Three Tips for a Successful Progressive Dinner

Have you ever visited a place for a short period of time and wanted to go to as many restaurants as possible?  But with only so many meals in a day, you might wonder how you cram more than two or three restaurants into a day without growing another stomach or hollowing out your leg.

The answer is simple: plan a progressive meal!

What’s a Progressive Meal?

The idea behind a progressive meal is that each course of the meal is consumed at a different location.  That is, you move from one restaurant to another for each course.  You might also think of a progressive meal like a pub crawl!

While progressive dining can be applied to just about any meal, dinners work great because they are often made up of multiple courses like an appetizer, one or two entrees, and then dessert.

Three Tips for Making Your Progressive Dinner a Success

The main things to consider for a progressive dinner are the theme, location, and timing.

1. Choose a theme that fits the occasion

You’ll want to pick a theme for your dinner.  Perhaps you have a group and one half wants cuisine from Italy and the other wants something from Japan.  You could plan to have appetizers at a neutral location and then an entrée from both.  Another idea is to plan a menu around a single cuisine, and then have each course at different restaurants.  A Mexican themed dinner, for example, might start with chips and guacamole at one spot, burritos and fajitas at the next, and then wrap up with churros and chocolate somewhere else.

2. Choose a convenient location and minimize travel time

If you’re going to be doing some travelling in between stops, you’ll want to consider minimizing your travel time.  One way to do that is to choose an area that has a concentration of restaurants that fit your theme.  “Restaurant rows”, promenades, and main drags are good examples of places where you might be able to park once and then walk to each spot.

3. Time your meal to align with happy hours, specials, and reservations

Since you’ll be moving from place to place, you might be able to line up with specials at each stop.  One way to do this is to consider starting out with a happy hour for drinks and appetizers, and then moving to a restaurant that has an early dinner special.  If your meal will be starting later in the evening, you might be able to make your last stop a place that has a late happy hour or evening dining special.

Reservations are another thing to consider with timing your meal.  If you have to make reservations to get into a popular location, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of time to make your reservation time.  You might also want to consider service times as well; if possible, you don’t want to feel rushed or hurried to move on.

Planning a Progressive Dinner in Palm Springs

Here’s an example of putting these three tips into practice and how the planning turned out.

Earlier this year, my wife Nicole and I visited Palm Springs for the first time in a long time (you can read more about the rest of our trip by following this link).  We wanted to experience some of the best restaurants but only had one night planned for dining out.

With that in mind, I started researching the restaurants on the most popular strip in Palm Springs – North Canyon Drive – and what each restaurant had on their menu.

Keeping in mind some of Nicole’s favorite dishes, I picked locations that had dishes I knew she would love and that were also located close to each other.  Knowing that we would be walking, I wanted to minimize our travel time as much as possible.  I also planned to kick off our trip at a happy hour so we could get the party started with a beverage or two.

When all my research was done, I ended up with three very well recommended restaurants, one with a happy hour, each with some of Nicole’s favorite foods, and all located near each other.

Cocktails and Appetizers: Zin American Bistro; 198 S Palm Canyon Drive; (760) 322-6300

Crispy truffle fries from Zin American Bistro.

Crispy truffle fries from Zin American Bistro.

We started at Zin American Bistro for the appetizer and cocktail course.  I chose Zin for one reason: truffle fries!  Truffle fries are one of Nicole’s favorite dishes and Zin did a great job to preparing them perfectly.  Their cocktails were also great and with happy hour pricing, we were able to sample a few without worrying about the bill.

Follow this link for a look at a few more items from our visit at Zin.

Main Course: LULU California Bistro; 200 S Palm Canyon Drive; (760) 327-5858

Margaritas from LULU California Bistro; peach on the left, Cadillac on the right.

Margaritas from LULU California Bistro; peach on the left, Cadillac on the right.

Next headed to LULU California Bistro for the main course.  The location made for a short walk since LULU is just across the street from Zin.  However, we arrived at one of the busiest restaurants on the strip, just as dinner service was starting, and without a reservation.  We put our name in for a 45 minute wait time.

To make use of the spare time, we strolled along Canyon Drive checking out some of the many unique shops along the way.  By the time we walked to the end of the strip and back to LULU, our table was ready.

Lobster Rolls from LULU California Bistro.

Lobster Rolls from LULU California Bistro.

The wait was worth it.  I picked LULU for their lobster roll, one of Nicole’s favorite sandwiches that she doesn’t get to have very often.  We also worked in another round of cocktails, focusing in on LULU’s larger than life margaritas.

Dessert: Las Casuelas Terraza; 222 S Palm Canyon Drive; (760) 325-2794

The Patio at Las Casuelas Terraza.

The Patio at Las Casuelas Terraza.

For dessert, I picked another Palm Springs classic: Las Casuelas Terraza.  This historic restaurant opened in Palm Springs in 1979 and is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike.  The main attraction for choosing this location for dessert was live entertainment and great food.  Just about every night, the namesake open air patio in Las Casuelas Terraza features a band and a dance floor open to everyone to twirl along to the music.

Along with chips, salsa, and HUGE margaritas, we wrapped up our dinner-on-the-move singing “Browned Eyed Girl” with a “Mexican chocolate Kahlua fudge” brownie and Mexican hot chocolate.

Mexican chocolate Kahlua fudge brownie!

Mexican chocolate Kahlua fudge brownie!

One Last Tip:  Planning is Key…But Don’t Over-Plan

In the end, I feel like my progressive dinner in Palm Springs was a success.  Nicole enjoyed the theme, we didn’t have to walk a lot, and we were able to make the most of a great happy hour.

The wait at LULU did make for some time-killing but that turned out to be a perfectly enjoyable moment in the course of our dinner.

With that, I would add one more tip.  Definitely make a plan for your progressive dinner, but be ready to embrace spontaneity.  As long as the focus is on having a great time, I’m sure everything will work out just fine.

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About the Author

Michael loves grilling, rum, and has a weakness for key lime pie.

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