How to Throw a Fantastic Surprise Party

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How to Throw a Fantastic Surprise Party

Woman blowing out candles on a birthday cake
Getty Images/Fuse

Throwing a surprise party for your favorite 18-year-old? A surprise party is a great way to celebrate any birthday or special occasion. But there are a few basic tricks for doing it successfully - and a few more tricks to make it a fantastic surprise party. First, though, you'll need to ...

Pick a Great Venue

  • At Home: Hosting a party at home has several major advantages - you know exactly what facilities and resources are available, and getting the birthday boy or girl there is a piece of cake. Plus, it's free! The disadvantages? You have to be extra sneaky about any party prep, especially food. And you have to get the guest of honor out of the way for at least a few hours during set-up.
  • A Park, Pool or Other Outdoor Venue: You'll need to transport all the party equipment and food there, but a park or pool offers all sorts of casual party possibilities. Some allow you to reserve picnic tables and barbecue grills, for a small cost. And if you're planning on any large scale outdoor games - Quidditch, for example, ultimate frisbee or kickball - or renting any inflatable games or planning a Movie Night, a park is a perfect setting.
  • A Favorite Restaurant: Your 18-year-old's favorite bistro, cantina or sushi bar is a great place for a smaller gathering, especially if the restaurant has a private room. You can drag the teen off for a family dinner, and surprise him with a not-family dinner instead. Make sure you arrange everything with the restaurant management ahead of time, from table size to food and tab. Some restaurants prefer that you pre-order an assortment of dishes to be served family style - that helps remove any awkwardness over payment too. Party hosts should plan to pick up the entire bill, drinks and tip included. That's what hosting means. That said, some surprise parties are organized and hosted by teens, who may not have the wherewithal to pay for 20 dinners and for whom going Dutch is the etiquette norm. Miss Manners would shudder at the very thought. But if you're going that route, it's important to do the math ahead of time - figure out what the total meal will cost, add the tip, if it hasn't already been included, divide by the number of guests - who typically pay for the guest of honor - and make sure everyone knows ahead of time what they are expected to pay. Bring plenty of small bills to make change.
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The Surprise Factor

Surprise Party Invitation
Photo by Jackie Burrell

The whole point of a surprise party is, of course, the surprise. Here's how to make sure it's truly surprising.

The Surprise

  • First, make sure that the guest of honor truly likes surprises. Most 18-year-olds do, but if you've got a particularly shy teen or someone who likes to know exactly what he's doing at all times, you may want to rethink this approach.
  • Pick a party date, preferably one to two weeks before the real birthday. The birthday boy (or girl) will get suspicious if the real date draws near and no one has said anything about festivities. And waiting till after the real day has come and gone will make him feel bad - he'll think everyone has forgotten.
  • Plan a decoy activity that will get the guest of honor out of the house during party prep, if you're doing the party at home, or that will get him to the party site, without undue suspicion.
  • Ask his or her best friend to start talking up a birthday brunch or other outing for the real day, to allay any remaining suspicions.
  • Send out invitations - like the cool DIY confetti-loaded card pictured - several weeks ahead. Arrange for rsvps to come to your cell phone or e-mail address. Make sure it's clear from the invitation that this is a surprise - shhh! don't tell! And make sure the invitation gives any necessary instructions. You might, for example, tell people to arrive 30 minutes before the guest of honor, to park on an adjacent street and to wear specific clothes. Guests attending the Inflatable Games Party, for example, should wear pants. The Movie Night in the Pool party requires swimsuits. And ladies' night at the sushi bar may be an occasion for swanky dresses and high heels.