Throwing the Perfect Surprise Party

My roommate turned 21 on Cinco de Mayo, and WOW did we have so much fun!! I worked with her boyfriend to put together the coolest birthday weekend ever. Maybe I’m biased. Oh well.

Pulling off this surprise party wasn’t as easy as you might think. This was the first surprise party I planned by myself, so I was pretty nervous! After planning, I decided I’d share some tips if you’re putting together a surprise of your own.

First, here’s a general timeline for the party I planned:

1.5 MONTHS AWAY: Decide on the specifics. Date, location, time.

1 MONTH AWAY: Send out invites, whether this be by mail or online! Make sure to note that this is a SURPRISE! Start searching for decor. Use Pinterest for inspiration (see my party board here).

3 WEEKS AWAY: Make reservations if necessary, ESPECIALLY if the party is around a holiday and the guest list is big!

2 WEEKS: Finalize your decor and wrap up purchases for the party. Meet with whoever you’re planning with (if you have a partner) to make sure you’re on the same page as far as little details go.

1 WEEK AWAY: Double check with your reservations and start checking in with guests to get a for-sure RSVP.

3 DAYS BEFORE: Prep as necessary – hair, mani/pedi, facials…whatever you gotta do as the host to feel like the most! Order balloons so you’re not scrambling the day of.

THE DAY BEFORE: Confirm reservations one more time. Last minute shopping for food, decor, etc.  Clean the party space (if it’s your apartment, for example). Post in Facebook group (if applicable) to remind everyone (“Can’t wait to see you tomorrow! Remember, this is a SURPRISE!”)

DAY OF: Pick up balloons, do any last minute cleaning, post in the Facebook group to remind them of how the surprise is going to happen, pick out your party dress, and, FINALLY, throw a kickass party!

1. Cut down the guest list, then cut it down again.

When I was planning my roommates party, it was SO hard to come up with a guest list. There are so many groups of friends to choose from: high school friends, college friends, friends from work, friends that she made leading up to the party, and other friends from her hometown. If I invited everyone, I wouldn’t have any room to put them! I decided that 25 people would be the max, which left some room in case a guest brought a SO or another friend. Don’t be scared to leave people out. I know that sounds harsh, but if you have to think about whether or not the person should really come, it’s probably best to leave their name off the list.

2. Designate a secret space. 

The hardest part of planning this? Keeping everything hidden from my roommate! We had a ton of balloons and decorations to stash away, and there are only a couple of places in an apartment where surprises can hide! I could barely get into my walk in closet for a few days, but it was worth it. I wasn’t stressed about planning all of the time mostly because the surprises were out of sight. If the gifts and decor had cluttered my room, I couldn’t think straight!

3. If you think you’re communicating enough, communicate more. 

The biggest gamble with a surprise party is making sure everyone’s on the same page (and everyone knows it’s a surprise). I made a Facebook event as soon as a date was decided and I don’t know how many times I typed, “THIS IS A SURPRISE!” in update posts. We had one slip up throughout the planning process: a high school friend hadn’t checked the Facebook page, so she asked my roommate directly for the details. Ugh! Thank goodness my roommate didn’t figure it out, but this could’ve been avoided: if you think you’re giving enough info, give a little more. Too much is way better than not enough, especially when you’re relying on a big group of people to keep a secret!

4. Don’t stress!

Okay, easier said than done, I know. But on the days leading up to the party, don’t stress! Take deep breaths! You can do this! No matter what, at the end of the day, your friend will appreciate the time and love you put into the surprise. If something doesn’t work out, don’t sweat it. Move to plan B! It’ll all be worth it in the end.

5. Write it down. 

The phone # for the dinner destination, the contact info for each guest, a tally of who is coming and who isn’t. Write it ALL down! Whether it be a note on your phone or a piece of paper in your purse, keep every detail close together so you aren’t scrambling.

6. This is your party, too. So act like it!

No, I don’t mean that you’re turning 21 too. No, I don’t mean you’re celebrating your graduation at the same time! But this is your party too – you’re a host, sure, but also a guest! When the party kicks off, look around and take it all in. YOU planned this! You made this happen! Now go enjoy it. I mean it.

Do you have an tips for planning a surprise? Any success (or embarrassing!) stories? Let me know! 

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  • Sara Kate Steadman

    Love that last one!! All parties are for everyone there! Great tips in general, though.

    Sara Kate Styling

  • Alex Lo

    So fun!!! And great tips!! Xoxo Alex

  • It looks like it was a great event. I love planning parties…maybe more than actually being at the party lol!

  • Looks like an amazing time!!!


    Miss Olivia Says

  • My friends threw me a surprise birthday party for my 18th (forever ago), and I had actually gotten in a car wreck that day and thought I was just coming over to my friend’s house to vent. It was quite possibly my favorite surprise party ever.

  • Merisa Ferrell

    Ahh, this is so fun! Your friend is so lucky to have someone like you to do something so special! Looks like you did a great job and had a great plan to boot. xx Merisa | Monogrammed Magnolias

  • I love throwing surprise parties! I’ve only thrown a couple, but like you said, they can definitely be stressful. It looks like she had a blast!

  • That’s so much fun! I love a great surprise party!

  • So fun! I love surprise parties. They’re always so exciting!

  • So fun! Surprises are the best! Xoxo Mindy

  • You are an AWESOME friend! Great party planning tips 🙂 It looks like y’all had a blast!

    XO, SS || Seersucker Sass

  • adriana nudo

    I love this! Surprise parties are so much fun, you are such a good friend! 🙂 xoxo

  • I love this, it looks like you guys really had a blast! all of your decorations are so cute

  • Kayleigh

    Such a cute party! So fun!

  • You’re such a good friend! It looks like she LOVED the surprise party!