progressive dinner partyPLANNING THE EVENING

While progressive dinners can include any number of families, Lawrence likes to limit the number of houses visited to three or four. More requires more courses, and allows less time to be spent at each house. Additional guests can also enjoy the festivities, but instead of preparing food dishes, they can pitch in by helping with the preparation and clean up.

Some progressive dinners are specifically designed as fun free-for-alls in terms of what is served. Others follow a theme. "You can do a French style six course, including appetizers, salad, soup, fish, meat, cheese and dessert," Lawrence says. Or, the theme may revolve around a particular country's culinary style. Party planning for one New Year's Eve, Lawrence recalls, involved a global round-up. "The course at each house represented cuisine from a different part of the world."

Keeping the food hot at home while hosts are eating elsewhere is always a challenge, she notes. "You have to be smart about what you serve. It has to be something that is prepared in advance and easily re-heated quickly, or kept hot in a slow cooker. The other option is to choose dishes that can be served cold."

However, choosing what to serve is really part of the party-planning fun. In fact, what Lawrence loves best is that "it lets everybody enjoy entertaining at their own comfort and skill level. If you love to cook and have no problem doing the main course, you can go to town and show off. But if you're more comfortable pulling ice cream out of the freezer and setting up a sundae bar, you can do that too. People can shine in their own way."

 

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