Surprise parties are the perfect way to celebrate milestones, like birthdays, or momentous occasions, like promotions or graduations. Because of the drama of jumping out from behind a couch, the guest of honor feels extra appreciated for their accomplishments. And as a surprise party planner, you get to sneak around like a spy for a few weeks, so the guest of honor doesn’t catch on. It’s an all-around blast! But, of course, there isn’t drama without guests at the surprise party.
Whether you’re inviting guests to a surprise party or a regular party, there are some tips and tricks to make it easier on everyone. First, you should always give your guests time to RSVP. Usually, 4-6 weeks is enough—but consider giving more time during the holidays. Second, your invitations should include all the basic party details, like location, date, time, and RSVP information. And third, you should follow up with guests who miss the RSVP deadline.
While those tips will help you plan a stress-free party, they won’t necessarily keep it a surprise. Keep reading to discover how to fine-tune your invitation process, so the guest of honor stays in the dark. (Until the party, that is!)
Make Sure Guests Know It’s a Surprise
Hopefully, this is an obvious starting point! Of course, you don’t want your guests to spill the beans. But in a digital age where nothing feels secret, how exactly do you do that? For starters, whether you’re mailing physical invites or creating a digital event—clearly put “SURPRISE” in the event name. Leave the envelopes blank, in case the guest of honor happens to see it. And keep any online event private, so the guest of honor can’t search for it. But make sure the paper invitation, event name, and description all have “surprise” in it.
If you create any group chats, open the conversation by telling everyone this is a surprise. And don’t tell them the cover story, either. For example, your cover story might be a date night with you and your partner. If that’s the case, don’t tell any of the guests—unless they’re helping you plan. The less the guests know, the less they can accidentally spill. (Your partner will be suspicious if their coworker mentions an upcoming date night that your partner never told them about.)
Use Word of Mouth and Networking
Chances are, you don’t have the contact information for every single person you want to invite. You may have phone numbers for some, addresses for others, and Facebook profiles for the rest. And you can’t feasibly mail invitations, call half the guest list, and create a Facebook event. That’s too much work, and leaves too big a margin for error! Instead, you should rely on networking to get invitations out to the guests for the surprise party.
Bonus Tip: Ask the guest of honor’s BFF to help you contact the whole guest list.
This means, if you have guests on your list whom you have no way to contact—see if you have a mutual friend. For example, if they’re the guest of honor’s coworker, a different coworker might have their number or address. One of the benefits of using social media to invite guests is that other guests can forward the invitation for you.
Only Provide Your Contact Information
Are you planning a surprise party for your partner? And if so, do you and your partner share an email address or social media account? Be sure to avoid any shared accounts when you’re planning the surprise! Typically, when you send invitations for any event, you ask for RSVPs. You can ask guests to call, text, email, or simply reply directly to the online event. But whatever contact method you provide—make sure your guest of honor doesn’t have access to it!
If there’s room on the invite, let guests know your relation to the guest of honor, too. For example, you can write something like:
RSVP by June 20
Mary (John’s Sister)
Guests will feel more comfortable calling or texting if they know who’s on the other end. Plus, it introduces you, the host, before you actually meet them. (Which makes the in-person meeting less awkward!)
Ask Guests to Arrive Early
The start time you list in the invitation should be the same time that guests should arrive. It does not reflect the guest of honor’s arrival time. Guests at a surprise party should arrive 20-30 minutes before the guest of honor. This gives everyone time to be in the right spot if you’re shouting, “Surprise!” or just be hidden from windows. Plus, it accounts for stragglers who might cut it close.
Bonus Tip: If a guest will be late, give them a specific time to arrive after so they don’t run into the guest of honor!
For larger venues or longer guest lists, don’t be afraid to give yourself more time. The guests can socialize before the big reveal—and you’ll feel less stressed about getting everything just right. As guests RSVP, reiterate when they should arrive, including any special entrance requirements. (Like, “Come in the side door.”)
Greet Guests at the Venue
Whether your guests are hiding behind a couch, or simply waiting in the open for the guest of honor to arrive—tell them! If you can’t be there to greet the guests, ask a close friend to help welcome everyone, and give them their surprise instructions. You have the option to put this information in the invitation, of course. But chances are, most of your guests won’t remember every detail. It’s less stressful for everyone to remind them at the event!
If you’re short on extra help—get creative! Ask your venue if they can spare an extra staff member for half an hour, to communicate with guests. Or send out a group text an hour before everyone is set to arrive. Couple that with signs at the venue, and you won’t even need a friend to help! And if you really need to be there yourself, re-think your cover story. Date night isn’t date night without you. So, consider tasking a friend to plan a low-key night out. It then becomes the friend’s job to get the guest of honor to the venue, where you are waiting with all the guests.
Inviting guests to a surprise party is what makes it a surprise! Otherwise, it’s a date night with the guest of honor. But there are a few extra steps you have to take, to make sure the surprise stays a surprise. Clear communication and a little expert sneaking will make sure your party is surprising, and not stressful.
Have you ever been to a surprise party? Did you jump out, like in the movies?