Birthday Party Planning
How to Plan a Birthday Party for a Friend
Your best friend’s birthday is coming up, and you want to throw her a great party. Depending on your friend, you might want to organize a small themed dinner party at your house, a big affair with extended family and friends, or a surprise party. Whatever you and your friend decide, make her birthday memorable with good company, good food, and fun decorations.
Planning a Birthday Party at Your House
Brainstorm ideas with your friend.Start planning at least 3 weeks in advance and talk to your friend to get an idea of what she wants.At this point, it is important to decide what kind of party she wants and how many people to invite. Ideas for small birthday parties include:
- Simple and casual gathering at home.
- A cozy dinner party or pot-luck.
- A barbecue or pool party.
- A retro or vintage themed birthday party.
Select a date.Once you decide on an awesome theme, you need to answer the following questions: When is your friend’s birthday? Will you celebrate on her birthday or a few days later? What time of day will the party be? How many guests can we invite?
- Think of your guests when planning a party. If your friend’s birthday is on a weekday, guests may not be able to attend due to work or school obligations. Friday evenings are usually the best time to hold a small get together.For barbecues or outdoor parties, Saturday or Sunday afternoons are best.
Make a guest list.Work with your friend to create a guest list. Next, organize the list into family and friends. Review the list and add-in significant others, children, siblings, etc. if needed.
- For a small party, keep the guest list to 25 people or less.
Invite the guests.Guests should be notified 2 to 3 weeks in advance. You can send invitations electronically via email, through regular mail, or call or text everyone on the guest list. When inviting guests, make sure to give them the following information: your friend’s name, date and time of the party, location including address and any driving/parking instructions, date which guests should RSVP, and your contact information (email address and/or phone number) with instructions for RSVP-ing.
- If possible, set-up a private Facebook event page and add your guests. This is an easy way to keep everything coordinated, provide information such as directions or party updates, and communicate with guests.
- If sending invitations in the mail, look online for creative invitation ideas or print out unique templates.
- Be creative and make your own invitations at home. You can personalize them to fit with your party’s theme.
Purchase food and decorations.Make a list of everything you need (decorations, grocery list, etc.) and keep it with you at all times. Have everything ready several days before the party.If you are preparing the food yourself, select recipes in advance and bring them with you to the grocery store. Also, place an order for a cake or other desserts to a local bakery or delicatessen at least one week before the party, and buy birthday candles.
Create a birthday playlist.When making a playlist, you want it to be long enough so you don’t repeat songs, and can “set it and forget it”.Ask your friend for a list of her favorite songs, or create a playlist that fits the theme of the party. For example, for a fancy dinner party consider classical music, or play big-band and jazz hits if you are throwing a 1920s bash. You can also use a playlist online using websites such as Pandora or Slacker.
Set-up decorations and food.Rearrange any furniture to make space for the food and guests. Keep food and drink areas separate so guests are not running into one another. Next, place table clothes over surfaces where food will be served, and hang any decorations. Set-up and organize the buffet table by napkins utensils, and plates first, followed by the salad and sides, and finally hot dishes and the main entrée.All set-up and decoration should be completed 2 hours before the party begins.
- Set-up an ice bucket at the beverage station and make sure you have extra bags of ice stored in a cooler or the freezer. Keep alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, and liquor) separate from non-alcoholic ones, and have non-alcoholic options for underage guests or designated drivers.
- Make sure hot foods are covered with tinfoil to keep them warm. Wrap other foods or dishes with foil or plastic wrap to keep them fresh. If possible, prepare fruit and vegetable platters in advance and keep them in the refrigerator until just before the party begins.
- Place bowls of finger-foods in several locations for your guests to nibble on when they arrive. Select items that can be left out for several hours, such as nuts, chex mix, chips and salsa, or trail mix.
- Do a once over several hours before the party begins. Make sure the space or house is clean, there is enough soap and toilet paper in the bathroom, and you have enough seating for all your guests.
Have fun and celebrate!While the focus of the party is on your friend, you are the host and it is your job to make sure everything goes smoothly and everyone has a good time. Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks to other guests, such as refilling snack bowls or checking on ice and drinks. Also, don’t hesitate to ask an intoxicated or uninvited guest to leave. Simply pull them aside and, if necessary, arrange someone to give them a ride home.
Planning a Large Birthday Party
Start planning at least 3 months in advance.Larger parties with 25 or more guests often require more planning to be successful. Reduce stress and be prepared by starting far enough in advance. Start by creating a party checklist and timeline for when things need to be finished. Important things to consider include:booking the venue, arranging entertainment if necessary (DJ, photo booth, games, trivia, etc.), sending out invitations, collecting RSVPs, decor, food and/or catering, and drinks and/or a bartender.
- Recruit help. Do not try to do everything on your own. Get a group of friends and family together and delegate tasks. Set-up a ‘central command station”, such as an email chain or private Facebook group, to keep one another updated. Check-in regularly with your helpers to see how things are coming along.
- Create a budget and stick to it. What will be spending money on, asking other friends or family to contribute. Use your checklist as a guideline for costs. Call around and ask for quotes on party supplies, venue prices, and entertainment. Write these estimates next to each item, use them to barter for a better deal, and keep track of your spending as you go along.
Make a guest list.Decide how many people you and your friend want to invite. Organize the list into family and friends.
- Do not invite more than 20% of people that can comfortably fit in your party space – typically 70 to 80% of all invitees will actually attend.
- Consider people’s significant others and if they are likely to attend when deciding who (and how many people) to invite.
Choose the date and reserve a venue.This is important if the party will be somewhere other than your house. Depending on availability, you may need to make reservations weeks to months in advance. If you don't want the hassle of hosting a party at your house or apartment, you can often reserve community centers or church halls for a small fee. These places have the added benefit of providing tables, chairs, and access to a kitchen.
- Things to consider when selecting a venue include: availability of parking, if they serve food, who is responsible for set-up and cleaning, size and how many people can fit comfortably.
Send out invitations.For larger gatherings and when you have guests traveling from out of town, you want to send out invitations at least 60 days in advance.Invitations should be printed, addressed, and mailed at least 60 days (2 months) in advance. Make sure to include instructions on how to RSVP (e.g. calling, email, etc.). Your invitations should include: the party hosts (you), purpose of the party (your friend’s birthday), date, time (starting and ending), location, attire (casual, themed, formal), and RSVP.
- Customize your invitations so they reflect the theme of the event, or include your favorite pictures of your friend. Search the internet for sites that allow you to customize invitations, such as Zazzle.com or Shutterfly.com.
- Keep the guests updated by creating a private facebook group.
Book a Disc Jockey (DJ) (optional).For larger events, having professional music will make it go smoother. DJs also help move the party along. Make sure you hire a reputable DJ. They should be upfront with costs and send you a contract stipulating the terms of their service. Do not send any payments until you see a contract.
Plan the menu.Plan the menu based on the type of party and number of guests. For example, ask your friend if she wants pizza and ice-cream or something more formal. What kind of food you serve also depends on your budget. You can save money by making everything yourself, or save time and hassle by hiring a caterer. Most catering companies charge per person, and include additional fees for serving. While caterers can be expensive, they reduce the stress and hassle of organizing a party – and will also set-up before and clean-up after the party.When organizing food and/or hiring a caterer, it is important to keep in mind:.
- Different types of food, such as: appetizers and snacks, salads, main course, and desserts.
- If any of your guests are vegan or vegetarian, or have food allergies.
- Offering a variety of drinks (alcoholic, non-alcoholic, coffee, tea, water, and ice).
Purchase decorations in advance.Make a list of decorations and start buying things several weeks in advance. Search the internet or go to a party supply store for basic birthday decorations or themed items. If necessary, order specialty themed items a month or more in advance so they arrive in time for the party.
- Basic birthday decorations include: birthday candles, a "Happy Birthday" banner, streamers, balloons, fun birthday hats, and table cloths.
- If this is a milestone birthday (e.g. 21st, 30th, 40th, 50th, etc.), buy plates, hats, napkins, balloons, etc. with your friend's age. Also, consider making a photo album with pictures of family and friends.
Set-up decorations and food.Create a checklist for everything you need and have everything ready 2 hours before guests arrive:
- Furniture: tables and chairs for guests, tables for food and cake, and a space for cards and presents.
- Drinks: soft drinks, water pitcher with ice (can also include lemon or orange slices), coffee urn and hot water for tea, coffee extras (creamer, milk, sugar, stir sticks), wine (red and white), beer, pre-made mixed drinks or cocktails, and cold storage or extra ice.
- Eating and drinking: plastic cups or glassware, wine glasses, cutlery (knives, forks, spoons), small plates for appetizers, large plates for main meal, bowls for salad, salt and pepper shakers, butter and butter dishes, butter knives, and water jugs.
- Food tools and miscellaneous: serving spoons and forks, carving knives, extra bowls, pot holders and trivets, garbage cans, and garbage bags.
Make the party go smoothly.Delegate tasks such as food, drinks, clean-up, gift organizer, kitchen help, and set-up (if you hire a caterer, they will perform most of these functions).Most importantly, make sure your friend is having fun, stress-free birthday!
- Mingle, and make light small talk. try to approach each guest and thank them for attending.
- If serving alcohol, make sure guests get home safely. Ask several friends to act as designated drivers, or call a taxi. Also, if a guest becomes intoxicated and aggressive, simply pull them aside and ask a sober friend to take them home.
Planning a Surprise Party
Plan as you would for a regular party.Plan things as you would for a small or large party depending on the number of guests (more than 20 to 25 is a large party). For a smaller gathering, begin planning about 3 to 4 weeks in advance. A larger bash requires starting at least 60 to 80 days in advance. Create a party checklist to keep you on track and organized:
- Pick a date and venue.
- Make an invitation list, decide on a theme, and hire caterers and a DJ.
- Send invitations, plan the menu, and plan additional activities (e.g. games).
- Purchase decorations, collect RSVPs, and plan a fun activity to keep your friend occupied the day of the party.
- Clean the space and set-up food and decorations.
Make sure all guests are on the same page.Collaborate with your guests so they know this is a surprise party. Get in touch with someone who lives with or is close to the birthday boy or girl. Have them casually ask if they have any plans for their birthday.Without ruining the surprise, make sure they are not busy that day by telling them you will take them out for a small birthday lunch or dinner.
- Alternatively, plan on throwing the party a few days before or after their birthday. Tell them you are taking them to movie or concert, but in reality you are throwing them a party.
Plan a distraction.In order to maintain the element of surprise, make sure your friend is distracted and out of the house the day of their party.Tell them you are busy, and will celebrate with them later. Arrange several friends to take the birthday boy or girl out for a nice lunch, to a movie, a sporting event, or for a spa day. Make sure they are nowhere near the party venue while you are setting-up and guests are arriving!
Get ready for the surprise.Tell all guests to arrive 30 minutes or more before the birthday boy or girl. If possible, have them park their cars on another block, so your friend does not see them walking in.
- Set the stage for the surprise by giving your guests noisemakers or confetti to throw as the birthday boy or girl walks in.
- You can also ask your guests to hide behind tables, chairs, couches, etc., and jump-out as your friend arrives.
- Have someone with a camera ready to capture the moment of surprise.
QuestionHow can save money to surprise my friend with a birthday party?Community AnswerMake some money from chores or a job, then put half of that money into a jar or piggy bank. Hopefully, you will then have enough money to surprise your friend.Thanks!
- Organize dinner games, such as team trivia, multiple-choice quiz about the birthday boy or girl, or birthday mad libs.
- Prepare a speech and deliver it before serving food. Thank your guests for attending, tell about how you met and how long you’ve been friends, tell a tasteful joke or share a funny story about your friend, and offer a personal message about why your friend is so important and wonderful.
- Hosting a party is a big responsible, but if you plan far enough in advance and delegate tasks, then this will help alleviate nerves and stress. Remember, accept things don’t always go smoothly - maintain a good sense of humor and stay flexible.
- Make sure your party isn't too messy. Ask friends to help clean-up before and after your party. Keep an eye on things during the party, and clean-up any spills as soon as possible.
- As the host, be happy and enjoy yourself! You’re mood, as well as that of the birthday boy or girl, will set the tone for your guests. Your guests will take their cues from you as to whether or not the party is a success!
- Thoroughly clean your house, or help your friend clean their house prior to decorating and setting-up for the party.
- Monitor the bathrooms – keep an eye on toilet paper, soap, and toilet and sink throughout the night.
- Make sure you have more than enough seating for guests, and tables or surfaces to put food and plates.
Sources and Citations
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Video: PLANNING A BIRTHDAY PARTY IN 24 HOURS.
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