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How to Plan a Sweet 16 Party

Turning 16 is a big moment in anyone’s life and while it was once the girls taking center stage, many boys are now using it as a perfect excuse for a party. It’s a coming-of-age that’s worthy of celebration and the sweet 16 has come a long way from the debutante balls of the 19th century from where they originated. Some will want something lavish, some will want to go a little more understated, but everyone can do with a little help in the planning.

Part 1: Planning

Organize your budget

MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 series set the bar very high with ridiculously rich parents and overly pampered kids crafting epic parties. However, not everyone needs something so extravagant to mark the event. Setting a basic budget around these areas will help you stay the right side of reasonable.

  • Logistics - From the initial invitations all the way to the thank you notes
  • Sustenance - A party isn’t a party without something to eat and drink
  • Entertainment - Providing various things to see, do and listen to

Decide on a theme

If you’re a parent planning a party for your child, this is a major area where you need their input. As you’ll know from looking after them for the past decade and a half, 16-year-olds are still kids. While you might want this party to be their last chance to act like one, it’s likely they will have a very different view on what their party should consist of.

Trends for teens can be fickle, so try and stick to classic themes with a modern twist, rather than going for anything too ‘of the moment’.

Create an invite list

Remember that for every person you invite, many of your costs will be multiplied. To help you assess the scale of your party, it’s useful to split this into three subsections

  • Definitely - 4-5 people essential to the event
  • Probably - those you’d very much like to attend
  • Maybe - to invite if space is available (or others drop out)

Pick a date and duration

Use the ‘definitely’ list to help determine the right day to mark down in the calendar. The more people you need to organize around, the harder it is to find common ground, so make sure this list is as short a possible.

A sweet 16 party usually lasts around 4 hours. A daytime event will dramatically reduce costs, but most will want something going on into the evening to be more in keeping with a grown-up event. A good compromise is 7-11pm, meaning the parents picking up  their kids can still have a reasonable bedtime.

Part 2: Preparation

  1. Make and send save-the-dates
    Whether you go physical or digital, consider hiring a local graphic designer to put the invites together. Amateur attempts at Photoshop can have a very unappealing outcome.
  2. Choose the venue
    While a rented venue is tempting, don’t discount a home event which can have a much more personal and intimate feel. Alternatively, a limousine party tour could keep everything contained in one elongated space.
  3. Pick the music
    Unless you’re happy to run the risk of providing your own playlist, one of the most important choices is between a live band or DJ. Both have their merits, and if you can't decide, try karaoke or a learn to DJ experience which can double as both the music and the entertainment.
  4. Organize some activities
    The mid-teens is a delicate time where you’re too young to enjoy a margarita but too old for clowns. But not all activities or performers suitable for kids are babyish. An airbrush tattoo or henna artist can be the classy, happy medium your party needs.
  5. Decide on a color scheme
    Everything from the balloons, tableware, drink cups, and banners should all follow the same color scheme. An abundance of unique combinations and interesting palettes can be found from a quick Google search.
  6. Simple but effective food
    Unlike many other party types, food is often a sideshow at a sweet 16, rather than the main focus. Opt for a buffet rather over anything that requires sitting down and keep it bitesize.
  7. Crafting a cake
    Whether you bake it yourself or go for a store-bought option, it’s wise to keep the small and simple theme running. Mini cupcakes might be a better alternative than slicing off slivers of a multi-tier cake, and they can be heavily customized to follow the event theme.
  8. Bag up some favors
    While younger kids are satisfied with some cheap throwaway items to take away, it’s worth going for fewer items with more durability for older children. Depending on attendee numbers, something like a personalized photo keyring can make a nice keepsake.

Part 3: Buildup

Host a mocktail tasting session

Come up with a handful of recipes and invite a few guests over to rate them and decide which to serve at the actual event. There are a million tasty combinations from pomegranate mojitos to a watermelon punch. You can also give them fancy names based around the birthday boy or girl.

Plan a shopping trip

The outfit is an essential part of the event and should be included in the original budget. You can make an extra special occasion with a personal shopper experience, which many larger department stores offer as a free service.

Have a music consultation

Whether you go for a live band or DJ, they will need some guidance on what to play. Make sure this is as close to the event as possible as not having the latest jam playing could be a major faux pas for a 16-year-old socialite. A nice surprise gift would be a modern mix of the song that was number 1 on the day they were born.

Chat group for parents

If you’re able to get the details, it’s useful to have a chat group going with the parents of attendees. You can use this to share some of the more boring but essential details such as what time they’re expected to arrive for pickup and where to park.

Prep food in advance

If you’re going for a DIY option, don’t spend the day of the party baking. This is the case for both home events and if you’re taking food to a venue. You don’t want your house to smell of grilled cheese as everyone turns up, and you don’t want to be transporting warm food in your car where it might spoil.

Part 4: On the day

  1. Send the birthday girl or boy out
    Try to keep them away from the last minute prep so they can enjoy the entrance
  2. Send a text reminder
    Get a feel for who might not be able to make it and clarify any last minute details
  3. Put up clear signage
    Make sure everyone can find the way in, where to leave their coat and where the restrooms are
  4. Test the ‘wow’ moment
    Once you’ve got the decorations up. Walk through the doors - does it make your jaw drop?
  5. Give parents clear instructions
    Remind them what time to collect their child - you don't want to babysit anyone!
  6. Keep the candle-lighting ceremony short
    If you decide to follow this tradition, whether it’s with 16 or 17 candles, don’t overdo the moment.
  7. Don’t open gifts on the day
    This could be pretty dull for guests, so provide a gift table where they can be left until after the party.
  8. Have a guest book
    If you don’t want a traditional book, a canvas, blank t-shirt or instant photo booth lets you capture kind words and memories that last beyond the day.

Part 5: Once it’s over

Create a shared photo album

Set the ball rolling with a few of the favorites you took on the day them prompt others to share any photos they have. If you can get them to add captions it’ll become a time capsule to look back on fondly on 26th, 36th, 46th, and many future birthdays.

Don’t forget to say thanks

While it’s a nice personal touch, it’s not very modern to mail cards to your guests to say thank you for coming to the party. So how about a video message instead? A short selfie taken surrounded by presents sent to everyone who came will be well appreciated by all.

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