Are you wanting to throw a dinner party but would also like to spread out the responsibility among some willing and able friends? I’ve got your answer, throw a progressive dinner!
A progressive dinner/supper is served by a team of friends with 2-6 different hosts, each at their own homes serving a different course at designated times. The party works best if you and your friends live a reasonable distance from each other as your guests enjoy one course and move on to the next house for the next course.
Growing up in the 70’s, progressive parties were something that I remember my parents did with their church group, and because it was adults only, I jealously dreamt about the day when I would throw my own. When that day came during a cold New England winter and I was looking for something to do, I thought about the progressive party.
I organized my first progressive party in my Lenox, Massachusetts neighborhood the Saturday before Super Bowl Sunday. This happened to be the year that the Patriots played the Falcons with that infamous come from behind win of 34/28! But I digress… There’s not a lot to do during a New England winter outside of watching football, hockey, or skiing and I’m not a real outdoorsy kind of gal… Planning a party kept me occupied!
We picked the day before Super Bowl Sunday because most people were going to be in town, so that made that it easy. Find a date that works for everyone. If its centered around a holiday like Christmas or New Year’s, that could be fun, but it also it can be just because it’s fall or spring, or like us, it was winter and we had nothing to do.
Hosting a big party can be intimidating but asking someone to host just one course is a little easier to swallow, not to mention you’re going to have people help you! You want at least three courses but my best practice is four. With four host locations, you want at least one to two other people to help at each location, equipping you with 12 party team volunteers. To invite my volunteers, I usually send an email to a group of people that is about 10 or 15% higher than the number I am needing because there will be people that cannot participate. I’ll explain what a progressive supper is and ask if they are interested in being a location host.
Once I secure my hosts, I work with them to decide what courses they would like to prepare. For a four host progressive supper, I would start with an appetizer and cocktail hour, then do a side whether it be a soup or salad, then an entrée, and then a dessert. If you can only get three hosts, you could combine the soup and salad and entree course and just double the length of time in that home.
Once you’ve established your location hosts, then you can work with the other people who have said they are interested in participating to assign team locations to help at. For example, I do not like to bake so I would rather not be on the dessert house team. If your volunteer and host do not know each other, send a brief introduction through email to establish the relationship.
Support the location hosts by giving them some guidance and understanding of the flow and what the expectation is.
Of course you have to have a theme! A theme is a way to help people figure out where to start instead of choosing random courses. You could choose French or Italian themes and every location would spin courses and décor off of that. As the organizer of the progressive supper, you can be as stringent or lenient as you would like to be but you need to provide some direction to help your hosts decide what they want to do.
I’m a rule follower, and though not every organizer likes to be one, giving your hosts some guidelines will keep everyone singing the same hymn from the same hymnal. I believe in setting expectations for everyone so there’s the best chance for success without disappointment. Examples of what you will need to figure out are:
Depending on where you’re location hosts are, if it’s in the same neighborhood, or houses across town, you’ll want to consider the time it will take to get from course location to course location. Once you’ve established how long it will take then you can establish your start and end times. You may want to build in a little extra time on top of travel to allow people to say their hello’s and get coats on and off. A 15 minute grace period usually works well. If the travel time becomes greater than 30 minutes, not including your grace period, then you might want to consider starting earlier or having less courses.
For example, last Christmas, my neighborhood hosted a progressive Christmas supper inside the development that I live in where houses are on a couple of acres. Most people either owned a UTV or a golf cart that they used to go from house to house, so it didn’t take longer than 5-10 minutes to move between course locations. Here was our timeline:
Start Time: 5pm End Time: 9:30pm
5:00pm – 5:45pm Cocktail Hour at House A
6:00pm – 6:45pm First Course at House B
7:00pm – 8:15pm Main Course at House C
8:30pm – 9:30pm Dessert Course at House D
One of the rules we communicated was having guests bring their own drinking glass. They went from place to place with their own glass and everyone supplied beverages that coordinated with their course. We did that for a few reasons, one is we were driving in UTV’s so people could finish their drinking on the go and second, with Covid still in people’s minds, this was kind of an easy way to not have to deal with germs. We also chose to use paper plates so clean up was faster. Talk to your location hosts and get their input on the rules for the evening and be open to negotiations, because after all, this is a party and you want this to be fun for everybody!
I like to send an evite with the Paperless Posts but you can be as casual as sending an email. Make sure you communicate the timeline and the rules with your guests so they know exactly what to do.
As a former caterer I have lots of tips and tricks to share to make sure you are able to enjoy your party as either the organizer of the progressive dinner or as a location host.
Each location host should develop a timeline for whatever they are making and ask their team members to bring their part to your home prior to the start of the progressive supper. Have everything out that you can if it doesn’t have to be refrigerated and if it has to be warmed, after it’s been heated through you can put it in a cooler as long as it’s covered. Before you leave your home to go to the first stop make sure you have all your serving wear out and everything ready to go so you can literally pop into your house and put everything out within three or four minutes.
Lean on your team members for support! If someone is not a great cook and you are using paper products, make them in charge of bringing those and that can be their contribution.
If you are a location host, I highly recommend that you do not try any new recipes for this. Make something that you are comfortable with! Depending on your situation and which course you’re doing, you could even invite your team members over to all cook together that afternoon, which is totally up to you.
The last step is to enjoy! One of the great things about the progressive supper idea is that you get to share conversations and fellowship with people that you might know really well or people that you’re just getting to know. That’s one reason I love hosting this in neighborhoods because as much as you might know your neighbor across the street enough to wave, you might not sit down at a table with them very often. I know that it can seem overwhelming but you’re really breaking up the duties once you come up with the concept and then you’re just giving marching orders to team members. You can also be a location host if you want!
I challenge you to find a time in the next six months to do this with your friends and/or neighbors. Present this idea with the ladies in your church group or at your mommy and me class. When times are tough, welcoming people into your home and creating an environment for fellowship will lift everyone up.