Birthday celebrations are some of the hottest parties the event planning industry. But with the right tools, space, and party planning savvy, you can create your own fabulous birthday party that people will be talking about for months to come. Whether you want a quiet, intimate get-together or you plan on pulling out all the stops for party even the neighbors won’t forget, we’ll help you realize your vision- within a reasonable budget. Are you commemorating a major milestone, such as a 30th, 40th, or 50th? Are you newly 21, newly legal, and eager to celebrate it? Maybe you’re throwing a surprise party for a friend on a special year. Whatever your goal is, we’re happy to help you pull of your perfect party with style and finesse.
The Planning Stage Simplified
1. Let’s start with a brief overview of what you’ll need to do in the planning phase. Then we’ll get to the fun part and provide you with creative birthday party inspiration that would make Hollywood jealous! But before you can throw the party of the year, you’ve got to get people there. This may seem like a no-brainer, but we think it’s worth mentioning that the date and time is even more important than the venue. If people can’t make it, they’ll never get the chance to indulge in the decadence of your birthday party, so make sure you set a date and time when the most guests are likely to make it. If it’s an adult birthday party, it’s probably a good idea to have it on a weekend during the evening hours. If this is a children’s party or a birthday with a family fun theme, stick to the weekend, but schedule it during the afternoon. Give guests an option to linger into the evening hours (perhaps for a second dessert of music and wine for adults). But plan the main chunk of child or family-centered activities at a reasonable hour so that people who have to get their kids home early won’t miss out on the fun.
2. If you’re throwing a surprise party, which we’ll cover in more detail soon, check on the lucky recipient’s schedule to make sure they can make it.
3. When it comes to budget, we suggest coming up with a range and sticking to it. If you’re on an extra tight budget, it might be a better idea to come up with one solid number and make it your goal. I’m sure you don’t need a reminder that birthday parties almost always cost more than they seem to at first glance. Obviously, your budget depends on the size, venue, and theme of your birthday party.
4. Choose your venue wisely, and make sure it accommodates the mood, theme, or general atmosphere you’re going for. If you want a small celebration with an intimate feel, have the party at your home or a favorite restaurant where your fun celebration won’t be drowned out by an overwhelmingly large crowd. Outdoor venues or beach parties are usually seasonal options, but some bars and restaurants do have outdoor heating that keeps guests warm into the night. (This setting adds ambience to an autumn party, and gives guests a chance to relieve the inevitable claustrophobia of an indoor event).
Good Vibes Only
5. If you’re going for glitz and glamour or over-the-top excitement, survey the party scene for a venue that can accommodate a big guest list and roll out the VIP carpet. Do you want your birthday party to feel like a fantasy, choose a venue where guests can get dressed to the nines and dance all night long.
6. Last but certainly not least, send out eye-catching birthday party invitations. You can use traditional invitations that describe your party in fun detail, or you can send out email invites. All it takes is a little time and technology to add some cool graphic detail to your invitations. It brings the idea of your birthday party to life, gives guests a sneak preview into the concept, and leaves them with a sense of anticipation. It may sound a little excessive, but trust us: After a long week of work and no play, people are tempted to let loose. If you’re going big with your birthday party, create an atmosphere that makes guests feel as though they’ve escaped the reality of routine and entered a hot, pulsing fantasy. On the other hand, if you’re having a birthday party from the comfort of home (or a small, tranquil venue), people love a chance to unwind.
Low-Key Birthday Party Inspiration
One of the universal advantages of a low-key, intimate birthday party is that it gives people a chance to relax and be themselves. Most of us spend our work weeks putting on a professional face or corporate veneer, often functioning on autopilot to meet deadlines, please clients, and get work done. But a party with close friends at the end of the week loosens people up and gives them a much-needed outlet. An upbeat, say-anything round of drinks between friends can be even more fun than dancing the night away in a super-glam or exotic locale. Here are some creative ideas to amp up your low-key birthday party:
1. Pamper Your Guests with a Mini Staycation
You matter how diverse your guest list is, it’s hard to go wrong with a party that pampers your guests. There are generally two ways to go about this. For those who favor the DIY approach, you can transform your home into a veritable five-star retreat (or something to that luxurious effect). Indulge your guests in quality DIY facials, mani-pedis, or massages from a licensed professional. Have a wide array of essential oils on hand, and know their features (i.e., peppermint cleans out your senses and nasal cavities. Can’t lose). If you or your guests enjoy a little spiritual pampering as well, give away complimentary crystals or simply adorn your home with them for a zen effect. The going rate for legitimate massage therapists that come to you is about $80 per person, but it does vary. You could find cheaper or more expensive, so do a little research.
You commence your spa ritual while partaking in a movie marathon, or make the setting even more spa-esque by playing classical or meditative music throughout part of the night. If you know your group is heavily into healthy natural foods or vegetarianism, make your counter into a delicatessen of tasty treats. If you’ve got the cooking savvy (or a nearby natural foods store does), you can include lots of sweet treats made from real fruit and natural sugars. (Even a makeshift health retreat in your home shouldn’t go without dessert). With spa treatments and healthy, delicious entrees make your in-home vacation more than just a pampering party; it’s now a miniature wellness retreat. Guilt-free pleasure can be hard to come by, and your guests will want to take advantage of it.
This idea can easily be made kid-friendly, too. Plenty of hypo-allergenic face masks are available online, and healthy kid-friendly snacks will please parents and kids.
The other (albeit more expensive option) is to actually host your pampering party at a spa. The plus sides are obvious: The spa takes care of everything and often goes the extra mile, providing top quality facials, massages, tea rooms where you guests can rest and chat- you name it. There’s also a diverse multitude of services available at spas that no one could possibly provide from home. Facials can include therapeutic treatments such as a microdermabrasion, seaweed treatments, and exfoliation techniques that are may be too sophisticated to emulate from home- even if you have a pro. (It’s worth nothing that there is a good market for in-home facial products, and seaweed-based exfoliation masks can be purchased at many spas for home use). Spa massages usually include an array of deep tissue, hot and cold treatments, aromatherapy and/or reiki for energy healing, medical massage treatments, and much more.
Our advice? If you can afford, indulge. But if you’re like many of us, there are a wealth of products and services you can buy at much lower costs, and take home. Besides, using your creative license to transform your home into a spa retreat is actually a fun prospect! It’s one birthday party your guests will be talking about for a long time to come. Just don’t be sour if a few guests steal your idea for their own birthday party.
2. Indulge in a Wine and Cake Tasting (Or Just Cake for Kids)
Here’s one instance in which we actually recommend you be a people pleaser. Why not make your birthday party into a wine or cake tasting? Better yet, make it both. Cake has been a hallmark of most birthday parties for hundreds of years, and this is one tradition we don’t recommend breaking this year. People love to come to a party that feels personalized, so take an inventory of your guest lists and ask yourself what kinds of cakes and desserts would indulge each group’s tastes. In the case of this birthday party idea, it’s not one size fits all. True, if you’ve got more than a few hand-picked guests who happen to be close friends, you’re not going to know what everyone likes- but you can create a plethora of options that are likely to top off everyone’s expectations.
Do you have vegetarians or vegans on your list? Order a genache-based cake, or hand-craft a fruit-based treat that uses almond or coconut milk instead of the real thing. Gluten-free guests are easily appeased by countless recipes available online with a quick Google search. The chocolate lovers are also easily to please- just layer it on and remember that for many of them, less is definitely not more. Keep in mind that there is usually a small ratio of chocolate haters in the crowd. (You can’t understand everyone, but in this case, you can please everyone). Cater to your chocolate-hating (or allergic) attendees with vanilla or strawberry.
When it comes to food and wine tasting, allergies are an important consideration. We recommend getting to know a little bit about your guests’ preferences, aversions, and allergies beforehand. You can do this by including super-brief, pre-party survey in your invitations. This works well whether you send out or email your invitations. Going out of your way not only makes guests feel like you care about them, but it will give them the luxuriant sense that this party is personalized based on their needs and tastes. If you’ll be hosting a cake and wine tasting, ask them their favorite desserts and wines. You’ll be surprised at how far you can take that simple information and run with it. Even guests who simply state that they love fruit or chocolate will give you miles of creative leeway. Oh, and don’t forget to have cheese and crackers on hand if wine is on the menu. (Duh).
3. Throw a Grown-up Sleepover
Most adults will admit it: We miss those special, cozy nights at our friends’ houses for birthday party sleepovers. As kids, we relished the prospect of staying up all night, indulging in excesses of cake, fun, and games, and exploring new houses (with new imagined ghosts or at least horror movies we weren’t allowed to watch at night). As grown-ups, our tastes are (at least a little) more refined, but that makes the idea of a pajama party all the more exciting. The dress code is obviously PJ’s. Offer your guests a temporary retreat back into a childhood with board games and a movie marathon. (We suggest horror, but that’s probably just the overgrown children in us who are still bored of PG-13).
Board games don’t have to be “bored games”. But add some more adult games to the agenda, too: With some wine or homemade margaritas or gin and tonics on the table, play “Never Have I Ever”. If you’re too mature to know what this is, congratulations, but we’ll sum it up for you. Basically, guests take turns stating things they have never done. If you have done them, you’ve got to sip.
If you can easily see this game getting way out of hand quickly, try truth or dare, which doesn’t require alcohol consumption unless you want it to. A good birthday party rule of thumb: The winners of each game, even the board games, should come away with a prize. The treat can be a gift certificate or grown-up “goodie bags” of tasty treats.
A little extra FYI for DIY purposes: If you’re not a wine connoisseur, it’s not a problem. There are online kits and free how-to videos on websites like YouTube that open you up to a whole new world of flavors, textures, and origins of everyone’s favorite dinner and dessert companion.
Another spin on this party idea is the cocktail mixer. This is literally a mixer, as everyone is required to bring their own cocktail liquor. As host of the birthday party, your job is to line up enough juices, fruit, liqueurs, condiments, and decorative flourishes to create your own in-home bar. The setup could be anything from a long table to your kitchen counter, if you’ve got the kitchen space. Have some recipes on hand as reference points; some can simply be “how-tos” for making classic drinks, and others can list variations of classic drinks. There’s ample room for creativity when it comes to making the perfect margarita, for example. If you do it right, this birthday party idea has all the flavorful makings of a cocktail party at a high-end bar or restaurant- only it’s happening from the comfort of home. There’s the added benefit of a warm, intimate setting where people can actually hear each other over the music.
Speaking of cocktail hour, many successful birthday parties have been dedicated to the making of the perfect margarita. There are a multitude of well-loved margarita blends available online. Not only are they super easy to make and won’t break the bank, but there are so many authentic Mexican, Americanized and other cultured varieties to choose from. When it comes to margaritas, it seems that every country puts their own spin on the basics. Remember, margaritas are best accented by homemade margarita pizza, so put one (or two or fifteen) on the menu!
You can also turn your makeshift cocktail party into a vintage affair. Choose an era and invite your guests to arrive in full vintage regalia. You can go back much further in time than this, but one fun idea is to reenact the Prohibition. During the ban on alcohol in the 1920s and 1930s, an uprising of revelry and alcohol-fueled parties emerged from underground. Careful not to get caught, people dressed to the nines in flapper dresses, Art Deco designs, and Gatsby-inspired suits for underground drinking parties. Actually, Great Gatsby-themed parties are currently trending big time among the millennial population. If you’ve never been to one and are feeling nostalgic for an era you’ve only read about, host your own Gatsby party. Even if no one actually knows how to do the Charleston, the music will be enough to give your scene a real vintage feel and flair.
Cater to the rebel in your guests by treating them to once-forbidden fruit- a.k.a. popular drinks produced during the Prohibition.
The 60s and 70s works well here, too. Turning your living room into a makeshift Woodstock may seem ambitious, but it’s easier than you might think. Toss a couple of 70s-style throw rugs over your furniture, add brightly colored Tequila Sunrises or pina coladas to the mix, and encourage guests to bell-bottoms, maxi dresses, tie dye, and peasant blouses. (This might be the only time you’ll hear us encourage those things to this extent, but if it was in vogue back then, bring it back for your birthday party). Roller skating parties at a local rink are another hit when it comes to retro-inspired birthday parties fit for a disco queen.
The idea is to bring another era to life in your home. There’s an element of nostalgia involved even for millennials, most of whom fancy ourselves vintage connoisseurs. Look around- millennials are in many ways a melting pot of the other, distant eras we sometimes criticize. We take fashion and lifestyle pointers from the distant past and modify them to our liking- which is exactly what your vintage-inspired birthday party should do.
Want to take your dress-up party out of the house? After homemade cocktail hour, move your party to a bar or restaurant for dessert- or round two.
4. A Spot of Tea
There’s also something for the ladies- and their posh dates- in this birthday party idea. If you’d rather your event be a more posh affair, host a tea party fit for royalty- from home. Alice in Wonderland is a popular theme for younger crowds. You could also encourage your guests to channel their inner British royalty and don formal dresses and hats. Adorn the menu with fluffy English scones, fruit tarts, and spice cakes. Of course, the perfect cup of tea is the heart of the matter at this birthday party. Choose a British brand and include your favorite black tea blends. Needless to say, an old-fashioned British tea kettle isn’t a requirement here- but it is a nice accent that can be found secondhand on Etsy or even Amazon or Ebay!
5. Have a Cook-off
Instead of the standard cookout, make your birthday party into a cooking contest (for fun rather than sport, of course). Have you ever caught an episode of Nailed It on the Cooking Channel? If not, then you’re missing out, but the general idea is that contestants have to bake a complex meal or dessert within a deadline. Now, for your birthday party, we recommend toning down the pressure a notch and choosing less complicated meals that everyone can make. Encourage guests to put their own unique touch on it, and assign a “panel” of pseudo judges who taste-test the end results and decide who made it best in terms of flavor, appearance, and creativity. This is an idea that works for kids, too.
6. Sports Lovers’ Delight
Sports lovers will be delighted by a party that gives them a chance to not only tune into a big game, but indulge in all the whole sports scene. Make your party a complete package. Include an excess of classic sports food (think pizza, jalapeno poppers, chips and dip, and the like). If your guests are like most sports lovers, at least some of them will enjoy a sports betting activity. (If football is your theme, a Fantasy Football party combines betting for fun with the game- a combo few can resist, especially when you add jalapeno peppers to the mix).
There’s another, more outdoorsy version of this birthday party idea. For those who like to play rather than watch, you can head over to bowling alley or take a one-night dance class together. If it’s summer and the weather is cooperative, head over to the beach for a game of volleyball or embark on a group hiking journey through a local spot.
7. Festivalize Your Birthday Party
Let’s continue to pretend it’s summer- after all, it’s not too far off! Are you planning a seasonal birthday party this year, and have access to a pool? Although the classic pool party is always a good idea, we recommend putting a unique spin on it. If this is a millennial bash or your guests are young and trendy at heart, festivalize your pool party. What we mean by this is give it a Coachella feel. Update your playlist to reenact recent music annual music festivals, such as Coachella or Bonnaroo. Flower crowns, henna tattoos, and inflatable floats are classic Coachella pieces that are easy- and inexpensive- to bring home.
8. Transport Your Guests to a Tropical Paradise- In Your Backyard
In a similar vein, handcraft a summer party that will transport your guests away from reality and into a dream vacation. Most people thoroughly enjoy a Hawaiian luau, complete with a fire pit, flowered leis, and a fruity cocktail selection at a homemade tiki bar. Set your backyard abloom with Hawaiian flower arrangements. To add a real feel, hang birds of paradise from trees and scent the air with jasmine. Sprinkle white or black sand poolside to give your guests the feeling that they’ve entered a paradise of your own making. If you can’t plant fake palm trees for the occasion, incorporate these Hawaiian staples into your theme: Cover your tables with cloths that have palm designs, and use decorative palm trees as centerpieces.
Trust us: Your birthday party will bloom like a hot, volcanic flower on a luxurious white sand beach. Guests will sail away on a sea of imagination in your built-in or above-ground pool. And your birthday party will make a big splash!
These awesome birthday party ideas cater to the unique interests of you and your guests. They blow conventional party ideas right out the window, and offer creative, eclectic alternatives to tried and true standards. Best of all, they’re mostly inexpensive and easy to pull off. All they require is a little thinking- and planning- outside the box.
Do you share an artistic bent with your friends? If you’re a bunch of film junkies or even actors and writers, here’s a novel idea: If you’ve got the technical accommodations, host a film screening in your home! If you don’t, rent out a theater at a local cinema and ask them to play a favorite cult classic- or something new you think your guests might really enjoy. This is a particularly cool idea for members of film classes who are ever in need of inspiration for their own developing or hopeful projects. Make sure to include all the classics that give movie-going a comfy, iconic feel: flavored sodas, nachos with cheese, candy picks, and of course popcorn slathered in ridiculous amounts of butter.
9. Do Your Birthday Party Right, New Age Style
Do you have friends who are veterans when it comes to psychic readings and experiences, healing crystals, reiki, or other forms of spiritually inclined relaxation? Maybe you have some who are simply curious, which works for this birthday party idea, too. There are many ways to pull this one off. You can schedule a group day trip to a reputable new age center near you, where people can choose whether they want to spend their time indulging in an intuitive reading, crystal-shopping, or perusing the bookshelves. You can also take a group class on meditation, hypnosis and regression, or tarot reading. The list of options goes on and on. Whatever conclusions you and your guests draw from this birthday party to remember, it’s a party that won’t soon be forgotten. Even if all you bring home is a new flexible yoga mat or a book on astrology, you’ve had some fun and a learning experience.
10. Have a Karaoke Party
An old standby, karaoke has been a birthday party go-to for generations for a reason: It’s a super-fun means of a self-expression that doesn’t require big bucks or an ounce of talent! Actually, part of the fun is messing up the lines or regaling your company with your terrible voice, which becomes something of a comedic performance. Luckily, most karaoke parties are graced with at least a couple of decent to good singers- so if you’re blessed with a singing voice, here’s your chance to steal the spotlight. While some talented singers pursue it as a career, karaoke presents an opportunity to turn it into a hobby for those who don’t want to or can’t do it professionally. Who knows? You may even make an impression on the right person, and with the help of some homemade YouTube recordings, your karaoke talent could take you places? But if you’re like most of us and just in it for fun, a karaoke birthday party is usually a real crowd pleaser.
If you’re planning a birthday party but haven’t yet decided how to proceed, hopefully we’ve given you a solid starting point. We tried to include something for everyone, but feel free to extrapolate on our ideas by searching related ones. If you’re looking to make a splash, the key is to think outside of the box and make it your own. If you’re looking for a plain, old-fashioned good time, there are plenty of options on this list for you. Either way, plan ahead so you can kick back and enjoy when the day comes!