You’re about to put a whole lot of work into planning a party that your guest of honor won’t know anything about until he or she walks into the room. It would be so deflating if your honoree found out ahead of time. The party would still be fun, but that special element would be missing. Here’s how to throw a surprise party that’s really a surprise:
Before You Even Start
Make sure the person you want to surprise will enjoy it. Some people really hate to be surprised, and after all this party should be what they want.
Enlist a Fellow Conspirator
You’ll need someone to wrangle everything before you get there. Or it might be more reasonable that someone else bring the honoree to the party. In either case, if you live with the honoree, have your conspirator be the one who accepts the RSVPs.
Invite the Guest of Honor
Tell him or her you want to go out for the big day. Just the two of you. Or if it’s a really big birthday and you want to avoid all suspicion, pick a date other than his actual birthday. The Saturday before might be a good time to spring something. And if you think even that might arouse curiosity, make the party a Sunday brunch. Who would suspect a surprise brunch? Alternatively, invite him to go to a party for someone else. But be kind and, whatever the diversion, make sure he’ll be dressed for the event you’re really going to. (This goes double if your honoree is female. Even a guest of honor will be unhappy if she’s dropped unprepared into a dress-up party.)
Invite Guests by Mail or Phone
Use snail mail or the phone, no exceptions. Make it very clear that it’s a surprise party and that the invitees are honor-bound to reveal nothing. Remind them to be careful not to let anything slip or ask questions that they wouldn’t normally ask.
Do Not Email Anyone About the Party
Even if you’re sending an email on a different topic, don’t include anything about the surprise party. People forward emails without giving it too much thought, and also have an annoying habit of responding to emails with copies to people who shouldn’t be seeing them. Soon enough your guest of honor is reading all about the big surprise next Saturday night.
Do Not Post About It on Facebook
That’s a given, right? No matter how secret the page is.
Don’t Tell Any Blabbermouths
You can adore someone but you know that, given the slightest chance, she’ll unwittingly spill the beans. Tell your Chatty Kathy to save the date, but tell her you’ll coordinate the details the day before. She’ll still have time to buy a present or write a birthday IOU.
The Big Surprise
Decide how you want to do it. It all depends on where you’re having the party and how well you think you can orchestrate the guests. It might be easiest to choose a venue that will take care of much of the set-up and planning for you so you can concentrate on the surprise. Do you want to walk into a dark room and then have the lights go on and everyone yell “surprise”? Do you want to be sitting at your favorite Los Angeles bar or restaurant and have people join you in ones and twos until the honoree realizes what’s going on? Do you want it to feel like a regular get-together of the gang until everyone just starts singing Happy Birthday flash mob style?
Have Everyone Arrive Early
If you’re doing the standard surprise and the honoree is arriving at 7, tell everyone to be there at 6 because the honoree is coming at 6:30. That way, even stragglers won’t be walking in just as the honoree gets there. Make sure you plan ahead if your guests will be traveling to the party on the freeway so you don’t let Los Angeles gridlock on the freeway interfere with your party plans. Open the bar at 6, though, so people aren’t standing around getting cranky while they wait.
Don’t Let Cars Give It Away
Friends know what cars their other friends drive. Although parking in SoCal is a pain, make sure people aren’t parking in your driveway, in front of your house, or right at the entrance to the restaurant. Should you be heading toward the party site and your honoree looks you straight in the eye and says “I know all about it,” you can still plead innocence. Look sad and say you didn’t think he’d want a party at all and you wish you’d thought of it. And if that doesn’t work, you may as well come clean. It’s not the end of the world. The truth is that surprise parties are often more exciting for the guests than the honoree. They’re the ones whose anticipation has built up, and they’re the ones who have enjoyed being complicit. Fortunately, it won’t take much convincing for the honoree to think of the blown secret as the opportunity to do a spectacular acting job. That way, everyone wins!