Have you ever thrown a surprise party for someone you love and care about? Have you ever had a surprise party thrown for you, where you were the unsuspecting “victim” of the secret planning for your birthday or other special occasion?
Having hosted quite a few adult surprise parties over the years, I can tell you emphatically that knowing how to throw surprise parties for adults is a lot of fun, whether it’s a surprise birthday party for an adult, surprise bridal showers, anniversary parties, etc. Surprise parties are a blast when perfectly planned and executed, and the guest-of-honor has no clue about the special party being arranged in their honor.
Hosting surprise birthday parties for kids or teens is a lot of fun and exciting too of course, milestone birthday parties for “kids” turning 18 years old or 21 are loads of fun, but for me there is something extra special and exhilarating about planning the perfect surprise party for adults. I’m also hosting a 60th birthday party soon, although this party is not a surprise, but I hope to one day at least participate in some way hosting or co-hosting a milestone surprise birthday party for a 50th or even a 70th or 80th birthday.
The secrecy that goes into the planning stages, the creative trickery to ensure the man or woman doesn’t begin to suspect “something is up”, topped off by the unveiling of all the planning and intrigue when the guest-of-honor walks into their party with the shocked look on their face as everything yells Surprise! and applauds in their honor, is the icing on the cake. I get goose bumps just thinking about all the previous surprise birthday parties I’ve either thrown myself or have been the co-conspirator in that were all great successes, personalized down to each final detail.
There are many ways to throw a surprise birthday party for an adult, and just as many birthday themes to choose from, if a themed birthday party is desirable. Everything depends on the person the party is being planned for. Do they like surprises? Probably the first rule of thumb in deciding whether to surprise someone with a birthday party is don’t ever throw a surprise birthday party for someone who hates surprises. They may be surprised alright, and act as though they’re thrilled and happy about the surprise party, but deep down inside they’re feeling very uncomfortable and just trying their best to maintain a “game face” until they can get away. Tip: Just. Don’t. Do. It.
Planning the Perfect Adult Surprise Birthday Party
Hosting and planning adult surprise birthday parties requires organization skills and creativity, and since I’ve always been the planner-type and detail-oriented, throwing surprise parties is actually quite easy for me. I take my time and plan each and every detail, often using a homemade party planning binder full of details and checklists, which means throwing together a last minute surprise party doesn’t work for me. I’ve assisted as co-conspirator on such occasions, making sure the “victim” arrives at the party location or venue on time and is dressed appropriately for the occasion, but have not been the actual host.
1. Choose the date for the birthday party. One month to six weeks prior to the actual birthday celebration is the LEAST amount of time I recommend starting the birthday party planning and inviting of guests. I much prefer to start planning and jotting down ideas more than two months ahead of the actual birthday party date, sending out “save the date” cards or actual birthday party invitations so that guests can put the birthday party date, time and venue/location on their calendars well ahead of time, making clear to invited guests that it’s a SURPRISE party. Shhhhush! Zip it! Don’t talk about the surprise party so the guest of honor doesn’t overhear or suspect something.
I will also say here that I do NOT recommend, suggest or advocate throwing a surprise birthday party AFTER the person’s actual birthday has passed. Unless you are prepared with fellow co-conspirators to make plans with the honoree to take them out for dinner or drinks to celebrate their birthday on their actual birthday or a day or two beforehand, followed by the actual official surprise party a week or so after their birthday, the person being celebrated will feel hurt and disappointed thinking that no one remembered their birthday. Not knowing that a very special party has been secretly planned in their honor in another week or so after their birthday does nothing to prevent such hurt feelings.
2. Decide your party budget and stick to it. Birthday parties can be simple, inexpensive parties without the inclusion of tons of pricey decorations and fanfare, or parties can become very expensive and downright extravagant birthday parties costing perhaps hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Having “partners in crime” to help with planning and party costs for food and beverages, decorations, birthday cake, birthday invitations and postage etc, can help reduce the overall costs involved with hosting a birthday party for an adult. Having help with the planning, especially if the honoree lives with you, is vital in making sure you aren’t “caught” planning their surprise party, so R.S.V.P’s are given to your helpers via phone calls, voicemail or email and not to you the host/hostess.
3. Pick the party location. Birthday parties can be held just about anywhere, in the host’s home, the “victim’s” home, special party venue or rented hall, a nice restaurant with private room that can be reserved, an outdoor party at a park or on the beach, etc. Is there a dress code for the party location? Required tie and jacket for the men? Dressy or business attire, dresses, skirts and blouses etc for the women? Make sure the guests know the dress code, and that the guest-of-honor will be dressed accordingly! Because of the possibility of weather changes of rain, high heat or intense cold, I much prefer to choose indoor party venue locations that has some outdoor space available, in order to avoid having to have a Plan B or contingency plans if or when weather becomes a problematic factor.
4. Make the party guest list. Gather all of the full names, addresses and phone numbers of all guests to be invited to the party. Getting all of the necessary contact information can be tricky, especially if the party host(s) doesn’t personally know some of the invitees. Enable the help of friends, relatives and co-conspirators to make phone calls or emails, messages through Facebook etc, to get all contact info needed so invitations can be mailed out in a timely fashion. I’m personally not a fan of Evite invitations for parties, as every single one of those has not been received in my inbox, but was automatically filtered as spam and disappeared into the forever unknown of internet space.
5. Send out Save-the-Date cards and/or Birthday Party Invitations to all invited guests. For parties being planned two months or more ahead of the party date, I highly recommend sending out save-the-date cards by mail. Some hosts have found creating a secret Facebook Event page a good alternative to mailing out save-the-date cards, and even birthday invitations. (I’m fine with Facebook events used as a save the date notice for invitees, but I strongly recommend mailing out the official birthday party invitations to all invited guests.) This allows invited guests to mark their calendar with the special event well ahead of time, rather than taking the risk that guests will have previously made plans for that day and time and won’t be able to attend, because notice was not sent out early enough. Three or four weeks prior to the actual surprise birthday party, mail out the official birthday party invitations to everyone on the guest list.
6. Plan the party menu. There are far too many possibilities of party foods and beverages to include here, the ideas are truly endless, but I would say to make sure whatever foods or snacks that are included should be things the honoree likes. Hosting a birthday party at a nice restaurant the honoree has never been to, but their menu offers a variety of foods that the guest of honor likes and guests will like, is a safe option. If the birthday party is being held in someone’s home, the hosts can create a menu plan suitable for everyone invited, focusing primarily on the likes and dislikes of the honored guest, and various people can bring a dish to help towards the planned dinner party or brunch. Make sure to have a separate table ready, away from the food and drinks, for the cake to be displayed, and for any birthday gifts.
7. Don’t forget the birthday cake! Birthday cakes don’t have to be the plain and rather boring sheet cakes seen so often. Nowadays, custom-made cakes can be ordered in all shapes, sizes and colors, to suit the party theme or hobbies of the honoree. Shaped birthday cakes (like the one pictured here) made by professional cake bakers are not only tasty but look brilliant, and are quite reasonably priced! For the 50th birthday party I’m hosting, a custom shaped birthday cake is being made (as a surprise) that fits the personality and hobbies of the honoree, and I can hardly wait to see their reaction when they see their customized birthday cake! Some nice restaurants with party rooms may have in-house bakers who can prepare a very nice birthday cake to your specifications, where it isn’t necessary to bring in a cake from an outside source.
8. The Big Day Has Arrived! Getting the birthday guest-of-honor to the party location without the slightest clue of what’s really going on can be quite tricky, but there has yet to be an adult birthday party where the surprise party plans have been found out and we’ve been “caught” in the act. (Knock on wood!) Sometimes the honoree’s spouse is the one who manages to bring the special guest to the event location, while other times another relative or best friend has been the one to make “prearranged plans” with the guest-of-honor for brunch, lunch or dinner, bringing the unsuspecting man or woman to the party at the exact time needed for the big reveal.
On the morning of the big day, make sure final confirmations with invited guests are done via phone calls, text messages, emails, private Facebook messages, whatever. Just make sure to kindly remind the guests to arrive on time, so everyone is in place for the big party “Surprise!” reveal. Whether or not everyone is asked to yell Surprise! or not is a personal decision up to the hosts, but everyone in attendance could at least applaud loudly as the honoree walks in to the crowd of people there to surprise him or her. Get all the party decorations, balloons, party signs, food, beverages, dinnerware and napkins etc in place with as many helpers as possible.
***Special Note*** – I strongly urge that invited party guests be given a 45-minute to 1-hour window of time to arrive at the party venue before the celebrated person is to arrive at their own surprise birthday party. Best intentions aside, people can be notoriously late to gatherings, including very special planned events like surprise parties. Nothing ruins a surprise party more than habitually late guests arriving at the party at the same time as the honoree, and the “cat is out of the bag”. All of the work that goes into the planning and execution of getting the guest-of-honor to his or her surprise party is forever undone. While waiting for the guest-of-honor, guests can break the ice with lighthearted conversation about how they know the honoree, enjoy some appetizer snacks, and enjoy in the anticipation of the successful surprise party going off without a hitch.
Have you thrown any adult surprise birthday parties? What are your tips for hosting the perfect surprise party? Was your party a successful surprise, or were you found out?