How to plan the birthday party of the century

Your birthday might come around every year, but it's ALWAYS an opportunity to celebrate with your nearest and dearest – in the way that suits you best. 

Whether you decide to host a small gathering with your closest pals or go all-out with a show-stopping lavish party, there are a few vital pieces of advice to follow to ensure everything goes to plan. And to ensure the planning part is as easy as possible! Here is your birthday party planning checklist and the basic tasks you'll need to accomplish when considering how to plan a birthday party:


1. Go in with a rough plan

There's a lot to consider when planning your birthday bash, from the venue to the entertainment and catering; how your guest list will affect your venue choice, and how your venue choice will affect your catering and styling plans. Are you planning a surprise birthday party, a kids' birthday party, an adult birthday party or a milestone party?

Even if you don't have 'a plan', knowing your 'must-haves' from the get-go will significantly reduce the time it takes to lock down the details and produce your ultimate birthday party. There’s a lot to consider, but we find that it’s easiest to start with five key things:

  • Guest list: How many people will attend? 
  • Birthday party venue: Do you have a must-have location or style requirement from your venue?
  • Date: When will your event be?
  • Birthday party food and beverage: Bar tab? Sit down dinner? Casual snacks? Will you need food at all? 
  • Entertainment for the birthday celebration: Will you be plugging in an iPad or organising a DJ?

Think of these as search filters. Once you have a solid idea of what you're after, and if there are any absolute 'must haves' within those categories, you'll be able to narrow down your search for a venue significantly. Seriously. Your directionless hunt will become a focused quest.

Next, it's time to start contacting venues, contacting event planners, or – if you want to find a unique or little-known venue quickly, take a look at VenueNow's curated lists of top birthday venues.


planning the ultimate birthday party


Before diving too deep down the rabbit hole of entertainment and venues and styling & before sending your birthday party invitations, we recommend having a think about the date of your event – namely, the date that will allow the maximum number of your guests to attend.

For example, if your friends have kids, avoid hosting your event during school holidays. If your birthday is in December, your event will clash with the corporate Christmas party season – and that’ll be reflected in the price.

And once you know what your 'must haves' are, you'll be able to think about the 'oh, that'd be great' wish-list aspects. For instance, if you’re expecting a rager, choose a location near late-night haunts, so you can party until the early hours.

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2. Be flexible

It’s really easy to get caught up in the excitement and get attached to your vision, but being too rigid can often backfire. Often, and especially during the busy summer season, if you really want a particular venue or a special entertainer, you’re going to need to be relatively flexible. In this case, it’s best to consider your must-haves for your birthday party and adjust the other elements to suit your frame.


ultimate birthday party


Unless you have a special friend coming from interstate or overseas, the date is the most important and the easiest thing to be flexible on. If you want an Instagrammable venue, it’s likely to be very popular. If you absolutely can’t change the projected date of your birthday party, enquiring with a venue group such as BangPop or Riverland Group in Melbourne, or Doltone House in Sydney, is an efficient way of ensuring that you get a great venue for your preferred date.

If your top choice isn’t available, their events team will have a whole portfolio of venues to suggest to you. These events teams want to find a solution for you, so they’ll always proactively suggest alternatives, and handy packages as well.


3. Consider your budget

How much do parties actually cost? We don’t want to say, “It depends!” or "How long is a piece of string?", but sometimes it can really, really feel like that's the answer.

Here's another response: your budget should be informed by the number of guests you’re hosting and the type of experience you want to provide.

About 95% of the venues on your ultimate birthday party list will have a minimum spend requirement, rather than a flat venue hire fee. The minimum spend is the minimum amount that must be spent (bingo!) on food and drinks in order for you to hold a function at the venue. You're basically committing to spending that amount The 'min spend' can usually be split between the bar and food, but you should always check what's included.


planning the ultimate birthday party

So, what's next? Ask yourself: are you providing food and drinks for everyone, or will your mates be happy to buy their own once the bar tab runs dry?

Also, ask yourself other details like: Are you getting party favors? Will you be buying your own decorations & party supplies to fit the party's theme?

If you’re on a tight budget, and your friends don’t mind spending a little, consider opting for a bar tab and choosing platters of food instead of per-hour packages and canapés.

Alternatively, if you have a bigger budget and really want to treat your guests, a beverage package is a generous way of ensuring that your friends are well-hydrated for the entire night. The cost of a beverage package varies, but for a basic beer, wine and soft drink scenario, you’re looking at about $50 per person for three hours. Beverage packages are a little more expensive, but end up being good value – it's an unlimited package, after all!

And food? Platters are cheaper than a canapé package or set menu. Start with a 50/50 split between food and booze, then take it from there – again, considering the vibe you want from your event and whether you're planning on feeding your friends (as opposed to merely lining their stomachs).

To avoid spending too little, or providing too much, it’s a good idea to consider the budget for each key element separately. But! Only after you're pretty sure about the kind of event you're hosting. After all, a lavish cocktail party will require a different food arrangement than a private dinner with your nearest and dearest.

Main thoughts here:

  • Consider the type of vibe/party theme you're after for your birthday parties, and whether you're happy for your friends to pay for themselves for a portion, or the whole, night
  • If you have a small budget, opt for a bar tab – then a cash bar once it runs out.
  • If you have a small budget, we recommend canapé platters rather than a package.
  • If you have a large budget, grab a beverage package – it's great value!
  • When considering food, start with a 50/50 split budget-wise and take it from there, depending on how you feel about feeding your friends! Oh, and don't forget about the birthday cake!


ultimate birthday party

4. Don't forget the little details

In an ideal world, we'd pay one upfront fee and then dance the night away on the dance floor with not a care in the world, but inevitably there are small details that rear their head during the birthday party planning process (and on the night!).

If you have a large guest list and you’re hiring a venue exclusively, you’ll most likely need to pay for a security guard or two.

If you’ve picked a beautiful, pared-back warehouse space, the quoted fee may be for hire of the space only. You will most likely have to spend on party decorations, catering and drinks.

If your birthday party is in a private dining room and your grandma has made a beautiful birthday cake, you might need to pay the venue for cakeage.


5. Choose the Entertainment

Now, let's skip to the fun part: the birthday party entertainment! If you want your party to stand out, you need to offer some sort of activities that will keep the guests engaged from start to finish. How about some party games to fit the birthday party theme?

These small details may seem insignificant, but they can accumulate and become quite bothersome if you are not informed beforehand. It is advisable to inquire about these aspects when visiting a venue in person to ensure a hassle-free experience.



So. What's the main takeaway? Know what you want, and what your must-haves are. Decide early what type of event you'll be wanting to host, and finding a venue will be a cinch (or at least, easier!). Make sure to use our birthday party checklist and birthday planning won't be as daunting as it seems.

Feeling prepared to start planning your next birthday party? Find your perfect venue with VenueNow >>>

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