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How To: Throw a Progressive Dinner

Let’s begin with a little history of our neighborhood Progressive Dinners. The first dinner was held in April 2005 and the second in November of the same year. I was a participant in those first two dinners, not a planner. I became involved in planning by the third dinner, held in April 2006.

White Trash Progressive (11)

The one person who has planned these events for all nine years is my friend and neighbor, Ronnie. She is the real expert in how to pull off a successful Progressive Dinner, but since I have a blog and I’m the one writing this … I shall be your expert for today.

jazzy background

Last Saturday, we had our 10th Neighborhood Progressive. Here is a list of the ten we’ve had thus far:

2005 April – Italian
2005 November – Western/BBQ
2006 April – White Trash/Tacky
2007 February – Valentine’s Love
2008 April – Mexican Fiesta
2009 February – Mardi Gras
2010 January – Jamaican/Island
2010 December – Holiday
2012 April – 1970’s
2014 March – Speakeasy

As you can see, a couple of times we held two in one year and then there were a couple of years we missed getting it together.

the 70s ladies

It takes a lot of work and organization to put on a party of this nature for a large group. We have 118 homes in our neighborhood and every single household receives an invitation. If everyone showed up, there would be over 300 party-goers. That has never even come close to happening. I believe our largest group has been about 58 participants or 29 households.

amy plus

The most difficult task is picking a date. It works best in the spring or fall. We generally avoid the winter since the holidays are already jam-packed and the summer as well because it is not only too hot but also too many people are out of town.


The problem with the spring is working around the various school spring breaks and the fall becomes difficult because around the time the nights get cool enough (late October) it seems as though the holidays are right around the corner and people’s calendars fill quickly.

overall friends

Once you get over that hurdle and you have your date … here is our organizational structure and our step-by-step instructions:


We begin the evening all gathered at one home – this is the “Appetizer House.” The Appetizer Hosts provide bottled water and non-alcoholic beverages. Additionally, they decorate according to the theme and set the ambiance with theme-appropriate music and such.

Each participating couple brings a bottle of red wine and a bottle of white wine along with them to the Appetizer House. A few select couples are asked to bring two cases of beer (light and regular) instead.

valentine dinner

When the invite is sent out, there is a call for “Dinner Hosts.” Participants can check this box if they would like to host 10 people at their homes for dinner. They set the table and ambiance and let the party come to them. In the past, we haven’t required the Dinner Hosts to provide any of the food, but we’ve decided to change that and will now let them have the first choice at what they would like to provide, instead of being assigned a dish, which is how all other participants discover what they will be bringing.

white trash dessert

Finally, there is a “Dessert House” – this is where everyone joins back together after being divided up for the dinner hour. The Dessert Host is responsible for coffee, and liquors (if desired) and for making sure the leftover beer, water, and other beverages from the Appetizer House get to their house before everyone descends upon them after the dinner hour.

dinner assignments

During the Appetizer portion of the evening, all names of the women are placed in one hat and all names of the men are placed in another. One at a time, the names of the women are drawn out and assigned a “Dinner House” to go to. Then the names of the men are drawn out and they are assigned to a house, just as long as it is not the same house where their partner has gone. All couples are broken up and go to different “Dinner Houses” – with the exception of the actual Dinner Host Couples, they stay together at their own homes.

Mardi Gras dinner

As soon as all the names are drawn and everyone knows where they are going, the wine that was brought by all to the Appetizer House is divided among the Dinner Hosts and all depart for to their various locations.


At 8:30, once dinner is over, all participants, along with the remaining wine, depart for the Dessert House.

mex apps

Does this even make sense? Here are a few more details –

As soon as you have a date – Pick a theme – Any theme!

jam invite

Create an invite. Be certain to set the RSVP date at least a full week before your party. You are going to need this amount of time to figure out who is bringing what to whom and to round up more “Host Homes” if you don’t have enough volunteers.

speakeasy invite

Once the RSVPs have been received and you have your Dinner Host homes lined up, start figuring out who will bring what to where.

As an example, let’s say you have 52 participants – 26 couples.

Seven of those couples are Host Homes; 1 appetizer host, 1 dessert host, and 5 dinner hosts (Four will have 10 guests and one will have 12 guests.)

These people get to choose what food they would like to provide. Maybe a dinner host would like to make their own salad or provide a purchased dessert. That leaves 19 other couples to provide the rest of the food. Once the hosts have chosen, you assign the rest of the food to the remaining participants. Here is a sample of the sort of letter we send out to a non-host couple:

assignment letter

Other letters are sent out to the Host Couples, informing them of who is bringing what to their house for the party and exactly how many people to set their table for. Below is a sample letter to a Dinner Host.

host letterThis is a sample letter to the Dessert Host:

dessert host letter

prom king tony

And yes, I send out recipes for food and drinks along with décor ideas with the assignments.

mg apps

I hope this entire description isn’t too confusing. If so, and you have any questions, fire away!

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 7.27.18 PM

And, Ronnie, the Progressive Queen, if you have anything to add, correct or clarify, comment away! xoxo


Finally, as requested by Peggy, below in the comments; No White Trash Party is complete without the addition of a big old motor home, full of your distant relatives, parked prominently in your front yard. It’s hard to see but there are also pink flamingos perched in the grass and a clothesline strung between the motor home and the house with underwear of all sizes pinned to it. Seriously Tacky!

OK, one more…

no pushing

The image of what Lynn was referring to. Our tacky signs on the tacky buffet table at the Tacky Party. “Please Don’t Steal the Centerpiece!” “Please Do Not take more than your fair share of the food!” and “No Pushing or Shoving at the Buffet Table!”

Good times!

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1 Peggy { 03.06.14 at 7:36 AM }

MotorHome Pics from “Trash” dinner? Where are they??

2 Lynn DeGreen { 03.06.14 at 5:49 PM }

Linda, I am so honored that you featured the cake that Ronnie and I created for the “tacky party”. It sure brings back some good memories! That night was so fun. I especially loved the “no pushing or shoving” signs you had at the buffet table.

3 Marissa { 03.06.14 at 9:01 PM }

These pics are awesome!

4 Ronnie Jaap { 03.07.14 at 7:57 AM }

What fun! I love our Progressive Dinners. We started these when we lived in Denver and carried the tradition here. It’s way more fun not having to worry about whether the snow will put a damper on the festivities! I think every neighborhood should start this! No better way to get to know your neighbors then asking them to dress up come ready for fun — you never know who’s going to shine a spot light on you!

5 Linda Hopkins { 03.07.14 at 8:19 AM }

Lynn, so great to hear from you! I’ve added the photo of the buffet signs. That was one fun and tacky party! xoxo

6 Cindi Hancock { 03.07.14 at 10:00 AM }

Well done, once again! So sorry we were out of town and missed all the fun!

7 Linda Hopkins { 03.07.14 at 12:10 PM }

We missed you and Prom King Tony! xoxo

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