How to Plan a Progressive Dinner Party
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.
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.
- 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 is an elegant, make-ahead dessert. You can make a decadent chocolate version, like English Chocolate Trifle with Apricots and Raspberries or something on the lighter side, like Strawberry Angel Food Trifle.
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.
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