Summer is the perfect time for lazy afternoons at the beaches, sitting outside with your hubby until the sun sets, or having a bunch of friends over for a backyard party. One of my favourite types of parties is a surprise party. I’ve planned two for my hubby and also helped my mom plan a huge surprise party for my dad’s 50th birthday.
Here are my tips for successfully pulling off a great surprise party.
1. Plan the food.
A party means food and for me, this is stressful because nobody wants to run out of food. I recommend planning a menu you can make ahead of time to reduce preparation on the day of the party. If you’ll have a problem hiding the food (like I did for my husband’s party this spring), a great idea is to check out Subway’s corporate catering. They have a wide variety of delicious sandwiches sure to please every taste.
2. Send sneaky invites.
For both of my husband’s parties, I’ve used Facebook. It’s easy to create an event which can be secret (so he doesn’t see it) to invite friends. I could also troll through his list of friends on Facebook to invite people I didn’t have contact information for otherwise. Remember to specify that this is a SURPRISE party so no one casually mentions it to your guest of honour.
You can also stealthily deliver paper invitations to people you see on a regular basis or mail out cards. Subscribe to my email newsletter to download a FREE party planning printable, including a set of “Top Secret!” invitations you can send out!
3. Plan the distraction.
The most complicated part of a surprise party is how to get the guest of honour out of the way on the day of the party. I recommend having someone who can act as your decoy. For my husband’s first surprise party, I got my younger brother to take my husband (then just my fiance) out bowling for the afternoon, with strict instructions to return at 5 pm. My hubby thought it was great my brother wanted to spend time with him, and I had the afternoon to decorate my apartment while knowing exactly when he’d be back.
For my husband’s party this year, I simply planned it to happen after work, so he got home to find all his friends hanging out waiting for him. Planning your party around something your guest of honour usually does helps make them less suspicious that a surprise is happening.
4. “What can I bring?”
Friends always ask what they can bring to a party, which usually leaves me stumped for an answer. If you’ve got food taken care of thanks to Subway, suggest friends bring a bottle of wine or the guest of honour’s favourite type of beer.
For my husband’s parties, I mostly just wanted his friends here to show him he’s appreciated. A polite way I’ve seen to express that is to say, “No presents but your presence is required.”
You could also ask guests to bring an anecdote or photo of the guest of honour for a special birthday scrapbook.
5. Plan the parking.
In your invitation (or in a note sent to those who RSVP), indicate where people can park so their cars don’t tip off the guest of honour. For my dad’s surprise party, we had people park in the neighbours’ driveways (with permission of the neighbours).
6. Capture the moment.
This is something I actually haven’t done, but have a camera ready to capture that moment when the guest of honour walks in. I can still remember the look on my dad’s face when he walked into his shop and found over 50 friends (some who had traveled for several hours to be there) assembled and yelling “Happy Birthday” at him, but it would be awesome to have that moment on film. If you can, designate a couple people to take pictures or set your camera to take a picture every second after you push the button.
7. Pick a good day for the surprise party.
Try to plan the party sometime before the big day so the guest of honour is actually surprised (and not upset because she thinks you forgot her birthday). My best friend’s mom did this one year for my best friend by calling all of her friends and inviting us to a party a few days before her birthday. This is also helpful if the big day is mid-week, as weekends are often a better time for a party so simply pick a weekend before the big day.
8. Set a lookout.
You need a way to warn guests that the guest of honour is about to arrive. Either have someone watching for their arrival or have the person distracting the guest of honour subtly let you know they are on their way. I think my brother called me (or even had my hubby call me) when they left the bowling alley. But be careful if your guest of honour is the one calling—demand absolute silence before answering the phone, so that a friend’s voice in the background doesn’t tip off the surprise.
9. Beware the decorations at a surprise party.
Party decorations are a ton of fun, but keep them out of sight until the surprise is sprung. For my dad’s party, we had the house decorated inside and my dad’s friend brought him in through the shop so he saw all his friends there and then moved into the house with them after the surprise. Pay attention to decorations near windows that might be sighted from outside. Or you could arm your guests with silly string to spray when the guest of honour arrives.
10. Is he or she going to like it?
Maybe this should be point number one, but make sure that your guest of honour is going to appreciate being surprised. A surprise party is a lot of fun for the person planning it, but some people want to get in on that anticipation. I knew my hubby liked surprises because I planned a little surprise for him when we were “just friends” at university together and because he likes planning surprises for me.
Have you planned any surprise parties? What helped you pull them off successfully?
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I was compensated for this post by Subway; all opinions expressed are my own.
I’ve planned a surprise bday party for my best friend mid November.
I’m coming from out of town to host but I’m stuck on how to get her to the house it’s being hosted at.
If her husband brings her to the house she will clearly know what’s going on.
I’m thinking blindfolded??
That depends on your friend’s personality. If she’ll enjoy the surprise blindfolded, go for it! If she’d guess that the reason you’re blindfolding her is that there’s a party happening, then I’d try something else. Can you take her out for coffee before the party (give her an excuse for being in town that day) and then find a reason to drop by the place the party is being hosted afterward? Or if you’re helping set up the party, maybe another friend can do something with her (for her birthday) and then bring her over to the party? Be creative! Good luck. 🙂
I am so excited I found this post. I am currently planning a surprise party and I NEEDED this list. silly string? perfect idea!
Glad I could help! Have fun with the silly string! 🙂 (Just be warned – it can be hard to clean up! Be careful where you use it!)
I am terrible at planning surprises too
Planning a surprise is so much fun, I’m terrible at it though.
It is fun. I think you do need some good excuses prepared sometimes to cover up the surprise… and I made sure that I didn’t tell my five-year-old anything about the party, as she would have said something to Daddy! 🙂
Such a fun post! Thanks for all the great info!
You’re welcome! Thanks for dropping by. 🙂