Throwing a surprise party can be so much fun, but the organisation involved can be pretty stressful. From the timings to the theme, there are a lot of decisions to be made. But don’t worry, we’ve got some tips to help your planning go smoothly. Read on to find out how to organise the best surprise party ever.
Will the guest of honour appreciate a surprise party?
The first thing to ask yourself when planning a surprise party is ‘will my partner/friend/family member really enjoy this?’, and the majority of the time the answer to this will be a big fat ‘yes!’, but there are certain people who would much rather be involved in the plans. And that’s okay. If your guest of honour really isn’t keen on being the center of attention, it might be mistake to force it upon them. Some people need a bit of warning before being thrust into a room full of everyone they know, so it might be best to tell them the details. There are also people who just love to plan their own events, and would feel they were missing out if they were denied the opportunity to plan their own party. If you know one of these people, which you probably do, it may be best to leave them to it. Chances are, they have these events down to a tee, so the stress of trying to organise a party that would measure up to their high standards may not be worth it anyway!
When should I start organising the party?
The answer to this depends on how many people you are inviting. If you’re inviting everyone the guest of honour has ever met, you’re going to need a good amount of planning time. For a party of 50-100, you will need around 6 months planning time. For a guest list of 25-30, you can do it in about 6 weeks. If you’re just inviting a handful of close friends, you could get it done in a fortnight.
When to send out the invitations is a different question – if this party is in honour of an important event, you’re going to want your friends and family to keep the date free. So even if you don’t have a clue what exactly you’ll be doing yet, make sure you at least get the most important guests to keep their diaries clear. You could even send out a save the date card, just as you would for a wedding. Just keep in mind that the more people you tell prior to the event, the more chance there is of the secret getting out. So make sure everyone knows they have to keep schtum.
What does the guest of honour want from a party?
This is the time to do some detective work. If you’re throwing a party for someone, it’s probably right to presume you know them pretty well. But do you know what makes a great party for them? If not, it’s time to do a little digging. What’s their favourite music to listen to at a party? Do they prefer house parties? Would they feel at home in a fancy venue? Do they like to dress up or down? All of these little things can help you narrow down exactly the type of party you’re going to throw.
How should I decide on a theme?
Theme possibilities are endless. You can go all out with a theme by picking one of the guest of honour’s favourite things and planning the party around it. Do they love 90s pop music? Get everyone to dress as their favourite popstar, plan an epic playlist that includes all the hits, and fill bowls with nostalgic sweets. Are they a total film buff? Go for old Hollywood glamour.
If you don’t want to go all out with your theme, you can keep it simple by just choosing a colour scheme. Think about your loved one’s favourite colours and decorate accordingly – sticking to a few colours can have a big impact on the overall look of the event.
Just remember, if you decide to go with fancy dress, or any kind of dress code, you’ll need to organise an outfit for the guest of honour. There would be nothing worse than turning up to a party full of glamorous movie icons in your jeans.
Who should I invite?
Remember that what’s important about choosing the guest list for this party is whether the guest of honour would be really happy to see them there. So if they’re not a huge fan of one of your friends, maybe it’s best to leave them off the invite list for this particular occasion. And if you don’t really get on with one of theirs, you may have to swallow your pride and invite them anyway. This party is all about gathering all of your loved one’s very favourite people in one room. So think carefully.
What’s the best way to let people know about the party?
The most foolproof way of telling everyone the details of the party, without the secret getting out, is to make a secret Facebook event. That way everyone can come back to check on details like the time and place, without having to ask you questions. The more your phone beeps, the more likely you are to be found out. For those friends not on Facebook, you can always send an email or pick up the phone and give them a call (like in the olden days).
So I shouldn’t send printed invitations?
Though printed invitations are undoubtedly the most special way of inviting friends to a party, they’re also the riskiest. It might be left out or put on the fridge where it could easily be spotted, and then all your hard work keeping everything secret will be wasted.
Where should I throw the party?
You may be thinking of hosting the party in your own home, but if you’re throwing the party for your significant other, this may cause a few logistical issues. It’s one thing to organise a surprise party, but it’s another to organise one in the home you share with the guest of honour. If you think you can be sneaky enough, by all means go for it, but it may be easier to find another venue. If you really like the idea of a house party, see if any of your mutual friends would be up for hosting it.
If you don’t think a house party is your guest of honour’s bag, have a think about what their favourite venue might be. If they love your local pub, why not ask if you can hire it for the night? Or if they’re passionate about food, see if you can get a private room at a favourite restaurant. This might not be possible for larger groups, but if you’re looking to create a more intimate affair it’ll be perfect.
What food & drink should I provide?
This depends on the venue you’ve chosen, but it’s unusual to provide a full meal at a surprise party. It’s best to stick to small plates and snacks. A buffet style spread is ideal as people can help themselves if they start to get peckish. In fact, a brilliant way of keeping costs and effort down is to ask your friends to each bring a dish, even just something small. That way you know you’ll have enough food for everyone and you’ll have a lovely eclectic mix of treats.
If the budget isn’t a problem then you can always hire caterers to provide canapes. This may cost more than BYO, but at least you’ll know everyone will be definitely fed and your stress levels will be low.
One thing that should never get too low, on the other hand, are the alcohol levels. Make sure you’ve ordered enough – you can buy bulk alcohol on a sale or return basis, so anything that doesn’t get drunk can be taken back. It’s always better to have too much than too little – no one wants to have to nip to the offie half way through a party. And again, asking everyone to bring a bottle is a great option if you want to keep the budget down.
How should I sneak the guests in?
If you’re planning on having the guest of honour arrive at 7.30, and telling everyone else to turn up at 7pm, don’t. Tell them 6.30. People can’t help but be late for parties, even surprise ones. And the difference between a successful surprise party and a failed one is timing. You can’t afford to have a half empty room when the man or woman of the hour walks in. You need to have a strategy in place for latecomers – tell them to use a different entrance (if possible) to be sure there’s no confusion. It’s also a good idea to ask people to park a little further away – if the guest of honour arrives to all of their friend’s cars on the drive, they’re going to know something’s up.
Can I ask for help organising the party?
Absolutely. The secret to organising a great surprise party is knowing when to delegate. Ask friends to help you decorate whichever venue you decide on. Ask a keen baker to make a delicious cake for the occasion. Ask a musical friend to do a bit of DJing. Get everyone to pick a favourite song to put on the playlist. See if a photographer friend will take some lovely images of the event. And above all, ask them to keep it a secret.
A great way to tell your friends about the party and to ask them for help is to create a patchwork to show them the plan. That way, you can tell them exactly what you need, whether it’s help with the decorating or someone to make the cake, and you can keep track easily in your account.