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  • Christina Hubeli

How to Plan a Progressive Wedding Reception Dinner

2021 2022 progressive dinner wedding reception
Photo: Danielle Marie Photography

In one way or another, almost every wedding has food woven into it as part of the overarching experience. Food can serve a lot of different purposes for couples - for some it’s just a means of feeding their guests; for others, it’s meant to be an experience by offering guests new and exciting ways to enjoy their food; and for others, it’s a way of incorporating their culture and background into their big day.

Because food is something we see at every wedding, a lot of couples search for that “wow factor” to impress their guests and put a unique stamp on their wedding dining experience. One area of your catering that you could put a unique twist on is the format of your reception. Specifically, consider a progressive dinner party.

What exactly is a progressive dinner party? Instead of eating a traditional seated meal, when you use a progressive dinner format, each course is in a unique location with a totally new vibe. Imagine eating your salad in a dining room that includes details from your first date and your main course as a picnic on a grassy knoll, just like the one during your proposal.

Keep in mind this will take some coordination between the caterer, wedding planner, and venue, but it will be a truly memorable experience.

Getting Things Started

As for the nitty-gritty of how to plan a progressive dinner party, your first stop is still going to be cocktail hour, but we’re going to spice it up a bit. Imagine charcuterie and hors d'oeuvres with champagne or signature cocktails to set a tone of celebration, friendship, and making memories.

Cocktail hour should be kept light and allow for guests to mingle. A great way to do this is to incorporate interactive elements. You could include a food station with a chef who prepares your favorite appetizer live. Or, try out a non-food activity like a caricature artist. This exciting introduction to your reception will get guests excited about what else is to come!

The Main Course

Next, you’ll head into your first course of dinner. Guests would take a quick stroll to another part of the venue for soup or salad. The feel of this course may depend heavily on what time of the year you’ll be getting married. If you’re opting for a wedding during the warmer Chicago months, this course could be set up outdoors with a picnic-like feel. You could offer guests a light and fresh salad that fits the season.

On the flip side, if you’re planning your wedding in the cooler months, have guests cozy up in an intimate space in your venue (bonus if there’s a fireplace!). Warm guests up with a comforting soup. If you’re not a soup or salad kind of couple, don’t feel like you have to choose one of those options just because! You could offer guests a dressed-up fruit cocktail, a bowl of pasta, a slice of authentic pizza, or a delicious dip.

After that, it’s time for the main course. Keep in mind that this should be seated with utensils. While it is relatively easy to eat appetizers standing or picnic style, wielding utensils adds another layer of complexity.

This is another chance to really dive into the personalization of your menu and get creative with it! When it comes to choosing entrees, the options are endless. And there are so many ways to serve your guests. You could opt for a traditional plated meal, a family-style meal, a buffet, a food truck, or stations. If you wanted to keep your reception more casual, you could even continue with the cocktail-style and serve guests a fresh round of small plates and bites.

As for your menu, there are so many ways to infuse your personality and background as a couple into the meal. For example, you could cater your food from your favorite restaurant that’s your go-to date night spot. Or, if you’re working with a traditional caterer, offer guests a duet plate of you and your partner’s favorite entrees.

2021 2022 planning a progressive wedding reception dinner
Photo: Sean Cook Weddings

A Sweet Ending

Once everyone’s satisfied with the main course, it’s time for dessert. If you’ll be having a wedding cake, consider other dessert options that you can offer guests. Since guests just spent the main course sitting, this is also a great opportunity to get them up and moving around again. Try out an ice cream cart where guests can choose their flavor and toppings or a DIY s’mores station with unique inclusions like flavored marshmallows.

The dessert course may also be a fun time to introduce some wine, beer, or liqueur pairings. Whether you bring in a professional or just offer some guidance through signage, guests will be able to enjoy a delicious treat and learn a little something too!

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