A buffet including fruits, salad, & cinnamon rolls.

Some people throw together a surprise party on the spur of the moment, but it usually takes more planning. Take the following things into consideration to limit the risk of things going wrong.

Make Sure the Person Is Comfortable with Surprises

No surprise party will be amazing if the guest of honor doesn’t like surprises. You want her to be happy and have fun. That won’t happen if she’s uncomfortable with surprises. Also, choose a dress code that matches what the person will wear or have a change of clothes handy.

Plan Early

Some experts recommend starting the planning for a surprise party up to six weeks before the event. This is especially important if you’re planning to reserve a venue and not have the party in someone’s home. It makes it easier to plan when the guest of honor isn’t around if you live in the same home.

Consider Enlisting Help

It helps to have someone else involved in the planning, especially if you live with the guest of honor. That way RSVPs can go to that person, as can anything that people need to mail. This makes it easier to keep the event a surprise. It also means less work for you.

Choose a Different Date

Don’t hold a surprise party on the exact date of a person’s birthday or anniversary. That makes it much harder to keep it a surprise. Have the party a week or two earlier. Scheduling it after the fact could upset the person. They might think people forgot about their big day.

Pick the Right Location

Holding a surprise party at the home of the guest of honor presents some difficulties, so you may need to think of another location. There needs to be a reason to bring the guest there (besides a surprise party) and a way to hide the other guests. Make people park on another street or hold the event in a popular bar or restaurant where people expect lots of other cars. Remember, some people will recognize their friends’ cars. People may still have to park further away.

Think Carefully About the Invitation List

The people invited should be close friends and family of the guest of honor. Limit the invite list to those who can keep a secret to limit the risk of a ruined surprise. Invite essential guests who can’t keep a secret at the last minute so they can’t spill the beans.

Have the Guests Arrive Early

Invite the other guests for a time at least an hour before you expect the guest of honor to arrive. Tell them they need to arrive on time. This limits the risk of someone arriving at the wrong moment and giving the surprise away. When it’s close to the time for the guest of honor to arrive, text or call late guests. Let them know not to come until you give the all-clear after the surprise.

Make Sure Everyone Knows It’s a Surprise Party

Make it clear on the invitation that the party is a surprise party. Nobody should talk about it to anybody else to avoid ruining the surprise. You don’t want the guest of honor hearing about the party by accident. Guests should only talk about the party with the host.

Have Someone Make Plans with the Guest of Honor

To ensure the guest of honor is free to attend, have someone in charge of keeping the person busy. They can invite the guest of honor to do something else. Preferably, this something would involve going to the party location or somewhere nearby. For example, if it’s at a restaurant, make dinner plans. If the guest of honor forgets plans or changes them at the last minute, a surprise party may not be the best idea.

Remove All Evidence of Planning

It can be a good idea to invite people by phone. Make all plans so there isn’t a risk of the guest of honor stumbling onto the evidence early. People might leave emails and paper invites out. They might note the party in their calendars or leave other party-related items out in the open. Warn people to be extra careful about this.

Make Plans for the Day of the Event Being Celebrated

Don’t let the guest of honor think everyone has forgotten about their birthday or anniversary. Make plans to get together for dinner or have a small get-together to celebrate. This will minimize hurt feelings before the event and make it less likely they’ll suspect a surprise party.

Decorate Carefully

Make sure no signs of decorating will be visible from the outside of the home. Outdoor decorations could ruin the big “Surprise!” moment.

Plan Based on Their Likes and Dislikes

Figure out discretely what type of party the guest of honor prefers, what their favorite foods are, and other important details, and tailor the party to their tastes. The guest of honor will enjoy the party and know that you put a lot of thought into the planning.

Consider Having a Theme

If the party has a theme, it makes planning easier. A theme narrows down the options for decorations and food and makes decisions simpler. For example, you might have ham and pineapple appetizers at a luau, but you wouldn’t have sushi at a backyard BBQ. Base the theme on something you know the guest of honor likes, whether it’s a color, a food, a hobby, or a favorite place.

Consider Using Social Media

Social media really can simplify party planning. Create a private Facebook event including all the information. Have all party planning and RSVPs go to that event page to keep everything in one place. That limits the risk of people replying to the invite in ways that could give the surprise away.

Get the Right Food

Choose foods that the guest of honor likes, but also keep in mind any dietary restrictions of the other guests. A buffet is typically a good option. People can choose what and how much to eat and mingle instead of having to sit for a plated meal. Choose food options that are easy to eat with one hand while holding a drink in the other.

Arrange for Documentation

Make sure that someone is on hand to document the big moment and the rest of the party. Hand out disposable cameras or make sure people have their smartphones handy. Set up a hashtag for the party everyone can use when posting the pics during and after the event.

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