How to Successfully Plan the Perfect Surprise Party

Last weekend was my Nana’s 88th birthday. She had no plans for herself, so we decided to put together a surprise party with a few friends. I love a good surprise party. I have always been a party planner between my own birthdays and friend’s birthdays, so, while I cannot take the credit for planning Nana’s party, I have planned plenty! My group of friends and I would have a surprise birthday party for our friend every year in high school. From all these experiences, I have gathered quite a few tips and tricks that my family should have listened to when planning this one—it would have definitely gone much smoother if they had! 

Give Yourself Plenty of Time

Tip #1 is to make this decision to start planning roughly a month to 2 weeks before the actually party date! We had Nana’s party on Saturday and decided to make it happen 3 Days Before!! Is my family crazy or what? Plenty of things will go wrong when it comes to planning any event, so plan enough time to compensate for any surprise problems in planning your surprise party!

Who is Your Birthday Girl/Boy?

To start, this part, you have to really consider who you are throwing the party for—is she a social butterfly who has a million friends that all must be invited, or perhaps a quiet introvert who would be happier with just a few close friends and family. You also need to consider if they actually would be happy with a surprise party! Make sure you are really thinking about the person and what would make her feel the most special :) because that is really what this day is about.

Summon Your Army!

Once you have decided on your potential party size, you can start building your party planning army. Contact only your closest mutual friends and make sure that they are all in to planning a surprise party. With a surprise party, there are too many moving parts to rely just on yourself! For a larger party, obviously you will need a larger army. For a small party, maybe one or two other friends are all you need for planning buddies. 

The Official Party-Planning Coffee Date

Next is my personal favorite step: the party planning coffee date! Invite your entire party planning army to your favorite coffee shop (when your birthday girl or boy is busy, of course) and plan away! It can be overwhelming to plan an entire party, but here is a good outline to run your meeting in the most efficient way:

·        First, take 10 or 15 minutes to just catch up and talk to each other. It is important whenever you meet up with people, whether you are seriously planning things or not, to take a minute to check in with everyone, find out what is new in their life since last you talked, and just offer a listening ear in this world of busy, self-centered people.

·        Next, start the meeting and choose a team leader! If you are the one who started the process, take control and start the meeting casually after everyone has had a chance to catch everyone up on their lives. Don’t be a jerk or a control freak, just a simple “ alright we better get started guys before we talk all afternoon instead!” Really be conscious throughout this process that you aren’t party-planner-zilla.

·        Choose a day. I think it is sneaky to plan the party on a day a little before or a few days after the actually birthday. Find one that works for all of the members of your army and a day you know the birthday girl or boy is free. All of the secondary guests will be hit or miss. You can’t plan for everyone, so make sure the core people can come and then go from there!

·        Begin by deciding on a venue. Think about how many people are coming. Is one of your houses suitable? Do you need to rent a commercial space? If you do need to rent a space, try thinking of personal connections anyone in your army might have. Perhaps one of your friends knows a restaurant owner with a room you could rent out for a discount, or a hotel owner or manager you could contact for a nice party room! Make sure you come up with a plan B and a plan C, and then assign a member of your army to be in charge of venue. Give them a rough deadline to stick to in case plan A and B fall through.

·        Next, talk about a potential theme. I find that group planning and collaboration goes much better when you have a theme to stick to. My friend in high school loved the show Parks and Recreation and Psych, so two of her birthday parties were completely themes based off of those shows. Maybe they love sports or travel or dogs. Planning the party around a theme can really streamline the process. If you are indecisive, brainstorm some ideas and then hold a vote. Whatever the vote yields, go with it even if it wasn’t your favorite idea! There is always next year, and this day is not about you!

·        Talk about how you are going to get the birthday boy or girl to the event. Come up with a sneaky plan that isn’t too obvious to surprise your friend! We always make sure that one friend is in charge of hanging out with and distracting the person until the party is set up and then bringing them to the location. You know your friend best, so just make it believable :).

·        Next, think about the different categories of a good party: guest list, decorations, food, activities, and gifts. You need to place someone in charge of each of these categories. If you have a smaller group, then each person may need to take more than one. Play off of people’s strengths when assigning them a job and allow people to choose which one they prefer to do. You do not want to stick them with a job they hate or wont be able to execute well. Again, think about people’s connections: does someone know a chef who would be willing to cater? Maybe they should do the food! Is one of your friends an interior designer? Maybe they should handle decorations! Be strategic in your assignments.

o   Guest List: Have everyone contribute to who should be invited. This about who your friend would want there, not who you would want there. Make a big master guest list, and then put one person in charge of inviting them all to keep it simple and organized. You can mail out invitations, send e-cards, or simply call everyone up! Make sure those that RSVP are recorded so that you know how many people to plan for. Those who have not RSVP’d a week before the event, call and clarify their answer! Finally, make sure everyone knows that it is a surprise party!! This is so important! My parents forgot to tell me that Nana’s party was a surprise….which could have resulted in quite the disaster…

o   Decorations: Keep it simple! Do not go totally crazy! Just invest in some fresh flowers, maybe some balloons, streamers, and do not forget the perfect spotify playlist! Think about your potential venues and try and plan décor that will work at all three locations just in case something goes wrong. Remember to stay on theme if possible!

o   Food: This is perhaps the most important part of any party. Think about what the birthday girl or boy likes and plan around that like. Also remember the theme when planning the food. Consider what time of day you choose to throw the party. Is it a brunch, lunch, appetizer and drinks, dinner, or dessert party? Make sure there is enough food and drink for everyone! Running out off food is, in my opinion, the worst party flop! Covering all of the food alone can be expensive and overwhelming. Consider hiring a caterer or having each guest bring something to share.

o   Activities: Always make sure that there is a lot to do at the parties—especially if you are throwing one for a large group. Set up different games, maybe a photo booth, a guest book table, or even a dance floor. For a more intimate group, maybe just being in a room and talking is enough! My friends and I like to each bring something fun to do in case conversation slows or slight boredom sets in! Always keep things moving, but don’t be afraid to allow everyone to just sit around, snack, and talk. You know your friends best, so plan accordingly! For some random ideas to help brainstorm, check out these ideas :)

o   Finally, Gifts: Would your friend appreciate a larger group gift, or little gifts from everyone. One year, my friends had a present delivered on the hour throughout the day to the birthday girl, and then the surprise party finished off the day nicely! Another year, we left a trail of presents to the basement where we had set up the party. Be creative and have fun with it! Gift giving can be a great way to make a fun memory and show your love, but only if you think about the recipient! Maybe your birthday boy or girl would prefer donations are made to local causes in their name. Really think about your friends personality!

·        Once you have all the details planned, make sure that you make a group chat and keep updating everyone on the progress! Communication is key!

Congratulations! You made it to the day before the party! On this day, all aspects of the party should be confirmed so that there is time to avert any last minute disasters before the day of.

On the day of the party, get all members of your army together at the venue long before the party starts to help set up; it always takes longer than you would expect. One year, my friend came home early and we were majorly crunched for time which made for a sloppy set-up. Enjoy each other’s company throughout the day before the party. If possible, have everyone take a few hours of alone time before the big reveal so that they are all fueled for the party—the introverts in your friend group will appreciate the reprieve!

At the end of the day, your party will be special no matter what, so enjoy the process! It is all about celebrating the person and making memories, so even if a lot goes wrong, laugh about it and move on! I guarantee you will be talking about these memories forever—they are very precious and worth the effort :). 

Nana and I :)
From Left to Right: My little cousin, me, Nana, and my little brother :)

Comment below what you learned from your party planning experience!