Planning a Surprise Birthday Party: A Quick & Easy Step-by-Step Guide

Surprise birthday parties can be so much fun to organize and throw! It’s no wonder more people are planning a surprise birthday party than ever. If you have been thinking of throwing a surprise birthday party for someone you know, but not sure where to start, don’t worry. 

Since we’re party planning specialists we created this guide to planning a surprise birthday party. Everything you need to know is right here. 

Think of this as your planning a surprise party checklist.

Do you enjoy planning all types of parties? Then take a look at our Party Planning Ultimate Guide!


Where to start with planning a Surprise Birthday Party?

Planning an adult surprise party can be a lot of fun, but you need an event to trigger the a party. So what reasons are there to throw a surprise party?

Some of our favourite occasions to throw a surprise party are

  • Celebrate an accomplishment – Did the guest of honor recently get into medical school, receive a significant job promotion, or finally accomplish a life goal?
  • Someone we love is moving back home after a long time away
  • Celebrate someone who has just left hospital
  • Acknowledge a tough year for the birthday boy or girl
  • Someone’s milestone birthday! We love it for 18, 21, 30, 35, 40, 50.

Ok, now we have a few good reasons to throw a surprise party, let’s focus on organizing a surprise BIRTHDAY party!

A surprise birthday party is tricky to pull off. Not everyone is a big fan of surprises. 

However, if everything goes right, the skeptical guest of honor will have the time of their life. 

Surprise Birthday Party Themes 

A birthday party doesn’t need a theme, but all parties are so much better and have a more festival atmosphere where there is one.  

So what are some great birthday themes that you can do at time of the year?

  • Beach – if it is cold, no one has to go in the water, but visiting a great restaurant or bar and grill while taking in the ocean breeze is a wonderful way to spend the day.
  • Southern BBQ – Who doesn’t love biscuits, spiked iced tea, fried chicken, apple or peach pie, or mac and cheese? Plus, 
  • Plant party – This is a new type of party that has been popping up recently. Essentially, everyone brings a plant or gardening supplies for the guest of honor who loves plants – A plant party is also a GREAT idea for a new homeowner or first apartment.
  • Fave TV Show/Movie/Videogame – Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Twilight, Naruto, One Piece, World of Warcraft, Skyrim, GTA
  • Christmas in July – Christmas is a beloved holiday for many people, but they have to wait a whole year to celebrate it! So celebrate it in the summer and get a suntan with Santa!

If you’re struggling to pick a theme we have you covered. Project Party’s Theme Builder has all on trend party theme ideas in one place.

Pick your theme and be matched straight away with party suppliers who specialise in bringing that theme to life.


Pick the perfect venue for your Surprise Party

Once you have the party theme picked out, now you must figure out where the party should be.

Picking the perfect venue is important for any party, but it is especially important when planning a surprise party.

Should the party be at a restaurant, someone’s home, outside at a park, an amusement park, etc? 

The location will determine the types of food at the party, so there’s many things to keep in mind.

Some things to consider when picking the surprise party venue:

  • Manageable space – You want a space where you can manage the surprise properly! That means houses are a great option. Ir, if it’s at a public venue, then a small room or section away from other patrons.
  • Accessible – Make sure the venue is accessible easily for guests, but also for the birthday person!
  • Catering – How are you planning on feeding all your guests? Make sure the cuisine is appropriate for the occasion, time of day and guests
  • What if I’m on a budget? – For the budget conscious there’s no reason to worry, having surprise parties at a home address are often the most fun! Alternatively, many venues offer free room hire for free so call around.

If you’re on a budget it doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the experience! Check out our article on how to throw a champagne party on a beer budget here.

For all the best venues near you for your surprise party checkout Project Party’s venues finder here.

If you are planning on making the party food yourself, use this handy Party Planning Food Calculator


Picking the surprise party date

Planning an adult surprise birthday party means picking the perfect day!

To ensure that the guest of honor shows up for their own surprise party, find out when they have a day off with no errands or family events scheduled. 

Once you find the perfect day, ask your friend to keep that day open. Tell them you want to go out that day. 

Mark the day in their calendar and remind them of the “outing” often if they are forgetful.


Important items for your surprise party planning checklist

Now the day, location, and theme has been decided, it’s time to make a checklist of all the items you need. 

We all know the basic items for throwing a party, which are: streamers and decorations, plates and utensils, party cups, balloons, gifts, invites, food, drinks, the main dessert, birthday hats and/or plastic jewelry, etc. 

But what items are missing from every surprise birthday checklist?

Here are a few essential items that may be forgotten:

  • Lighter
  • Candles
  • Wet wipes
  • Drinks without booze
  • Bottle waters/water
  • Party makeup
  • Fancy plastic glassware
  • champagne/a fizzy drink for toasting
  • A cute background for pictures
  • Party poppers
  • Heavy objects to secure items and keep them from blowing away (if party is outside)

These items are commonly forgotten, so be sure to have them with you. If you’re looking for decorations and planning ideas you can checkout party projects suppliers page for inspirations and photos from their recent parties.

Click on Party Planning Checklists to discover checklists for all kinds of parties


Keeping the party going! Making a surprise party planning schedule

A surprise party should have a few essential events. Depending on the personality of the guest of honor, the party should either be quick or can take a few hours. 

No matter how long it is, here’s a simple run sheet you can use for all parties:

    • Guests arrive by certain time
    • Pick up or meet with birthday boy/girl
    • Text all guests to hide
    • Walk in!
    • After initial surprise, everyone grabs a drink and greets/hugs the guest of honor
    • Sit down for food/snacks
    • Games part 1
    • Open gifts
    • Dessert and Birthday song
    • Eat dessert and have drinks
    • Games part 2
    • More small talk and catching up
    • Quick clean up and guests depart

This is a barebones schedule of a fun surprise birthday party. The actual party will take 2 ½ hours or more. 

This schedule doesn’t include decorating time or the organisation before the party.

Since you’re planning and organizing the party, you are automatically the host. The host keeps the party moving onto the next activity without rushing too fast, controls the atmosphere, assigns tasks, and coordinates guests and food. 

You have a big responsibility! If you need a little help playing host, check out How to host a party.

Feel this party is getting out of control and you ned a hand planning your party? Check out our article that answers the 5 reasons a party planner can help here.

You can find all the best party planners in your area to make throwing a party a breeze right here on Project Party.


Getting the birthday guests to the party!

Make sure everyone knows the address, cross streets, and closest off-ramp beforehand. Put these directions on the invite and send a group text with the info as well.

If meeting at a venue, let everyone know where they can park and if there is extra parking in the back. 

If the party is at a restaurant, make sure everyone knows what name it is under. The restaurant may seat them if enough people arrive.


Getting the birthday boy/girl to the party

If you planned an outing with your guest of honor in advance, then getting them to the location of the party should not be a problem. 

The most important part of getting the guest of honor to their surprise party is making sure they look nice. Everyone at the party will take pictures, so it’s essential the birthday boy/girl looks great and their clothing, makeup and hair look on point. 

So if you see they just put on any old outfit, encourage them to change and fix themselves up more. 

Wear nicer clothes than the ones you would usually wear so they see how they should dress. Or have makeup or a nice outfit ready for them in your car/home so they can change quickly after they first walk in and are surprised.

If the birthday boy/girl is meeting up at the location separately, pick a venue on the nicer side.

If they get suspicious why they have to dress nicer than usual, make up something about yourself that you want to celebrate.


How to clean up a surprise party quickly when it’s all over

Cleaning up after a birthday party is no fun, no matter how amazing it was. But there are a few tricks to know to make cleaning up easy and quick. 

  • Use cheap plastic table covers and throw them away when party is over
  • Give everyone a task so the area is cleaned faster and no one person is left doing all or most of the cleaning
  • Use paper plates, cups, napkins, and utensils
  • Have a large tote bag ready so the birthday gifts can be placed in the bag


Conclusion … surprise parties are the best!

So don’t be afraid to throw a surprise party for a friend, family or acquaintance. It might seem daunting but with a plan you can make a really memorable experience.

Surprise parties are some of the most special events, and the joy on the guest of honour’s face makes all the planning worthwhile!

We hope this guide to planning a surprise birthday party helped you out and made it easier for you.

If you have any questions or would like to leave a suggestion or a comment, write a comment in the section below and we will answer it as soon as we can!

Check out our Ultimate Guide to throwing amazing parties for more ideas to make your party extra special.