Make a Memory {Mystery Dinner}

Here we are, week 6 of the Make a Memory series. Each Monday now through the end of August I will feature a special family tradition from one of my favorite bloggers. It is so important to create lasting memories with our families and this will be a fun way to get ideas for fun traditions we can start with our own families. So let’s dive right in and see how Kendra from My Insanity and her family make a memory!

Today I’m sharing a memory-making event that my mom did for us and that I have now shared with my own children. We did this for April Fool’s Day, but it would be great to spice up a summer evening, or would work well to be adapted for a birthday, Halloween, or most any party!

Family Surprise/Mystery Dinner

To make this memory, you turn your kitchen/dining room into a “restaurant” for the night. Everyone gets menus and is served a multi-course meal. The basic premise of a Surprise Dinner is that you order your dinner in courses, but the food all has mystery names, so you really don’t know what is going to wind-up on your plate and in which course. My mom used to have anywhere from 20 to 30 different menu items, including a main dish, bread, butter, various fruits and veggies, a few small desert items, the utensils, drink, napkin, toothpick, and even an ice cube. She’d usually enlist one of my older sisters to help her, then she’d hang a sheet to cover the kitchen entry so the meal could really be a surprise. She would have all of the food set out and labeled with the appropriate number for quick serving. Then she would give us menus similar to what you see here and we would order our courses making the best guesses that we could as to what the items we were ordering, really were.

My kitchen is a bit too open for curtain hanging, but I did put up a foam core poster blockade and moved the table in to the front room so no one could see what was happening in the kitchen. I created these menus in publisher, and had a great time watching my family try and figure out what each item might be. The key is to have everyone order all four courses (or how ever many you serve) at the beginning of the meal, before anyone has been served anything. I had a mix of menu items that I thought were pretty simple and some that were rather obscure and difficult to guess. I was fun to see the orders come out. I was afraid BSB would have figured it out and have a normal boring meal, but that may have only lasted for one course. He was having to scramble like everyone else when his course came out looking something like these…

This course consisted of The Titanic’s Demise (ice cubes), Idaho deconstructed (mashed potatoes), colony builders (ants on a log), sugar transporter (spoon), and perfect coin place (mint–really it should be a mint mint per my clue). This one isn’t too bad, because you can use your spoon for the mashed potatoes, but there is nothing to do with the ice cubes since no water or soda was ordered, you might want that spoon for another course, and what will you do with the gravy that didn’t get ordered.

Here are some other sample courses…

My son had to figure out another way to eat his vanilla ice cream, since he didn’t order any utensils with that course.

Oh, but my daughter has a knife for her ice cream in this course. Much better!
Here’s a generic version of the menu I made. If you want to use all of my menu items, you are welcome to print this for your personal use on an 8 1/2 x 11 paper–landscape orientation. Cut the paper in half and then cut the side with the courses into fourths. (Right click to save image).

Answer Key:

1. Ice
2. Deviled Eggs

3. Mashed Potatoes

4. Gravy
5. Jello
(Utah consumes more per capita than any place else).

6. Goldfish

7. Cucumber Wheels

8. Ants on a Log
(Raisins on Peanut Butter on Celery)

9. Ham slice
10. Corn
11. Fork
12. Spoon
13. Knife
14. Toothpick

15. Water
16. Napkin
17. Ice Cream
18. Chocolate syrup
19. Mint
20. Lemon-lime soda

If you don’t get any of them. I’d be happy to explain. My husband took issue with a few of my clues. You might have more fun creating your own menu, but hopefully this will at least get you started. My family had a great time with this dinner–even if they did have to eat their corn with a knife or slurp the gravy off of their plates. Each course that was brought out to each person was a great surprise for everyone at the table! Watching each other figure out how to eat each course, was highly entertaining!
My sister blogged about a few different adaptations of the mystery dinner that she has done for particular events with different themes. They did one menu based on the states of the US and food that each state is known for. That could be a great educational tool. There are countless other ways to customize it or adapt it for your circumstances. You can get my April Fools menu here and my sister’s Book of Mormon mystery menu here.

A few pointers: My mom is notorious for making everything from scratch. I didn’t have all day to spend in the kitchen, so I used a few more ready-made or easy to make menu items. To keep your shopping list simple, you might want to look in your pantry for snack foods or other items you have on hand. Things like raisins and marshmallows are big hits with kids, and could lend themselves to some fun mystery names. Also, filling all of the orders and serving everyone is a big/busy job. You might want to enlist a partner in crime to server or help work in the kitchen, if you attempt one of these dinners.
I’ll never forget the memories I have of my family’s mystery dinners from when I was a child! Now my own kids have their own fun mystery dinner memories!


Fabulous mystery dinner idea Kendra! Those clues are hilarious! I remember doing a Christmas themed mystery dinner with menu items like Snowman’s nose and Santa’s beard. It was so fun! Thanks for sharing another great way to make a memory!

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  1. says

    Kendra, this is such a great idea. I think our family is definitely gonna try this out a few times per year. Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  2. says

    I love this idea! It sounds like such a blast!! I’m totally going to try this with my roommates!


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