How to Throw a Progressive Dinner Party

Make your progressive dinner course easy by choosing dishes that can be prepped and cooked beforehand, then assembled when guests arrive.
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We know game night is a sure thing. So is girls' night at the city's newest hot spot. But don't discount a dinner party -- especially the progressive kind.

This moving feast offers hours of entertainment with a limited amount of prep work. It's a great way to entertain a group of friends or neighbors without shouldering the whole responsibility (or cost) of a multi-course dinner party -- all because a progressive dinner party is held at several homes in succession, with a single course served at each one.

Whether you'd like to plan a simple affair or throw an elaborately themed mobile soiree, there are a few basic tenants to follow. The most important? Encourage each host to prepare their course ahead of time so they can join the guests as the party migrates.

A weekend may work best for your progressive party, as a four-course dinner will take nearly four hours. Each course -- appetizers, salad/soup, main course, dessert -- will last about 45 minutes. Plus, you'll need to include an appropriate time cushion between courses as guests walk (or take a short ride -- with designated drivers, please) to the next destination.

If guests must drive from one home to another, the party may take considerably longer -- perhaps five or six hours. It will work best if the homes are no more than 15 minutes apart by car. Otherwise, guests will spend the evening driving instead of socializing.

Whether guests ride or walk from home to home, you'll want to designate "people movers" to ensure that guests are subtly corralled and mobilized at appointed times; this will keep the party on track, especially as the evening progresses. Staying on schedule also allows you to predict when you'll arrive at each home, something that's important if any of your guests plan to drop in just for cocktails or dessert. The fluid nature of a progressive dinner party is part of its appeal. Guests aren't locked into an hours-long commitment, but can attend as their schedules permit. And because hosts aren't required to plan, prepare and serve each course, they're free to party down, too. It's the proverbial win/win.

Taking a progressive dinner party from idea to reality means recruiting the right hosts and nailing a knock-out theme, so we'll share more ideas on the next page.