A “Progressive Dinner” Is the Retro Party You and Your Friends Need to Try This Weekend

published Jun 28, 2024
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Credit: Olive & Mango

Growing up, the idea of a dinner party felt like the pinnacle of adult sophistication. I pictured a long, banquet-style table bedecked in candlesticks, cloth napkins, vases, and lots of delicate little dishes. Now that I’ve arrived at what many are calling “adulthood,” my friends and I laugh at the idea of having enough square footage in New York City to accommodate a dining table that doesn’t also double as a prep or workspace. 

Still, we love to entertain, and with restaurant prices on the rise, a progressive dinner party is a festive way to take some of the pressure off hosting a full dinner party on your own. Plus, it’s a fresh way to make new memories with your friends this summer

Quick Overview

What Is a Progressive Dinner?

A progressive dinner is a dinner party that takes place at more than one location, with multiple hosts serving a different course at each stop.

What Is a Progressive Dinner?

A progressive dinner is a dinner party that takes place at more than one location, where multiple hosts serve a different course at each stop. They consist of at least two hosts and homes, so you can nosh on appetizers at one, then take a stroll to the next for the main — then maybe a third or fourth for dessert and a nightcap. 

If the concept is new to you, it’s actually an antique of a tradition. This Chicago Tribune newspaper clipping from 1899 describes one such dinner party, saying, “The beauty of the progressive dinner party is that opportunity for physical exercise and a change of surroundings is offered between the courses.”

Credit: Sofia Rivera

How to Host a Progressive Dinner

Hosting a progressive dinner party is just like hosting a regular dinner party — if you subtract some of the courses that come with hosting a dinner party on your own (you’ll just be responsible for cocktails or appetizers or the main course or dessert — not all of it) and add in a few fellow hosts and their homes. 

It’s an excuse to gather your friends and neighbors and get together for a gorgeous night of sipping, eating, chatting, and strolling. Given our adoration for all of those activities, a few friends and fellow AT editors — Blair Donovan, Sarah Everett, and Sofia Rivera — decided to cohost a progressive dinner party. Here’s how we went about it. 

Ahead of Time

Find your cohosts. 

These are friends, neighbors — or ideally both — who you feel comfortable cohosting and collaborating with. We’re all cofreighbors (coworkers, friends, and neighbors) who live in the same neighborhood, which was ideal because each stop was about a 10-minute walk away, aka the perfect amount of time between courses to let our delicious food settle in, stretch our legs, gossip, etc. 

You could also cohost with folks who are a quick car ride away — just be sure to designate sober drivers and not spend too much time in the car. Progressive dinners, by nature, are long without added commute time.

Chat with your cohosts about who you want to invite. 

Your guest list is totally up to you, what amount of work you’re willing to do, and how big your spaces are. We all live in New York where the square footage is small, so we invited eight people (us included), and six attended, plus one very adorable kitten who made a cameo.

Credit: Blair Donovan

Set a date.

Pick a date that’s stress-free for all of the hosts and works for the majority of your guests. You could center your progressive dinner around a theme or holiday. (Halloween-themed hors d’oeuvres, anyone?) Our progressive dinner doubled as a little birthday celebration for Blair!

We did ours on a Thursday night from 6:30 p.m. to about midnight, but a Friday or Saturday might be best because, again, it’s a long night — in the best way!

Send out an invite. 

This will help both you and your guests. They’ll have lots of notice and some information ahead of time, and you’ll have a good head count for food-planning purposes. 

Credit: Partiful

Here’s our invite that we made using Partiful. A digital invite is great because you can add more details as they come together. Tip: Include the order of stops, courses, and the corresponding addresses in the invite in case guests have to arrive late or duck out early. 

Determine your stops.

We figured out our order of events based on what we each wanted to make and, honestly, who lived closest to subway stops in the neighborhood. Each host should be prepared for about an hour’s worth of hosting. 

Plan your menu.

We recommend sharing what you want to make with your cohosts ahead of time so that all of the courses mesh well. You could, again, go with a theme here. (Ours was … loosely Mediterranean? Sofia made cocktails plus a delicious summer salad and charcuterie, Blair made pasta, and Sarah made dessert.) Make sure you ask your guests about any dietary restrictions, too.

Credit: Sofia Rivera


Prep Ahead of Time 

Do as much work as you can before you head out the door for the first stop. This way, you’ll be able to enjoy your own portion of the evening and chat with your friends. Obviously, you might have to do a bit of final food prep when your guests arrive, but you can help yourself by setting out dishes, drink glasses, cutlery, etc. and arrange ample seating early (no long banquet table needed — we sat on couches, chairs, and stools, throughout our progressive dinner!). These tips for hosting will help you set up your place for guests, too.

Spend approximately the same amount of time at each place. 

It might take a little while for guests to all arrive at the first stop, but once they all do, keep an eye on the clock and keep the dinner progressing.


Honestly, progressive dinner exceeded expectations and I can’t stop talking about it — nor can I wait for the next installment. Hosting can be stressful, so just let yourself relax and enjoy knowing that hanging with your friends will always be fun and low-stakes, even if the dinner is elaborate.

Credit: Blair Donovan

Progressive Dinner Tips 

Now that we’re (essentially) progressive dinner pros, here are a few recommendations we have if you’re planning to host your own multi-stop party.

Don’t stress if you’re not an all-star chef.

TBH, the home hopping is arguably the most fun part of the night, which isn’t to say that the food should necessarily be an afterthought. But if you’d feel more comfortable ordering takeout or catering, go for it (this is coming from Blair, who can’t cook to save her life!). It’s honestly way easier storing something ready-to-eat in the fridge the morning of, popping it in the oven or on the stove to reheat, and serving it just a few minutes later. Or take your time and make a simple slow cooker recipe.

Shop local.

For any guests coming from a different neighborhood or area of town, show off some of your favorite nearby spots. Sofia grabbed bread from a local café to serve with cheese, Blair got freshly made pasta and sauces from a popular Italian restaurant, and Sarah stopped by a Manhattan bakery for vegan desserts. If everyone likes what they eat, you’ll be secretly enticing them to keep coming back to your neck of the woods. 

Stick to three to four stops, max.

The more homes you visit, the longer it obviously takes for the dinner party to, well, progress. Three stops seemed natural for us to divide up appetizers, an entrée, and dessert, but feel free to spread out the meals across four courses (or get creative with signature cocktails at each home). 

Credit: Blair Donovan

Set a budget for each course. 

In the interest of financial fairness, we all aimed to spend about $50 each on our respective portions of the progressive dinner. If you also want to designate a firm budget, know that the entrée supplies will likely cost the most, so you can try to balance out costs by having hosts 1 and 3 (plus No. 4, and so on) chip in with alcohol contributions or a small side dish. 

Don’t go overboard.

It’s tough to know how much food your cohosts are buying since you’re prepping separately, so make sure you all touch base ahead of time. (Let’s just say we had a lot of leftovers.) As the progressive dinner initiator, the first host might feel especially pressured to whip up a giant spread, but you don’t want friends to get super full so early into the party (read: go easy on the starters). 

Credit: Quinn Fish

Keep an eye on the clock.

If you want to avoid eating dessert after midnight (unless that is your speed), try to plan a tentative schedule for each stop. You don’t have to set a timer, unless you really want to. Just be aware of how long you’re spending at each home and transition whenever it feels right, but you will want to move everyone along somewhat quickly.

Make a shared playlist.

Let your guests get involved and invite everyone to collaborate on a Spotify playlist. Once they’ve added their favorite songs, you can play them in the background at each stop of the dinner (and listen post-party, too). One less thing on your to-do list!

Set up a cocktail (or mocktail) station.

Consider having a low-stakes activity that gives partygoers something to do when they arrive — aka a distraction while you’re getting the food ready (especially for later stops). Sofia, for instance, found a fun, summer-y spritz recipe, wrote it on a piece of paper, and set up the supplies and drinking glasses on her kitchen island so that our friends could help themselves.