The Complete Guide to Planning a Surprise Party

The Complete Guide to Planning a Surprise Party

Everyone has experienced at least one "surprise cancellation" recently, and it can leave even the most resilient among us feeling ambushed and blindsided. If you have a friend who has grown weary of the sort of surprise that ruins your day, there is no reason why you can't turn things around!

Why not reclaim the wonder and joy of the unexpected by throwing a pessimistic pal a spectacular surprise party?

Throwing surprise parties for loved ones is a blast, but it takes an incredible amount of precise planning to get it right. It's definitely not a task for an inexperienced party host! If you'd still like to give it a shot, it's a good idea to brush up on a few surprise party ideas and tips before you begin.

Are you up for the challenge?

We've created an essential guide to planning a surprise party that's certain to surprise everyone involved! We'll discuss when to throw a surprise party, how to manage those sneaky invitations, and how to plan the party itself. Think of it as a super surprise party checklist that will get you through every stage of the planning process!

Keep reading, and you'll even surprise yourself with how sneaky and efficient you are at party planning!

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Party Entertainment

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To Surprise or Not to Surprise?

While a surprise party can be good fun for the party planner, you need to approach the situation with empathy. The first step is deciding whether your guest of honour would enjoy a surprise party as much as you'd enjoy throwing one.

The best way to know if your guest of honour will love your choice of fête is if they've previously expressed interest in a surprise party.

Are they the type of person who can't get enough novelty and surprise? Do they have a "go with the flow" personality? Do they seem to take everything in stride?

If you haven't heard it from the horse's mouth, it's best to ask the horse's family! Pitch your surprise party idea to the guest of honour's family and close friends. They may have attempted to surprise them in the past, and their opinions will be very telling.

When To Reconsider

Even if you're the most brilliant party planner on earth, there will always be people who don't like surprises. Many people like to "mentally prepare" before they're thrust into sustained social situations. Others may simply prefer to know what to expect.

You might re-think the surprise idea if the following describes your guest of honour:

  • An introvert
  • Has a history of anxiety (especially social anxiety)
  • Gets frazzled when plans change
  • Becomes overwhelmed easily
  • Has expressed a dislike of surprises

Planning a party for another person is an act of radical empathy. You'll need to put yourself in that person's shoes and consider how they'll feel. If you have any doubt, it might be prudent to let them in on the surprise and simply plan an awesome bash!

messaging group

How To Invite Guests Without Spilling the Beans

The most difficult part of planning any surprise party is keeping the surprise a secret! This is more challenging than it sounds at first. You can't have a party without guests, and every person you involve can potentially snitch, slip, or squeal.

Luckily, you're planning this party in the glorious twenty-first century, when discrete virtual communication is the norm. Everyone around you is having private, semi-confidential conversations constantly. Use our digital culture to your advantage when it's time to get the word out.

While a Facebook invite might seem like the easiest way to invite guests, it might not be the best way. Think about all the social media invitations you've ignored or discarded recently. A surprise must be a well-oiled machine—this is not a scenario in which someone can casually RSVP "maybe" and show up fashionably late!

Your best bet is to use a more formal option, such as an Evite or Paperless Post. This will help guests understand that they should take the invite seriously. Require an RSVP so you can keep everyone in the loop in terms of arrivals, parking, and timing.

Be sure to make it clear that it is, in fact, a surprise party! Mention it as often as possible, including right in your subject line! Even the most well-meaning guest can ruin the surprise if they ask the guest of honour about the event!

Keeping Lines of Communication Open

Once your guests have RSVP'ed, you'll need a subtle and discrete way to communicate the details. There are quite a few apps that can help you update guests in real-time about surprise-related minutiae.

Consider using:

  • A secret Facebook group
  • A private Whatsapp group
  • A party-related slack channel
  • A party-related discord server
  • A Trello board for attendees only

Once you get into planning mode, you'll need to communicate many details quickly. Some of those details might change at the last minute! An efficient way to inform attendees of changes is essential to the success of your surprise!

party themes

Find a Theme the Guest of Honor Will Love

The "surprise" part of the surprise party lasts only a few minutes. After the guests have come out of their hiding spots and you have revealed the ploy, everyone will be expecting a party! The biggest mistake that party planners make is focusing all their attention on the first few minutes of the party and very little on the celebration itself.

Begin your party planning by considering your theme. Does your guest of honour have any particular interests that you can tie into the festivities?

When thinking about party themes, consider the following:

  • Decades (i.e. an 80s or 90s party, roaring 20s)
  • Sports teams
  • Favourite hobbies
  • Beloved fandoms (Marvel, Game of Thrones, etc.)
  • Cultural backgrounds
  • Holiday Themes (Christmas in July, Halloween, etc.)
  • Pop culture
  • Interactive or murder mystery events

You might need to do a little digging to figure out what your guest of honour is into these days. It's easy enough to casually slip the question into a conversation without attracting suspicion. You can also reach out to others for suggestions.

The most important thing is to keep their interests at heart! What do they love and care about? How can you include those elements in your preparation?

Always ensure that the guest of honour understands the effort is all for their benefit!

Set a Surprise Party Budget

When you're excited about your theme, it can be easy to get carried away! Setting a surprise party budget can help keep you on track and ensure you don't overspend. After all, you wouldn't want to blow all your money on surprise party decorations before you've ordered the food and drinks!

Start with your priorities, always with your guest of honour in mind. What do you need to make sure the party will be a success? What would be nice to have but isn't essential?

Depending on the reason for the party, you can sometimes ask guests to contribute. If the party is at a restaurant, for example, you can ask attendees to pay for their meal. You can also cut down on costs by making the event a potluck and asking guests to bring a dish.

When planning your budget, consider the following expense categories:

  • Venue
  • Decorations
  • Food and beverages (including alcohol, cake, etc.)
  • Table, chair, and/or tent rental
  • Live band or DJ
  • Entertainment vendors
  • Favours or prizes

There are many ways to cut down on expenses if you're clever about it. Even so, make sure your budget is realistic so that the only surprises are the fun kind!

surprise party venue

Decide Where To Hold the Surprise Party

Choosing a surprise party venue is about more than finding a place that can accommodate your guests. If you don't want to attract suspicion, the location can't be strange or suspicious. If you ask your guest of honour to meet you at the local catering hall or hotel, they're certain to realise something is off!

The simplest location for a surprise party might be a home - either your own home or the guest of honour's home. It's not unusual to invite someone to spend time at your place, and the guest of honour will almost definitely be returning eventually!

Admittedly, it can be challenging to create a party atmosphere in an ordinary residence. Many hosts find success throwing their surprise party at a favourite restaurant. Restaurants often have back rooms or event spaces that you can rent out for the event.

If the weather cooperates, it can also be fun to throw your surprise party outdoors. Local parks usually have ample parking, which is one less thing to consider while planning your surprise. If mother nature decides to add to the surprise with a rain shower, it might be wise to rent a tent for the occasion.

Choosing a venue that won't attract suspicion is one of the most challenging parts of pulling off your surprise. Remember, the name of the game is "flexibility!" Be willing to hold your event in an unconventional setting if it means nailing your spectacular surprise!

Book the Entertainment Early

Getting your guests to the perfect venue is only half the battle! If you're going to create a party atmosphere, you need to ensure that every guest has something to do. Even the chattiest attendees can only schmooze for so long, so keep things upbeat by bringing in some live entertainment!

You cannot go wrong when you hire a live band for your party! Live music comes with its own electric energy. Guests are welcome to dance the night away or simply sit back and enjoy the performance.

Best of all, live musicians can respond to what's going on at the party. They can compensate for lags in energy and get guests dancing! A roving musician or small ensemble can flit from guest to guest, adding a pop of dynamic sound just when it's needed most!

Alternately, you might consider bringing in a DJ to keep the hits coming throughout the event. They can help you curate an upbeat playlist with your guest of honour in mind. A great DJ knows how to run a dance floor and will make sure that nobody remains sitting for too long!

Tip Don't forget to let the band know that it's a surprise party! You might ask them to arrive early, so there's no chance they'll tip off the guest of honour. Conversely, you can bring them in after the surprise so they can add a dose of extra energy after the initial adrenaline has dropped!

Live Music Inspiration

Do you love the idea of live bands for parties but aren't sure how to choose? Here are a few suggestions that can help you choose a band, soloist, or ensemble to match your party's theme.

Decade-Inspired Parties: If you're throwing a party inspired by a particular decade in history, bring in a band that can set the tone! A roaring 20s-themed bash benefits from a live jazz ensemble or a big band. A 90s party isn't complete without an awesome 90s cover band who can keep the nostalgic hits coming!

Just about every decade has an iconic musical style. If you want to mix things up, a postmodern cover band is a fun way to incorporate historic sounds into familiar songs. The right music can transport a contemporary setting into the past!

Culture-Inspired Parties: If you will be celebrating your guest of honour's unique culture, why not bring in a band who can keep the theme going? An Indian Bollywood band can add a sense of pure theatricality, even to small gatherings. A salsa band can keep guests dancing to Latin hits from the moment you all shout "surprise!"

Consider Mariachi bands, German Oompah bands, Caribbean steel bands, and Ceilidh bands. Sometimes the right sound is all you need to ensure the theme is clear!

Small Parties: An intimate party or venue calls for a more intimate musical act. Make sure to choose a performer who won't overwhelm the space. For smaller surprise parties, we suggest an acoustic soloist, pianist, or string quartet.

Larger Parties: A big party demands big sound! If your venue includes a dance floor, then you must hire a function band! Find out the guest of honour's favourite musical genre, and you're certain to find a group that can deliver the hits.

Outdoor Parties: If you are holding your party outdoors, you might choose a band that can roam from location to location. Smaller ensembles are a great choice if guests will be spreading out across a park. A roaming acoustic band can bring their energy wherever your guests happen to be!

party food

Don't Forget the Food!

No matter what theme or venue you choose, you need to feed your guests! You don't need to offer a multi-course sit-down dinner, but you need to have something on hand to appease the masses. Hungry guests tend to leave early, which can take a lot of wind out of your sails.

This is the benefit of holding your event at a restaurant or place where food is readily available. You can select the menu and include it in your budget. Some venues may offer catering or prix fixe menus for larger groups.

If you're hosting the party in a home, be sure that any catering gets taken care of long before your guest of honour arrives! Nothing gives the game away quite like a catering van parked outside of your home right before you're set to yell "surprise."

If you're having food delivered, be sure to mention that your delivery window is firm. Once they realise it's a surprise party you shouldn't have any problems! The key, as always, is clear communication!

Figure Out What To Tell the Guest of Honor

Sometimes it's easy to lure your guest of honour into your surprise trap. If the party is at their own home, then they won't suspect anything. If the party is at a five-star restaurant they've never been to before, they may have questions.

The key to maintaining the surprise until the last moment is coming up with a solid decoy plan. Make sure it's airtight and that everyone involved is aware of the ruse.

If possible, arrange it so that the decoy plan matches the dress code of the party. In other words, don't tell your guests you'll be going to play football and then surprise them with a formal celebration. They'll feel underdressed, out of place, and frazzled.

It can make things a lot easier if you involve a "mole." This is someone who works as a double agent and ensures that the guest of honour gets where they need to go. They might transport them themselves—plus, as a bonus, they can text you up-to-the-second updates!

Do whatever you can to ensure that there isn't too much wiggle room. A phone call from your guest of honour asking to postpone or reschedule can obliterate weeks or months of careful planning! An enticing, time-bound decoy plan goes a long way toward success!

Plan Your Perfect Reveal

You've done it! All your attendees have arrived at the venue, and the guest of honour is a minute away! All that's left to do is jump out and shout surprise, right?

Wrong! You want to make sure you have a plan to get you through this moment! It's amazing how many surprises go wrong at the last second because the host hasn't decided if they want their guests to hide!

In essence, you have three options for executing your reveal:

  • 1. Turn off the lights until the guest of honour arrives
  • 2. Have attendees hide in the venue and jump out
  • 3. Go about as usual and shout "surprise!" when the guest of honour arrives

The venue can help dictate the right choice. There's no need to hide if the guest of honour is being led directly to the function room at the back of a restaurant, for example. In a small flat, however, it's not a bad idea to duck behind the sofa!

You can add a sense of fun by using props or costumes during the reveal, too! You can give the guests confetti or party poppers to use during the big surprise. For a hilarious twist, have everyone wear nose glasses or another goofy disguise.

Another nice touch is having someone ready with a camera so they can capture the exact moment of surprise! Have a friend or two ready to snap pictures or take a video of the big moment! If it's within your budget, you might also bring in a professional photographer to handle it.

Whatever you do, make sure you have a clear plan that you can communicate clearly. If everyone in attendance knows what to do, the big moment will be the highlight of the entire event!

Surprise! You've Planned the Perfect Party!

A surprise party is a tricky thing. It takes far longer to plan for the big surprise than it does to execute it! Once the initial excitement has passed, it's important that you've planned a fantastic party to follow!

You can get everyone in the mood right away by hiring a live band to kick things off! Bands For Hire has a live act to suit any taste, even if your Guest of Honor is a Mariachi fan or Oompah aficionado! Contact us today, and we'll help match you with the perfect musical act to surprise everyone in attendance!