A Parisian Style Progressive Dinner Party

Table set for outdoor dining with dessert course and pink champagne by candlelight

Jeff Wasserman / Stocksy

If you're looking for a way to socialize that requires little work or expense and that keeps the party moving all night, then a progressive dinner party may hold the answer for you.

What Is a Parisian Style Progressive Dinner Party?

At a Parisian style progressive dinner, a group plans a meal during which each course is served at a different participant's home so that the party moves from place to place throughout the evening. Progressive dinner parties work better when the participants live quite close. They become difficult to plan and execute if everyone lives far away.

This party style works especially well for friends who live close to one another either in a neighborhood, an apartment building, or a condo complex. Then everyone can walk from home to home without worrying about organizing cars and designated drivers. It also facilitates digesting between courses!

When planning your dinner, you should schedule no more than 3 to 4 courses. Beyond that, the logistics become too complicated with too much time wasted on traveling. Plan on at least a three hour evening, to allow for 45 minutes to an hour at each stop.

Potential Courses

  • Hors-d'oeuvres and cocktails
  • An appetizer course
  • A first course such as soup, salad or pasta
  • The main course including side dishes Cheese, fruit, and nuts
  • Dessert

Some groups hold monthly Progressive Dinners with a different theme each month. The course responsibilities can be rotated among participants, or everyone can always be responsible for their favorite course. You can pick holiday themes, seasonal themes or different cuisines for each dinner. Tie-in, your decorations with the recipes, asking each host home to use decorations representing the nationality of the course they are serving or picking up on your seasonal theme.

Or make the menu items challenging by preparing alphabetical dishes, e.g., the first home prepares an appetizer beginning with the letter A, the second home prepares the main dish beginning with the letter B, and so forth. The next month continues with the letter where you left off in the previous dinner. Good luck to the host who gets the letter X! Whatever you do, have fun with it!

Sometimes organizations such as churches, woman's clubs, or veterans groups hold an annual Progressive Dinner so that new members can meet the group under more intimate circumstances. In that case, the planning is usually a little different. Depending on the size of the group, the hors-d'oeuvres course is held with everyone gathered in one home or location such as the church or veterans' hall.

Then the group splits off into small groups for the next two courses in volunteers' homes. At the end of the evening, the whole group reconvenes in a large home or facility to share dessert. If this is the case, some people might be asked to bring appetizers and a side dish; others might prepare a side dish and dessert. The members hosting the main course have no other responsibilities.

You can handle beverages in several ways. With small groups, you could ask each host to provide the beverage that best suits their course. With larger groups, you could make it BYOB for alcoholic beverages and ask the hosts to provide soft drinks and coffee.

From experience, and after checking with friends who have participated in progressive dinners, there are several drawbacks to this plan. Unlike a potluck dinner where everyone brings food to one location, every host has to prepare his home for receiving guests, as well as having the cleanup afterward. Also, it can be difficult to move people out of a home to go to the next course when the party is rolling along. Finally, unless you pick the right recipes, the host for the subsequent course generally has to cut her current course short to run home and get ready for the next round.

Tips for Hosting a Progressive Dinner Party

  • The closer the participants live to one another, the better for minimizing travel time.
  • Never plan on more than three changes of locale.
  • Choose recipes that can be made ahead and simply reheated and served when the guests arrive. There's no time to fuss in the kitchen when everyone needs to get up and leave within the hour.
  • Set your table before leaving your home for the first course.
  • Appoint designated drivers at the first course if you'll be driving between homes. When organizing a dinner for a large group, allow extra time for the hors-d'oeuvres and dessert courses where everyone will be together.
  • Try to devise a way to motivate people to move along to the next stop. Perhaps give everyone a certain number of poker chips in the first course. As they move from home to home, the last arrivals lose their chips. Whoever has the most chips at the last stop wins a prize.
  • Choose a few topics of conversation to make it a bit easier for guests to chat it up