Tips for hosting a successful surprise party

Surprise parties, a fun event concept but such a daunting task. I’ve always enjoyed hosting and planning but event planning requires a whole new level of patience and brainpower. Back in the spring when I was brainstorming what I wanted to do for my mom’s 60th birthday party, I decided I wanted to make it a surprise. Since my parents relocated to Denver in February, it felt appropriate to host a surprise party to celebrate my mom’s milestone birthday with family and close friends.

I learned a lot when it came to party planning (especially during the holidays) and I thought I would share my tips, learning lessons and recommended vendors that helped me throw one hit of a surprise party! 


-Determine a budget and stick to it: Before you start going crazy with planning, determine a budget. Do your research of what makes sense for you financially and what you are willing to spend on renting out an event space (if you are), food/beverages, décor and other elements you wish to have at your party. It’s important to plan with a budget in mind because it will keep you on track throughout the entire process.

 -Determine what type of party you want to throw: Parties can be done in a variety of ways and it’s important to lock down what type of party you want to throw. Determine if you want the occasion to be more formal or casual and also decide what this will mean in terms of dress code. From there you can get really specific and come up with a party theme if you see fit. For my mom’s surprise party I wanted it to be a Kate Spade cocktail party theme – black, gold and pink color scheme with complimentary food, beverages and décor!

-Nail down your guest list: Secure a guest list with little to no wiggle room – this will help provide you with an idea of how many people you’ll have at the party and what sort of space you’ll need for hosting. Most venues ask you upfront a headcount of how many people you are inviting, so it’s helpful to have a number in mind.

-Secure a space sooner than later: If you are hosting a party and need to secure a venue, I recommend doing it sooner than later. Venues are hard to come by especially during the holidays. Because I was hosting my mom’s party in December, I knew I would be competing against those hosting holiday parties. I reached out to over 20 vendors to find out more about their event spaces and pricing to see what would be a fit. By May, I had secured a space and it eliminated a lot of stress later down the road.

-Save the dates and Invitations. Yes, they are different.

Similar to that of a wedding, you want people to get the date of your party on their calendar sooner than later. Because I was hosting during the holidays, I wanted people to be aware of the party date before they booked trips out of town or had other holiday-related obligations. I advise sending out a Save the Date to your guest list at least 6-8 months in advance. I recommend using Moo for party invitations as they are reasonably priced, provide high-quality printing and have excellent template or customizable options.

Your Save the Date should have the following information (especially if it’s surprise-related):

  • In BOLD that the party is a SURPRISE.
  • Who the party is for
  • Who is hosting the party
  • The date of the party
  • Where the party will be (if you don’t have a venue secured but you know the city put the city down)
  • A line saying ‘formal invitation to follow’

*A Save the Date is basically a notice for those on your guest list to mark their calendars. A formal invitation is expected to follow after the Save the Date and will give your guests more party details.

When you are about 2-3 months out from your event, I recommend sending out the formal invitations with the following details:

  • In BOLD that the party is a SURPRISE – it never hurts to reinforce this
  • Who the party is for
  • The official date and time of the party
  • The official location of the party – venue name and address included
  • If food/beverages will be served
  • If there is a party theme (you can go into specifics if it’s formal or casual)
  • What time guests should arrive (give guests a “no later than” time so they don’t come late for the surprise!)
  • RSVP to and by…  -hold guests accountable by RSVPing to you either by calling, text messaging or emailing their RSVP. Give them an end date too, so they don’t forget to RSVP. This will give you an idea of head count. Most venues and catering companies want a final headcount confirmation a couple weeks before the party so you want to ensure you know how many people to expect.

 -Have someone assist in the process: Planning a surprise party is difficult enough and unless you are feeling extremely confident, you shouldn’t feel like you have to do it alone! Ask friends and family who are in on the surprise to help you with the planning process, being at the venue to wrangle guests before the surprise and help with any unexpected hiccups. Support is everything to a host during a surprise party! 

-Take photos: Make sure you have your camera and phone charged and ready to take photos! Tell guests to take photos throughout the party so you can collect all of the photos after. Video is also a special element to consider as part of the surprise! My boyfriend setup his video camera in the back of the room to capture the surprise as my mom arrived and it turned out to be such a special memento to take away from the evening. 

-Have a good alibi: Upon your surprise party date, have a good alibi for your guest of honor as to how you are going to get them to the surprise. This is a good chance to recruit friends/family in on the surprise for help! Luckily, for my mom’s surprise my dad, aunt and uncle were in on the surprise and able to help me keep my mom distracted as we got her to the space. Meanwhile, my amazing boyfriend assisted in the setup process and was responsible for gathering guests at the venue and making the overall surprise go smoothly. 

My mom’s surprise party turned out better than I could have planned or imagined! All thanks to the help of the guests, vendors and friends/family involved in the planning process.

I have listed below my recommended vendors I used to throw one heck of a party: