve progressive dinner.
Toasting the first course of a New Year's Eve progressive dinner. | Source

Planning the Itinerary

What you'll need: 3 to 5 host homes within close proximity to one another to minimize travel time. (This makes a great neighborhood party.) Assign a course and time slot to each host home, allowing at least an hour at each house and 10-15 minutes of travel time between houses. Here's a sample schedule:

6:00-7:15: Appetizer at House A

7:30-8:45: Soup and salad at House B

9:00-10:15: Main course at House C

10:30-12:00: Dessert at House D

If you have five host homes, split the soup and salad course into two separate courses or have a fish course and a meat course instead of one main dish course. It's not recommended to have more than five stops on the route for logistical reasons. If you have more guests than host homes, assign the non-hosting guests to help with a particular course. The hosts will appreciate having others to share the costs of the food and to help prepare and serve it.

Planning the Menu

The entire menu may be coordinated around a particular theme or cuisine or each host (and their team of non-host helpers) may be given discretion to determine what food will be served within the parameters of the assigned course. Consider the following when planning the menu:

  • There will be a relatively short time to serve and eat each course before moving on, so don't throw a prime rib roast in the oven when you and all the guests arrive at your home for the main course because it will never be ready in time. Short of hiring a chef to prepare the food at your house while you are progressing through the other courses, the food should be prepared in advance and held or finished quickly at the appointed time.
  • Use small plates. There will be a lot of food served as the party progresses from home to home.

Crab cakes make a great appetizer course.
Crab cakes make a great appetizer course. | Source
  • The appetizer house has somewhat of an advantage because the hosts can time the food to be ready when guests arrive, eat and then enjoy the rest of the party, saving clean-up until later. Start the party off on a great note and serve a beautiful plate of Crab Cakes with Black-Eyed Pea, Pineapple and Red Pepper Salad. (This dish is especially appropriate for a New Year's Eve dinner since eating black-eyed peas is said to bring good luck in the new year.) Make the crab cakes as specified in the recipe. When making the salad, toss with only half the dressing. Save the rest to drizzle over the crab cakes and salad after plating.
  • The soup can be made in advance and held in a slow cooker. Keep it light because there is a lot more food to come. Try a refreshing Tortilla Soup with Chicken and Lime.
  • Since salad will be the centerpiece of the course, make it memorable. Frisee and Apple Salad with Dried Cherries and Walnuts is a good choice. Make it up ahead of time, keeping the dressing separate. (If you can't find frisee, used prewashed mixed greens.) Toss with the dressing as soon as guests arrive and serve.
  • Lasagna is a good option for the main course. Make a few different kinds, like Smoked Cheese and Sausage Lasagna and Swiss Chard Lasagna with Ricotta and Mushrooms. Or use a slow cooker to time the food to be ready when the party arrives. Try a hearty Beef Bourgiognon or Crockpot Chicken.

A trifle for dessert.
A trifle for dessert. | Source

Other Special Touches

  • If you are celebrating a special event like New Year's Eve or a milestone birthday, provide party favors and hats along the way, and champagne or birthday cake at midnight.
  • Consider pairing a wine with your course. Have enough bottles of that wine for everyone to have a glass. Try this handy tool for pairing wine with food.

More Fun Dinner Party Ideas


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    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 5 years ago from Iowa

      Good! Give it a try, alphagirl. Thanks for reading.

    • alphagirl profile image

      alphagirl 5 years ago from USA

      You just reminded me if something I have wanted to do!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 5 years ago from Iowa

      That sounds like quite an event, Laura! Thanks for the comment.

    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Progressive dinners are a lot of fun. Our neighborhood has one for about 100 people every year. Potluck apps at one house; dinner at 10-12 different houses (dinner is the same at all houses and prepped and distributed by a team in the morning - the host family just has to pop it in the oven and mix up salad ingredients), and potluck dessert at another house. Lots of fun, and a great way to get the know the neighbors!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 5 years ago from Iowa

      Thanks, Robert. It's a great way to have an awesome dinner party without trashing anyone's house too much.

    • Robert Erich profile image

      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      This is a fun, creativity, and phenomenal idea! I may just have to go try one of these parties for myself. Thanks for sharing!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 6 years ago from Iowa

      Haha, BusinessTime. Love it! I'm thinking we need to get together sometime for a party. : ) Happy New Year to you, too.

    • BusinessTime profile image

      Sarah Kolb-Williams 6 years ago from Twin Cities

      Deborah, this is so funny -- we play a game called Make A Drink, which started in the deep woods of Alaska when we passed the time by taking turns rummaging around in the fridge creating shots made with vodka and random fridge items. This time our ingredients are a little classier, but the premise is the same -- maybe a spin-off television show? :)

      Happy New Year!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 6 years ago from Iowa

      You'll have to give it a try sometime, random; if not for new year's then sometime this winter. BusinessTime, you should try my "Chopped Challenge" cocktail competition from my hub, Throw a Chopped Challenge Dinner Party (link above), at your party.

    • BusinessTime profile image

      Sarah Kolb-Williams 6 years ago from Twin Cities

      What a great idea! This year we luck out because we have the dog, so we've having a few dogless couples come over for infused vodka cocktails (I'm filtering the cheap vodka right now!) and sleep over on our air mattresses. But this would be a fantastic idea if our friends lived a little bit closer!

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      I have never participated in one of these before, but it sounds like such a fun idea! Thanks for the great tips. This would be really perfect for New Year's.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 6 years ago from Iowa

      Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone. Amy, great point about the camera; I just have to remember to use it. I didn't get any photos at the soup and salad house.

      I personally like spending New Year's Eve at someone's home to avoid all the crazies. Happy New Year to you all!

    • kikalina profile image

      kikalina 6 years ago from Europe

      How interesting. A house hop instead of a bar hop!

    • ITcoach profile image

      ITcoach 6 years ago from United States

      Good guide for arranging dinner party or celebrating a special event or to make an ordinary Saturday night special with menu suggestions and recipes.Voted up and Beautiful.

    • ishwaryaa22 profile image

      Ishwaryaa Dhandapani 6 years ago from Chennai, India

      Interesting Hub! Excellent Advice for those want to throw New Year Eve parties at homes! Your idea of few host-homes within close proximity to each other, menus and all are awesome! Vote up!

      New Year Greetings.

    • KrystalD profile image

      KrystalD 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Perfect timing!I love this :)

    • profile image

      Amy Ganske 6 years ago

      So much fun! It's now a neighborhood tradition. Stumbling home is driving. Bring the camera to create photo memories of the night!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 6 years ago from Iowa

      Happy New Year to you, too, Arlene. I always volunteer for the first house so I get my part of the work out of the way early on.

      Lisa, having games at each house is a great idea. Next time I update the hub, I will add that as a suggestion. Thanks for the advice and for reading.

    • Rusticliving profile image

      Elizabeth Rayen 6 years ago from California

      I LOVE progressive dinner parties. They are so much fun and what is so cool about it is that you don't have a whole meal to deal with, just one course. We would also do some form of entertainment or game at each location. This helps especially while you are waiting for everyone to arrive or if we have to wait on the course to be served, etc. Great hub!



    • profile image

      Arlene V. Poma 6 years ago

      This is sooooooo creative, and I love the photograph of everyone around the table because they look so happy. Wouldn't mind a few crab cakes, either. I would never think of doing this as a hostess or a guest, so I'm living the experience through your Hub. Voted up and everything else. Happy New Year!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 6 years ago from Iowa

      Or even better, select host homes that are within walking (or stumbling) distance. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • marriedwithdebt profile image

      marriedwithdebt 6 years ago from Illinois

      Great idea. I would have to use a taxi or designated driver as I enjoy bourbon and wine. Voted up