How to Plan a Retirement Party
Retirement is a big deal - it’s the culmination of a long career and a chance to look back and celebrate many years of effort and achievement. A party is the perfect chance to let everyone say well done, thank you and best of luck for the future!
It’s most likely that you’ll be throwing a retirement party for someone other than yourself. Whether it’s a colleague, partner or parent, we have some useful advice to help you host an event worthy of the occasion.
One word of warning before we begin. The person retiring knows they’re getting old, they don’t need a constant reminder, so don’t play too heavy on the ‘this is your life’ angle. By all means look back, but this is about a new chapter in their life, not the end of the road!
Part 1: Planning
The party type
Everything to do with your party from the guest list to the food, stems from deciding on the type of party you’re having. Retirement parties come in a couple of distinct flavors, and while much of the advice that follows applies to each type, there are a few differences which we’ll explain along the way.
- Office retirement party - invitees will likely consist of a combination of past and current colleagues, including external business partners with whom they have had close working relationships.
- Friends and family retirement party - people may come from far and wide to join in the festivities, with a much broader age range than just a work-related party.
- A combination party - this may be the preferred option if there’s a less clear distinction between friends and coworkers.
Choosing a theme
Often, if you ask the retiree what kind of party they want, they’ll say none at all. The older people get, the less fuss they want to make!
It may be better to give the guest of honor a few party options rather than ask an open-ended question.
Don’t assume the retiree wants something related to their job - if they’ve worked as an accountant for 50 years, a calculator cake may seem funny to you, but it probably won’t be quite so amusing to them. Think about what’s next and where their hobbies lie, rather relating the theme to their profession.
For a wine lover you may want to put on a tasting evening, or for someone planning on spending their later years on the golf course, you could turn your venue into a mini putting course.
When and where
The last day of work is traditional, but with everything else going on in people’s personal and professional lives, that may not be convenient. Ideally, it wouldn’t be more than a week before they retire or a couple weeks after, otherwise, it’ll feel too disconnected from the event.
Consider the general schedules of the party attendees and whether significant others are invited to attend when setting the day and time of the party. A weekday is a better option for coworkers with families, and the earlier the better in the day to accommodate those who need to head off for other commitments. Weekends work best for family events, except when the majority of guests will also be retired — you can make some considerable savings going for a Monday to Thursday option if people are a little more flexible with their timings.
Where you have it depends very much on your type of party. The obvious options are at home, in the office, or in a dedicated party venue, but you could even set up a gourmet lunch in a restaurant, head out for a picnic, or take a fishing trip if that’s what’s most suited to the retiree.
Set a budget
Older people tend to have a greater appreciation of money, so going overboard on extravagances for the party is unlikely to be appreciated. As personal preferences vary, don’t automatically assume the retiree wants a big, over the top affair. Consider their values, what they consider frivolous and unnecessary, speaking to those closest to them if unsure. Invest in important elements like food and entertainment and those elements the guest of honor appreciates, and make them feel valued and appreciated, rather than unnecessary flourishes.
If your budget is coming from a company rather than a personal pocket, make sure you’re thinking about the future and being fair to everyone. If you have multiple retirement parties this year, set the budget for them all at the same time — don’t make the person with the latest retirement date be left with a potluck menu and repurposed decorations.
Part 2: Preparation
Calendar invites feel a bit impersonal, so if you’re sending electronic invites, drop a more casual note first. Include all the important information, such as whether a ‘plus one’ is permitted. And don’t forget to invite the retiree. You may want to do this separately if there are any details you want to keep as a surprise.
- Card and Collection
Start this as soon as you can so you get an idea of your gift budget. Cards can take a long time to work their way around an office so keep an eye on it and watch that it doesn't get lost within someone’s paperwork pile.
- Gather Memorable Moments
Ask coworkers, old bosses, friends, and anyone else they’ve had a personal interaction with about career highlights, landmark achievements, and anything funny that’s happened to them in the world of work. You don't want the speeches to be reading straight off an HR record sheet, so uncover as many interesting anecdotes as possible. As an alternative to a colleague missing out in sharing their favorite memory, assemble the memories in a keepsake journal alongside photos for the retiree to be able to look back on fondly beyond their party.
- Food and Drink
Select a menu suitable for the style party you’re having. Some foodies will want more of the budget put into this area, while others will be happy with a few bowls of chips and dips dotted around the venue. A special cocktail named after the retiree, including a description of the drink, featuring characteristics of the guest of honor for is a fun option to consider.
Whether your playing music yourself or hiring a DJ, it’s good to have a rough idea of the vibe you’re going for. You could opt for songs based on the year the person began their career to foster conversation. Use music as a backdrop only, or rock into the evening with a live band.
It’s nice to have a little bit of focus to your party, helping break the event up into smaller segments. You could put on a quiz show all about the retiree’s career, or a ‘goodbye to the tie’ ceremony taking a pair of scissors to their work attire. Having a photo booth where they can take one last picture with their coworkers also gives everyone a turn to spend some time with them.
This isn't an area you’ll need to put too much budget towards, but a few well-selected items or a balloon wall can set the scene nicely.
Part 3: Buildup
Getting the gift
Traditional retirement gifts include a watch or an engraved pen, but it’s much more appropriate these days to opt for something related to a hobby.
Get a gift that’s both personal and practical such as a new golf club bag, specialist cooking lessons, or a luggage set if they’re planning on spending their retirement traveling,
It’s nice to be able to organize something to look back on in years to come, so buy an autograph book for party guests to write something poignant in. If you’re unable to arrange for some guests to travel from afar, ask them to send in a short video message and compile them together to share with the guest of honor.
The world of work is full of Powerpoint presentations, so a final one wouldn’t hurt! Gather all the photos you can and have them playing on the wall of your party to provide a nice visual conversation piece.
Prepping the venue
The real feature of any retirement party is the guest of honor, so your venue doesn't need to have that extra special wow-factor. However, a few preparations may be necessary to get things party-ready.
Put away a few valuables, make sure your neighbors are aware there’s a party taking place, and add some useful signs so people can find their way to the bathroom
Try and section off a separate area of your office to host the party so there’s no danger of anyone spilling a glass of wine on some important paperwork.
Stay in regular touch with the venue manager so they can let you know about any important information and you can supply them with accurate guest numbers and any special requirements.
Make sure you have all the necessary permits in your hand in plenty of time if you’re hosting your party in a public place. Be sure you’re prepared for every type of weather!
Part 4: On the day
Drop a quick message to check that everyone is still coming and they know where to be and when.
If you think you’ll need to arrange transport home for people, pre-book some taxis so they’re ready and waiting.
- The card
Go around and wrap up any outstanding signatures of those who were away the first time it went around.
- Get the Party Started
If the party is running on from a regular working day, make sure there’s a clear line when computers need to be shut down.
- Speeches and Toasts
Don’t let the speeches overtake the event, but give everyone an opportunity to say a few words and raise a glass for their departing coworker.
- Gift Presentation
This is likely to be a big moment in the event, so present it in style and provide an opportunity for the guest to say thank you to everyone who contributed.
Part 5: Once it’s over
Reach out to everyone who was at the party to send in their photos and collate them into an album so the event can be seen from the perspective of everyone.
The thank you message
The retiree will want one last opportunity to say goodbye (and in some cases good riddance!) to old colleagues so provide them with an email list so they know who attended.
Keep in touch
Everybody says they will, but few rarely pick up the phone or drop an email to someone who has retired. At least try and help keep everyone in touch by providing guests with the retiree’s new contact information and encouraging everyone to befriend them on social media.
Then you can be jealous of their retirement exploits while you’re stuck doing the day job!