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How to Plan a Birthday Party For Adults (For Work or Home)

Throwing a birthday party for a friend or someone you care about can be a thrilling yet slightly overwhelming experience. 

Your head is probably buzzing with creative ideas, from the theme and decorations to the perfect playlist. But then the logistics set in—where do you even start? 

Take a deep breath and relax; you’re not alone in this party-planning journey. This comprehensive guide will offer step-by-step advice on throwing an unforgettable gathering to celebrate your friend.

Checklists for Planning a Birthday Party

Here are several checklists for different stages of your planning process to ensure you get everything you need.

Checklist for preliminary planning stage (2 months out)

  • Vision and Goals: Determine the mood, style, and objectives of the party
  • Budget: Set an overall spending limit and allocate funds to different aspects of the party
  • Date and Time: Confirm the date and time with the birthday person and other key attendees
  • Guest List: Compile a list of invitees, complete with contact details
  • Venue: Choose and book a location
  • Vendor Bookings: Secure any necessary vendors, such as caterers or entertainers
  • Theme: Decide on a party theme, if applicable

Checklist for fleshing out the details stage (1 month out)

  • Invitations: Design and send out birthday party invitations
  • RSVPs: Track and confirm RSVPs
  • Menu: Plan the food and drink menu, considering dietary restrictions
  • Shopping List: Create a list of groceries, decorations, and supplies
  • Entertainment and Activities: Plan games, music, or other activities
  • Backup Plans: Plan for contingencies like bad weather or technical issues
  • Personal Touches: Consider personal elements to make the birthday person feel special
  • Cake: Decide if you want to make or purchase a birthday cake
  • Free goodies: Purchase any free accessories to hand out or goodie bags to give away

Checklist for the finalize arrangements stage (1 week out)

  • Final Confirmations: Confirm bookings and orders
  • Backup Checks: Confirm your backup plans are still solid (e.g., the tent for potential rain)
  • Crew Briefing: Brief your support team on their responsibilities
  • Send Hype Message: Remind people of the upcoming party to build excitement and put the event back on their radar

Checklist for show time (day of the party)

  • Early Arrival: Make sure to arrive early for setup
  • Venue Setup: Decorations, seating, lighting, and other venue preparations
  • Food and Beverage Setup: Ensure everything is ready for serving, including ice
  • Entertainment Setup: Test any tech or game setups before guests arrive
  • Welcome Signage: Set up a welcome sign and any other directional signage
  • Guest Reception: Assign someone to greet guests
  • Prepare Backup Preparation: Bring backup speakers, extra snacks, and plan B activities in case an entertainer doesn’t show.

Checklist for after the party

  • Cleanup: Make sure you have a cleanup crew or plan
  • Thank You’s: Send out thank-you notes or messages to guests and helpers
  • Memory Sharing: Distribute any photos or videos captured during the event

If you follow those checklists, you’ll be in great shape! Let’s go into more detail for each stage.

Stage 1: Preliminary Planning

First, you need to lock down the nuts and bolts. You want to make sure all the logistics are squared up ahead of time so that you can send out invites to give people a chance to block this date off in their calendars and get any outfits or food ready.

Start this stage 2 months before the party at minimum. It’d be best to do this as far in advance as possible, especially if you need to rent a venue. Two months should provide enough time, but the more time, the better.

Here are the steps to go through:

Start with a vision

Before diving into the nitty-gritty of planning, take a moment to visualize the party you want to create. 

Imagine the atmosphere—Is it laid-back or vibrant? 

Imagine the party venue. Are you at a cozy home, a chic rooftop bar, or a sunlit park? 

Think about the joy on your friend’s face, the laughter filling the room, and the memories you want to make. 

It might also be helpful to reflect on these questions, borrowed from Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering:

  • What do you want to accomplish with this gathering?
  • What kind of experience do you want to create for your guests?
  • What kind of experience do you want to have for the birthday person?
  • What are the values that you want to uphold?

Setting a vision isn’t just wishful thinking; it’s your roadmap. It will guide your decisions, from the guest list to the theme, and simplify the planning process. 

Pick the date

You might be tempted to celebrate on the actual birthday, but consider the practicalities. Weekdays can be tricky due to work commitments so a weekend might be more convenient for most guests. 

Before locking in a date, it’s a good idea to consult with the birthday person. After all, it’s their special day! 

Remember to consider:

  • Do you want the date to fall on the actual birthday?
  • Would a weekend be better?
  • Make sure the birthday guest OK’s the date
  • Make sure any VIPs who you want to attend can make the date

Choose a theme

Do you want the party to have a theme or not?

Themes can be nice because they create a sense of cohesion and togetherness. And a theme doesn’t have to be complicated. 

If you’re interested in going with a party theme, here are a few considerations and examples.

Attire-based theme

  • Onesies and pajamas
  • Masquerade ball
  • Everyone dresses in all-white

Music-based theme

  •  90s
  • Jazz and cocktails
  • Salsa

Activities-based theme

  • Board games and video games
  • Karaoke
  • Wine tasting

Location-based theme

  • Beach party
  • Rooftop soiré
  • Cabin in the woods

According to research from Wayfair, here are the most popular party themes from 2023:

  • Tropical 
  • Bohemian
  • Rustic 
  • Beach
  • Glam
  • Fiesta 

If you choose to go with a theme, it can be fun when it spans multiple categories to create a sense of immersion. For example, a 90s theme could cover the music and the outfits. 

Create a guest list

This is debatably the most important step because a party is ultimately made up of people.

This question comes back to your vision.

Do you want a blow-out banger that taps into the deeper pockets of your network? If so, invite everyone you think might be interested and allow guests to bring +1s. 

Or do you imagine a more intimate gathering where everyone knows each other already? If this is the case, you may want to be highly selective in who you invite

Here are a few questions to chew on:

  • How big do you want the event to be? 
  • What is the purpose of this party? (The purpose could be as simple as “to celebrate Sid!” Or it could be more complex, like “to create a welcoming and expressive environment where people can connect in weird and authentic ways.”).
    • Which people would be most helpful in achieving your purpose?
  • Think about the dynamics of the group. Who would get along well with each other?

Each time you add a person to the guest list, imagining them fitting into the “vibe” of the party you create can be helpful. Do you imagine them melding right into the energy of your vision, or do they feel at odds with it?

Tip: Who should I invite? If you can sneak a peek at the birthday person’s phone, see all the people they have recently texted!

Set a budget

Before ordering decorations or scouting venues, have a candid conversation—how much are you willing to splurge on this bash? 

When considering your budget, here are a few major factors:

  • Do you want catered food or potluck style?
  • Do you want an open bar or BYOB?
  • Would you prefer a professional photographer, or would you like everyone to snap pictures and add them to a shared album afterward?
  • Would you like a professional DJ/live band, or want to make a playlist beforehand?
  • Do you want to field the costs yourself, sell tickets to the event, or ask for donations?

While spending more money can create a fun experience, there’s no guarantee that an expensive party will correlate with an enjoyable one. 

My favorite types of parties are more intimate. I like the close-knit gatherings in someone’s house, where everyone brings food and co-creates a strong theme together. These cost almost nothing.

But there’s no one-size-fits-all. Figure out your budget and where you feel spending money will bring the experience up to the next level.

Pick the venue

Your choice of venue will depend on various factors: the number of guests, the vibe you’re aiming for, and, of course, your budget. 

Here are a few considerations on the venue:

  • Indoor or outdoor (or both)
  • In someone’s home, a rented location, or a public location
  • Somewhere easily accessible versus remote

Once you have a venue, remember to check the following:

  • Confirm when you can arrive to set up.
  • Clarify if there’s a time you must leave. And if you must clean up that night or if you can come back the next day.
  • Ensure you have the contact info of your point person in case anything goes off the plan.
  • Clarify what the parking situation is so you can communicate this with guests.

It’s also worth considering how much fun you want to have at the party! Many people can get stressed out and feel performative when hosting a party. But enjoying yourself, acting authentically, and creating a likable aura is possible. If you’d like to learn how to increase your likability without sacrificing your authenticity, check out this free training:

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Stage 2: Fleshing Out The Details

It’s now time to get into more details about your party planning.

It’s best to start this stage 1 month before the party. More time is better.

Send out invitations

Invitations are often overlooked as a mere logistical task. But they are more important than meets the eye. 

And that’s because the invitation is guests’ first contact with the party.

It sets the tone, generates anticipation, and creates psychological buy-in.

Here are the main forms of invite to consider:

  • Mail out printed invitations
  • Mail out hand-written letters
  • Send e-vites or electronic invitations
  • Create a Facebook event page
  • Invite guests through a personal text, email, voice memo, or phone call

When choosing how to invite people, think twice before simply going with what’s most efficient. Statistics show that people receive about 100 emails per day; there’s a reason why receiving a handwritten letter tends to be more impactful than receiving an email with the same content.

Typically, the more intention, thoughtfulness, and personalization we put into communication, the more special someone feels receiving it. And that principle applies here, too. 

Put yourself in the shoes of the guest for a moment. Which event would you be more likely to attend:

  • An event where you receive an invitation to a Facebook event
  • An event where you receive a personalized video message explaining that your kind heart and quick wit would be so appreciated at this birthday event and that it would mean a lot to the birthday person to see you

Whichever route you take for invites, remember to include the following logistical details:

  • Date and time
  • Location
  • Theme
  • Gifts or no
  • Food situation
  • Any other special instructions

Usually, four weeks is enough notice for a birthday invitation. But if it’s a milestone birthday (like someone’s 50th) at a big venue with catering, and people are flying in, consider sending out invites two months in advance.

Plan and purchase decorations 

Regarding decorations, this is your chance to let your creativity run wild and bring your theme to life. 

Here are some decoration ideas to think about: 

  • Balloons
  • Banners
  • Tablecloths
  • Table centerpieces
  • Confetti
  • Flowers

Activity stations

Activity stations are the interactive hubs that keep the energy flowing and guests engaged. Think of them as mini-events within your more significant celebration, tailored to enhance the overall theme and vibe. 

While it’s nice for guests to chat with each other, activity stations create the opportunity for more varied forms of connection.

Here are several types of activity stations to get your creative juices streaming:

  • DIY cocktail or mocktail station
  • Craft station where guests can make flower crowns
  • Social boardgames like Cards Against Humanity
  • Question prompts to promote deeper intimacy. You could either write the questions or purchase a deck

Free Accessories

Adding themed attire or accessories to offer to your party guests can dial up the fun and make for some fantastic photos. It can also help create a sense of cohesion. 

If everyone wears cat ears, it could create a sense of unity, belonging, and permission for silliness.


The cake is the ultimate symbol of a birthday.

Here are some of your top considerations. I mean considerations:

  • Does the birthday person want a cake? Or cupcakes, candy, or some other dessert instead?
  • Does the birthday person have dietary restrictions or food allergies?
  • If not, do you want to make the cake edible to others with dietary restrictions?
  • Do you want to bake the cake, ask another friend to bake the cake, or purchase a cake?
  • Can you connect the cake with the party theme?


Signage at your party serves a dual role: it’s both functional and an extension of your theme and décor. 

From guiding guests to the venue’s entrance to highlighting different activity stations, well-placed signs can make navigation a breeze while showcasing your creativity and attention to detail. 

Think chalkboard menus at a rustic garden party or neon signs for an ’80s-themed bash. The fonts, colors, and materials you choose should echo the mood you’re aiming to create. 

Considerations for signs:

  • Do you need signs related to parking?
  • Do you need a “party this way →” sign?
  • Do any activity stations require signs?
  • Will food require signs for ingredient lists?
  • Do you want to make the signs yourself, ask a friend, or purchase them?
  • Do you want nametags?

Personal touches to reflect the birthday person

Personal touches transform a good party into a memorable, heartwarming celebration. These details say, “This day is all about you!” and they’re what the birthday person will likely remember most. 

Whether it’s a slideshow of cherished memories, a playlist featuring their favorite tunes, or a menu crafted around their go-to comfort foods, the party genuinely reflects the person being celebrated. 

Here are a few ideas for personal touches:

  • Naming a cocktail after the birthday guest 
  • A scavenger hunt themed around significant moments in their life
  • Photo memory wall
  • A memory jar for guests to write slips in
  • A menu personalized around their favorite foods 

Dietary restrictions

41% of adults1 have some dietary rules or restrictions. In this day and age, it’s essential to account for dietary diversity for a successful gathering. 

When planning the menu, try to include various options catering to different preferences and needs—check-in with guests ahead of time to inquire about any specific dietary limitations they may have. 

Labels following each dish can be a helpful touch to delineate which food items are safe for which people.

Dietary restrictions to consider:

  • Vegan (no milk, eggs, meat, or animal products. Milk and eggs are also allergens for some)
  • Vegetarian (no meat)
  • Gluten-free
  • Nut-free
  • Halal/kosher
  • Shellfish allergies

Party favors

While party favors aren’t obligatory, they add a touch of graciousness to your celebration and leave a lasting impression.

The trick is to choose favors that are both practical and aligned with your theme. 

For example, if you’re throwing a garden party, little potted plants make delightful take-homes. Or, if your bash has a culinary flair, custom spice mixes or mini jars of homemade jam could be a hit. The goal is to offer something your guests will appreciate and use rather than stash away in a drawer. 

Here are a few examples to get you thinking:

  • Mini liquor bottles
  • Scented candles
  • An assortment of tea bags
  • Portable charger
  • Doorstops (to prop your door open and invite social interaction)
  • A potted cactus (they’re very hard to kill)

Keeping the event on guests’ radars

As the big day approaches, life’s little distractions can easily sidetrack your guests. A gentle nudge can go a long way to ensure your party stays on their radar and to build excitement.

While you don’t want to overdo the updates (“Hey everyone, just decided to go with cloth napkins instead of paper ones!”), keep in mind these few rules of thumb for updates:

  • Send your first reminder about a week before the event. This gives people time to adjust their plans or RSVP if they haven’t done so. Include logistics like parking, as well as exciting elements about the venue or theme to get people pumped
  • Send a second reminder 2-3 days ahead to serve as a final nudge and add to the excitement.
  • Be concise but engaging. While you want your reminders to be informative, brevity is key. Use engaging language that reflects the tone of the event.

Stage 3: Finalize Arrangements

The big day is just around the corner. Make sure everything is ready to go.

Start this stage 1 week before the party. 

Recruit a team

Organizing a birthday party is a joyous endeavor, but let’s be honest—it’s also a lot of work! That’s why it’s smart to assemble a trusted team to help you with the setup. 

Delegate tasks based on people’s strengths or interests—someone who loves to decorate might take charge of the balloon arch, while a musically inclined friend could handle the playlist. 

Here are the areas to consider getting help:

  • A medium to large group will help set up the space the day of (move couches, blow up balloons, put up tablecloths, etc.)
  • Someone to welcome guests when they arrive
  • Someone to take pictures
  • Someone to handle the music
  • Someone to help assemble goodie bags
  • A cleanup crew

Many hands make light work, and it’s a great way to involve people who want to contribute to the celebration. Plus, having multiple hosts adds a communal spirit to the event, making it feel like a group effort infused with love and care.

Check-in on RSVPs

As the party date inches closer, you’ll want a clear headcount to finalize all those tiny but crucial details, like seating arrangements or the number of goodie bags. 

About a week before the event, reaching out to guests who haven’t responded is a good idea. 

Try for a polite, casual, and non-pressurey message like: “Hey Sam! I wanted to see if you can attend Tina’s birthday party next week. I’d love to see you there if you are free, and I also understand if you can’t make it :-)”

Not only does this help you nail down the logistics, but it also gives those last-minute planners a gentle nudge to get their act together. 

Make a backup plan

The old saying goes, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” 

Even with meticulous planning, unexpected hiccups can wrench your birthday bash. Maybe it starts raining on your outdoor barbecue, or the karaoke machine decides today’s the day to give up the ghost. Having a Plan B isn’t pessimistic—it’s practical. 

Take into account these considerations:

  • It could rain. Is there an indoor option you can consider in case it rains?
  • You could run out of food. Is there delivery nearby, or can you bring some extra snacks?
  • Tech failures happen. Test all equipment beforehand, and bring extra Bluetooth speakers. It’s also nice to have a go-to tech maestro.
  • An entertainer or vendor might not show up. Think of backup plans like a musical playlist or party games.
  • People will inevitably show up late. Can you build this buffer into your planning?

Frequently Asked Questions About How To Plan A Birthday Party

What is the importance of planning a birthday party?

Planning a birthday party is crucial for creating a memorable and smooth-flowing event. A well-organized party shows the guest of honor that you care while providing a great experience for all attendees.

How do I choose a theme for the birthday party?

Choosing a theme for the birthday party starts with considering the interests and personality of the birthday person. Consider whether you want a theme to dictate the clothes, music, decor, or activities. Once you have some ideas, consider how the theme can be integrated into decorations, activities, and food for a cohesive experience.

What factors should I consider when setting a budget for the party?

When setting a budget for the party, consider the size of the guest list, as well as the cost of the venue, food, decorations, a photographer, and any entertainment or activities. 

How can I create a guest list for the birthday celebration?

Creating a guest list for the birthday celebration is a pivotal step that aligns with your vision for the party’s atmosphere and purpose. Whether aiming for a large-scale bash or an intimate gathering, select attendees who will contribute positively to the event’s vibe and fit within your budget.

What are some creative ideas for party decorations and invitations?

Creative ideas for party decorations could include interactive wall art, bowls of goldfish as centerpieces, or a personalized photo timeline. Creative ideas for invitations include scratch-off cards to find the key information, personalized video messages, or sending people a cryptic QR code that leads to an event website.

How do I decide on the right venue for the birthday party?

Deciding on the right venue for the birthday party involves considering the number of guests, the activities planned, and the overall vibe you’re aiming for. Whether it’s a local park, a friend’s backyard, or a rented hall, make sure the venue aligns with the party’s goals and theme.

What are some fun activities and games to include in the birthday celebration?

Fun activities and games in the birthday celebration might include a photo booth, board games, slips of paper with engaging conversation prompts, a craft station, or a DIY cocktail/mocktail stand with soda and juice.

Takeaways on How To Plan A Birthday Party

Planning a birthday party for someone else is a big endeavor, but one that is well worth it.

Remember to go through the checklists at the top of this article, and you’ll be golden. Your friend is going to love it!

If you’d like more inspiration on throwing a hit party and learning about the life cycles of a party, you might enjoy this article.

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