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How to Plan a Birthday Party

The older you get, the less likely it is that someone is going to spend weeks planning an event for your birthday. That is unless you’re hitting one of the major milestones - having a zero on the end of your age is always cause for a special celebration. Whether it’s your own party or someone else's that you’ve got in mind, our helpful guide provides everything you need to know to make sure it’s an event enjoyed by all.

Part 1: Planning

Deciding who to invite

There’s a bit of politics around an invite list. If you’re inviting colleagues, is that everyone in your department or just those you get along with? If your friends are coming, can they bring their partners or children? And just how far down the family tree should you go?

Keep these thoughts in mind when building your list:

  • If you’re inviting someone, expect them to come. It’s not good to send out token invites to people who live miles away expecting them to say no.
  • Extend the same invite to everyone. You can’t tell one couple their children are welcome and another not to bring theirs. It’s bound to come out in conversation and cause problems.
  • Try to get all your invites out at once. You’d don't want people thinking they’re on a reserve list if they hear about the event before an invite reaches their inbox.

Picking a party type

There are various levels of formality when it comes to partying, and a big difference between a dinner party and an all-nighter.

It goes without saying that your invite list needs to match your party type and as much as your great aunt might enjoy late night margaritas in a bar, it’s probably not appropriate.

Choose the time and date wisely

Everyone has responsibilities, and real socialites will have their calendar booked up months in advance. You obviously need to find a date that suits you, but acceptance rates and attendee numbers can be helped by doing things like avoiding Super Bowl weekend.

Once you pick a date, stick to it unless a change is totally unavoidable. People may have canceled other plans to make your party, so don’t complicate things unnecessarily.

Set a budget

Are you paying for an open bar or will there just be a free drink available on arrival? It’s nice to be able to offer everyone an all-expenses-paid evening out (especially if they’ve paid for babysitters) but only if you can afford it.

The vast majority of people are happy to pay their own way and a few free light bites to keep the hunger pangs away are often all that’s needed.

Work out how much help you’ll need

The more elaborate your party, the more assistance you’ll need from people serving up canapes to a team constructing a lighting rig. Even if it’s a small event, a small outlay can make a huge difference in the enjoyment you’ll have by passing off responsibility to someone paid to do a job. A cleaner can be worth their weight in gold.

Part 2: Preparation

  1. Get the invitations out
    A invite by text, email or social media is perfectly acceptable these days. It saves you a fortune, and you can still design something in keeping with the tone of the event.
  2. Find the right venue
    You might be tempted to host a party at home, but it’s worth considering how much extra hassle that might be. Designated party venues have proper parking facilities, an extensive range of drinks, insurance if something goes wrong and people on site who have hosted hundreds of parties before.
  3. Make the right food choice
    Some party hosts agonize for weeks about how every mouthful will be enjoyed, but simplicity is key. The bigger the party, the more crowd-pleasing you should go. There’s a pizza topping for pretty much every palate.
  4. Keep the glasses full
    As well as making sure there’s a full beer, wine and cocktail menu think about something interesting for those driving, pregnant or just not drinking. Alcohol-free cocktails are often the most popular drinks at a party, especially on a hot day from a frozen drink machine.
  5. Set a tone with music
    Professional DJs exist for a reason. The right music really sets the mood for a party and it’s useful to have someone able to adapt on the fly rather than relying on a shuffled playlist.
  6. Organize some activities
    You’ll know whether your guests are likely to respond well to a photo booth or a mechanical bull. If you are looking for an activity as a central focus for your event, make sure you consult with your venue first to be certain it's suitable.
  7. Add details with decorations
    Any venue can be made to look special with the right accessories. A few string lights, a balloon wall or a neon ‘Happy 40th Birthday Hank!’ sets the scene perfectly.

Part 3: Buildup

Choose an outfit

If there’s nothing in your wardrobe that you want to wear, plan a shopping trip (if it fits into your party budget) or order a few options online. Find out what your partner is planning on wearing and try and have something that complements them, both in style and color.

If you’re at home

Clean the house, make sure the drink cabinet is fully stocked and give the neighbors some warning that there might be a bit of noise. Don’t forget to check bathroom tissue supply, and make new rolls easy to find - you don't want any awkwardness for your guests.

If you’re at a venue

Call the manager or party organizer and talk through any concerns you may have. It’s far easier to iron out a few requirements in advance when you’re both calm and considered rather than in the heat of the moment.

Part 4: On the day

  1. Send out a reminder
    A quick message to attendees on the day serves two purposes. Firstly, to confirm the basic where and when details. And secondly, to prompt any last minute cancellations.
  2. Pre-book a few taxis
    People will not be expecting you to organize their transport home, but it will be a very welcome ride for those who have forgotten.
  3. Be early, but not too early
    It’s natural to want to get to your venue hours beforehand to make sure everything is perfect, but the longer you’re there, the more time you’ll spend worrying that nobody is going to turn up! Put your faith in your venue and your own pre-planning.
  4. Have an icebreaker ready
    Walking into a party full of people you don't usually hang out with is a daunting prospect for most people. If you’re hosting it’s up to you to make everyone comfortable. Have some interesting introductions ready to spark conversations - “John, meet Jane - she once played tennis against Michelle Obama.”
  5. Don’t over-structure the event
    While a kids party needs a structure that plots out how to keep them entertained for a couple of hours, adults don't need quite so much rigidity. A couple of optional activities are useful but don’t expect every attendee to want to join in.
  6. Keep the cake and speech section short
    Turning down the music, stopping conversations in mid-flow and turning the attention on the reason for the party is an essential part of the event. But the longer that lasts, the longer it’ll take to get things going again.
  7. Try and speak to everyone
    It’s difficult to keep track when there’s a lot going on at your event, but remember your guests have come to spend time with the birthday boy or girl. Make yourself available and give everyone some time to enjoy your company.

Part 5: Once it’s over

Share a selection of photos

There’s no need to upload every single picture taken on the night, but a handful of some of the best will help people relive the fun time they had. It’s also useful to provide a way for people to share their own photos for others to see, giving various perspectives on the event.

Send out a thank you message

A small thank you goes a long way, and if people have taken the time out of their lives it's the least you can do. A personal message would be extra special, but may not be practical if you have a long list to work through. A more general “Thanks for coming and making my day so memorable” is plenty.

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