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How to Throw a Progressive Dinner Party

Cocktails for Progressive Dinner Parties
Whatever cocktail you pick, use fresh ingredients instead of packaged mixes and make more than you think you'll need.
Whatever cocktail you pick, use fresh ingredients instead of packaged mixes and make more than you think you'll need.
© Mateev

No matter which progressive dinner party course you've been charged with coordinating, it should begin something like this: Greet guests as if they are the only people on earth you wish to see at that exact moment in time -- and then offer them a drink.

We're not talking complicated mixologist maneuvers here, just immediate access to the libation of their choice. A few moderately priced bottles of wine and a pitcher of signature drinks should do the trick. Just give your custom cocktail a theme-appropriate nickname, and use fresh-squeezed ingredients to give it vibrant color and flavor.

Sangria is simple to make for a crowd. Just combine a bottle of red wine with 1 cup Grand Marnier, 2 cups orange juice, 1 cup fresh lime juice and 4 tablespoons sugar. Then add about 1 cup each of various sliced fruits: lemons, oranges and whatever else is in season. Swirl in a couple cinnamon sticks, chill, pour over ice and voila -- a house cocktail. Plus, it can (and should) be made ahead of time so the flavors can meld -- just strain out the steeped fruit if it's not as pretty the next day, and/or add a few fresh slices for garnish.

Or whip up a pitcher of skinny margaritas. Bartender Darrell Autrey of Georgia-based Bowties & Shirtsleeves Consulting says that for every four guests, you can combine 1 cup silver tequila, 3/4 cup fresh lime juice and 6 tablespoons agave nectar (which is 40 percent sweeter than sugar) in a large pitcher with ice. To serve, drop thin slices of jalapeno into each glass or garnish with a split pepper.

For a non-alcoholic drink that still packs a visual punch, stir up some ginger-pineapple sparkling punch. Though great on its own, it's delightfully easy to rev up with a splash of gin. If you're serving the dessert course, offer a couple of chilled dessert wines, as well as coffee (Irish cream optional).

Keep white wine bottles and cocktail pitchers nestled in a tub of ice so guests can refill at will; a strategically convenient placement will lend a comfy air of abundance to your party. Plus, when guests can pour their own drinks you can get out from behind the bar and do what you were meant to: Play host -- or hostess -- during what's sure to be one of the year's most memorable parties.