Put a Spin on Dinner

Fall is a wonderful time of year for gathering with friends and families. Why not put a spin on your typical dinner party by planning a progressive dinner instead. A progressive dinner, sometimes referred to as a safari dinner or round robin, is one in which different courses of a meal are prepared and eaten at different people’s houses. This is a great way to entertain for several hours without one person having to prepare an entire evening for a house full of guests. Here are some tips for planning a successful mobile dining experience:

Invitation – These lovely, multi-house gatherings are great for around 8-10 people, however, you can have successful events with more attendees if each location has the accommodations. Once you gather interest and determine the locations, you will need to give each guest an invitation, even something as simple as typing up details into a word document. Because there is a lot more information to provide for this type of an event, the invitation will naturally be more detailed:

  • Be sure to include the start times and address for each course along with which part of the meal will be served (appetizer, main course etc…). Feel free to include the name of the dish to be served at each location, unless they’re meant to be a surprise. It is important to stick to your schedule as closely as possible. This will be important in case some people can only attend one or two of the houses on the tour.
  • Note the name and phone number for each host. This is helpful, especially if your locations are driving distance or if your guests are traveling in an unfamiliar neighborhood and get lost or turned around.
  • If you want to go the extra mile, you can always include a map with the locations marked, as an easy reference tool for attendees.

Location – A mobile dining experience will work best if guests are able to either walk, or take a short drive, no more than about 10-15 minutes, to each location. You really want people to be able to continue socializing as quickly as possible to keep the momentum going. If driving is on the schedule, here are a few things to consider:

  • It’s important to remember to have designated drivers if there will be alcohol served.
  • Offer for guests meet up at the first location and then carpool to the others.
  • If riding in their own personal vehicles is not feasible, guests can each chip in to rent a van or share a driving service to each location.
  • If you wanted a much larger scale event, you could rent a venue where each participant would be responsible for setting up one room. In this case, the party would take place in each room for a dedicated amount of time and then move on.

Additionally, in an effort to move things along more smoothly, consider assigning “people movers” ahead of time. These will be the people dedicated to gently encouraging the group to move to the next location. Also, to avoid confusion during the event, these individuals could be dedicated as drivers or the person responsible for securing the ride sharing or vehicle rental if needed.

Time – Plan for your get together to last about 4-5 hours. You want to be sure to include enough time for guests to eat and socialize while also leaving enough time for them to get to their next location. You might want to consider allowing extra time during appetizers and desserts, so be sure to account for this on the schedule you create. During appetizers, there will be people showing up in intervals, so it’s a good idea to allow a chance for everyone to greet each other without feeling rushed. Lastly, I suggest allowing more time for the dessert portion at the end of the night. Some may want to linger around a bit longer than others during the finale of the evening. If you plan to allow for extra time during these courses, it will be important to make sure hosts are ok with their home being used for a longer time frame.

Cost – All homes on the tour will be responsible for handling 1 course of the meal. For more variety, you can split participants in to teams in which multiple dishes could be served at each of the four homes. Ideally all hosts will get together to establish a budget for the event to keep costs in order and balanced for each home. When planning the budget, you can make it as simple or extravagant as you like. Here are some items to consider in your budget depending on how elaborate you’d like to go:

  • Food
  • Beverages
  •  Paper goods/utensils
  • Decorations if you all decide you’d like there to be a theme
  • Gifts – if each participant wants to provide each host a small token of appreciation or if each host would like to provide each guest a little something extra for coming.
  • The cost for travel – If you plan on renting a vehicle or driving service etc…, how much will each person contribute.

Food – A progressive dinner is typically set up as a four course meal including appetizers, salad and/or soup, a main dish and desserts. Each location should provide a variety of drinks as well that suit the type of food they will be serving. Here are some tips on food preparation:

  • Set up your eating area and prepare as many items ahead of time as you can.
  • Crockpot meals are a great choice since they can be kept warm
  • Choose items that can either be cooked quickly or warmed up successfully.
  • Appetizers such as crackers, dips, cheeses etc… are good options if you’re looking for something easy to do ahead of time.
  • Find out ahead of time if there are any food allergies or sensitivities, so accommodations can be made and everyone can enjoy themselves.
  • Since typically the main dish is the most difficult to prepare, make sure the host of this course will be happy to take on the challenge and follow through.
  • If a four course meal is not up your alley, you can always decide to make an all appetizer party, where each home will provide their own little nibblers and drinks instead.
  • To take the guesswork out of the menu, hosts can always plan the menu ahead of time together, so all that will be left to do is prepare it on the day of the party.

Theme – You can choose to keep it simple and casual, include a decorative theme, such as Halloween, a geographical location or era, for example, or if you’re really creative and want to go all out, plan something even more intricate such as a game night at one of the homes.

Clean Up – To make clean up a bit easier, you can choose to use recyclable plates and cups so you aren’t coming home to a house full of dirty dishes. Additionally, if you don’t have space for all the extra food in your fridge, invest in some plastic storage containers so you can send leftovers home with the group.

The beauty of this type of dinner party is that is helps to split up the cost and work associated with hosting the whole thing by yourself. While you may be the host at one course, you will be a guest at the rest, so you will still have plenty of time to enjoy yourself.