My Time-Tested Tips For Throwing a Great Party!

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My sister just celebrated her 30th birthday…and thanks to my mom, my sisters, and all of her friends, we made sure she celebrated it in style! Of course I’m talking about a surprise birthday party!

See the surprise?

I love throwing parties but reserve surprise parties for only the most special of occasions. So much work goes into planning a party; once you include the element of surprise, it can be very overwhelming. I’ve decided to create a step-by-step list that will help others with this daunting task!

Tips for Throwing a Great Party, Surprise or Not!

  • PLAN IN ADVANCE. Your best bet for getting a big crowd together is giving a lot of notice – at least a month!
  • For a surprise party, you must secure a date when the guest of honor will absolutely be available! Talk to their partner, parents, etc and make sure they don’t have plans.
  • Decide whether or not you want a theme. I’ve thrown Luaus, 80’s parties, etc. For my sister, everything was just 30’s themed. Themed parties are a ton of fun, but you have to consider whether or not your guests will participate.
  • Send out an invitation electronically so it’s easy for people to RSVP – Facebook events are great for this, as long as you set the event to private. I’ve used Evite for years, but lately, after their redesign, no one ever receives the invitations so I’ve switched to Facebook.
  • Invite everyone your guest of honor knows – coworkers, friends, church members they spend time with, social group friends, family members – invite anyone and everyone that they spend time with. Only about half of your invitees will come, so overshoot on the guest list. This is true for ANY party you throw. 
  • Don’t go overboard on the food unless it’s a day party and guests expect a meal. I always have a buffet set up at my parties, but I do finger foods and trays: veggie & fruit platters, chips & dips, tiny sandwiches, stuffed mushrooms, shrimp cocktail, chicken wings, etc.

                   Tip: the later your party starts (9 pm and later), the less people will eat, so plan accordingly. 

  • Consider entertainment: do you want to hire a DJ? If not, create a playlist appropriate for the guest of honor or the theme and set it up on your ipod or make a CD for your stereo. We hook up our laptop to our surround sound system and play our playlist that way. There is an iPhone app called “remote” that your guests can download that allows them to access your playlist and choose the next song – it’s completely awesome.
  • Decide if you are supplying the alcohol or if you want a BYOB – bring your own bottle – party.

I always supply at least  one large bottle of each type of alcohol (Vodka, Light Rum and Spiced Rum, Whiskey)       and a few mixers (soda, cranberry juice, orange juice, club soda) and note on invitations: “We will have the basic cocktail mixers, please BYOB any specialty drinks, beer or wine.”

  • Make sure you always have extra sodas and bottled water, because not everyone drinks alcohol.
  • 2 weeks before the party, send out a message to all of the “undecided” or “not yet replied” invitees and ask them to please RSVP so that you can get a final headcount for food and drinks.
  • If you can afford it, order platters from bakeries and grocery stores (Costco makes great sandwich platters) to save time on cooking appetizers for your guests.
  • Get lots of decorations! It might not seem that important, but decorations really change the feel of a party – it changes the atmosphere from a get-together to a P A R T Y! Balloons, banners and streamers make a difference. I always get the helium tank with 50 balloons from Balloon Time and let them float all around the house, or I tie them to chairs and different points around the house. Table cloths, special paper products – those aren’t very important but the balloons and banners? An absolute necessity!

Balloons really do make a difference!

  • One week before the party, send a message to all of the guests, whether they’ve RSVP or not, asking them to update their RSVP. Anyone who hasn’t responded might do so, and anyone who has changed their minds about coming will be reminded to change their RSVP.
  • Always enlist at least 2 people to come over one hour early and help you set up for the party. Why two people? Because one will usually cancel – at least that is my experience!
  • Clean your house and prep any food you will be serving the day before the party so it’s not a mad rush to get everything done the day of the party! On the day of, do a quick straightening up and take care of last minute things, like picking up the cake, sandwich platters, or running to the store for anything you’ve forgotten.
  • Most importantly, relax and don’t take yourself too seriously. No one will judge you if you forgot toothpicks. No one will care if you serve a store-bought birthday cake. It’s a party, people are there to have fun!!
* Thank you to Balloon Time for supplying me with a Jumbo Latex helium balloon kit for my sister’s birthday party! Although I received a media sample, all opinions are my own. 
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  1. says

    I have to plan way in advance too, just to get people to come. And I totally agree – get help! It sucks to do it all on your own. These are wonderful tips Jen!

  2. says

    You know what you need to tell me, is how you get all these companies to sponsor you. I need a company that makes jeans to sponsor me, because I’m tired of buying them. 😛 LOL

  3. praca says

    I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. I do not know who you are but certainly you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

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