Organize an Easy and Epic Progressive Dinner

Get to know your neighbors easily!

As a kid, I recall my parents hosting progressive dinners with neighbors. It was a fun time back then, hopping from house to house. However, as an adult, it’s even better! What’s a progressive dinner? Well, it’s an evening of food and merriment, where the guests progress or move from one house to the next for each course. For example, there’s one home for appetizers, another for soup and salad, the next for a main entree and a fourth for dessert. Sound complicated? Well, a little, but not with a bit of easy planning. You get a chance to host for just a short amount of time. You share the responsibilities with three other families and it’s such a great way to spice up a get-together.

Planning

1.5 to 2 months ahead of event

First, identify 3 or 4 families in your neighborhood to collaborate with for the dinner. I’m lucky because we have the BEST of friends right within walking distance. It’s ideal to live in close proximity with your attendees, but not critical. In the two times I coordinated a progressive dinner, it was with a total of 4 families, which is the maximum number I’d consider hosting (especially since we all have a bunch of young kids). You may elect to have more if you desire a larger gathering. This is also an ideal opportunity to get to know your neighbors even better.

Next, send out an invitation to the families and run the idea by them. Hey, you can share this post with them! The goal is to spend about 45 minutes in each home so the whole evening takes less than 4 hours. I have a 2 year old, so I had to leave the dessert home a tad earlier then others to put him to bed. It’s super convenient because my husband and older son stayed longer. I just walked home!

Coordinate a date that works for all of the families. I love hosting around the holidays because I enjoy seeing everyone’s homes all decorated, although anytime is a good time. We also have very similar homes, so I even get decorating and home improvement ideas! My most recent progressive dinner needed to be rescheduled due to illness, but it wasn’t difficult to find a new date. You can plan a back up date, because bad weather and illnesses happen. Although that’s the nice thing about inviting neighbors within walking distance, driving can be more tricky in bad weather.

1 Month Prior to the Event

Plan out a theme or instruct your guests on food options and guidelines. Determine if there are allergies or dietary restrictions and communicate accordingly. For the first progressive dinner I organized, I assigned a course to each neighbor. However, when we were done, we recognized everyone made far too much food. This year, I decided we should focus on small bites and not get so caught up with specific courses. We even create a signature drink for each home. Although, make sure you have a designated mixologist if you do something fancy, as this can take a bit of time.

1 Hour Prior to the Event

Set up your food as you would for a regular party. A few things that I like to keep in mind while I set up:

  1. Provide a landing pad for guests so they can easily enter and exit your home. I make sure guests have a place to put their shoes and a spot for coats that is convenient. Since you are only at each home for less then 1 hour, try to keep the landing zone easy to access by the door, so minimal time is wasted at each home.
  2. I try to keep it simple and remember that my guests are there for the fun! If that means a little bit of store bought magic, then that’s ok. I recognize that my homemade ice cream sandwiches are terrible but I make amazing cookies and brownies. Focus on a good homemade highlight and then buy a crowd-pleaser, if necessary. Keep the emphasis on easy and enjoy your evening with neighbors.
  3. Give your guests freedom. I always host buffet style and set out my cutlery in a caddy. Choose plastic and paper plates or silverware, but make it easy on yourself by letting them help themselves. I received this as a gift ages ago, but you can grab a cute metal one here.

The Event

A nice benefit of having a progressive dinner over a pot luck dinner is not having to transport your food. You can set up your food in your own dishes and not worry about carrying or spilling your meal.

You may be concerned that your food may get cold if you are stop number two, three or four on the progressive dinner schedule. I found that slow cooker meals can be a helpful solution. The hostess can also leave the stop prior to theirs just a tad early to preheat the oven or make a finishing touch prior to having guests arrive. For example, I served carnitas (yum!) last year and I left the soup/salad home early. That gave me the 15 minutes of time to broil the pork that was simmering in my slow cooker so it had the perfect sear. It was beautifully crisp when the guests arrived after eating their soup and salad.

Planning is Everything

I love entertaining and this type of evening really does make the event way more exciting. I look forward to our annual neighborhood progressive dinner every year and I know my neighbors do too. My family plans to make a progressive dinner a tradition when we move so we can bring this style of entertaining to our new neighborhood. I have so much fun during these events. I hope you are inspired to plan a progressive dinner with your neighbors. Perhaps your kids will remember these events fondly, just like I do! The planning and effort is worth all of the fun you will have getting to know your neighbors and progressing as friends.

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