How to Pull Off an Epic Surprise Party

When you ask my husband, Allyn, about his favorite memories of our relationship, at the top of his list is: “The surprise party.”

Looking back, I was probably a little bit crazy-in-love when I decided to throw him a surprise party. We had only been dating for seven months. It was not a “milestone” birthday. But it was his final year of business school, and I knew by the time his next birthday rolled around, it was likely that many of his grad-school friends would have left the area, moving on to new opportunities. I wanted to celebrate him with people from all areas of his life.

Also, I really love surprises.

I’d thrown a couple surprise parties with my roommates in college, but this was my first time ever throwing one by myself, AND it was my first time organizing such a big event! I kept thinking of the Cervantes quote:

“The journey is better than the inn.”

I definitely enjoyed the month-long “journey” of planning this epic surprise party. Here is what I learned from the process.

My tips for planning a surprise party:

  • If you’re going to have it at a restaurant, Yelp is definitely your friend! I wanted to find a venue that was not too expensive, was close to public transportation, and was accommodating for big groups. After a bit of searching, I settled on Unicorn Pan-Asian Cuisine, which ended up being perfect.
  • Make your reservation as far in advance as possible! I also think it’s better to over-estimate your attendance and then call back as the date approaches and lower your reservation number. I did it opposite, but I was lucky that they had the space for me to keep increasing my reservation!
  • I’d also recommend checking out the venue in person ahead of time, if possible. It was really helpful for me to be able to picture the restaurant when I was planning the party and describing to guests where they should go when they arrived.
  • Ask the restaurant if they are able to do individual separate checks for a large group. In our case, they were only able to do three separate checks {one for each table} so I asked everyone to bring cash if possible to help making splitting the bill easy. Some people also recommended the VenMo app, but we didn’t need to use it — everyone brought cash and it all worked out fine.
  • Delegate! People love a surprise and they love to help. An unexpected benefit of planning this party for my sweetheart was that I grew closer to his friends and family as we engaged in deception together. :) One of the best things about planning a surprise party for someone you care about is connecting with all the other people who care about that person, too!
  • Ask for friends to invite other friends. Allyn’s friends and family were so helpful — I could not have done it without them. Different people from different areas of his life helped me get the word out and invite his various social circles. I originally made the reservation at the restaurant about a month in advance, and as time went on I had to keep calling them back and increasing the amount of people in my reservation, because the RSVPs were rolling in.
  • Have guests arrive 15–20 minutes earlier than the guest of honor does. That way, you have some wiggle room if people are running late. Also, it gives some time for guests to mingle and get to know each other — something I could tell everyone was really happy about.
  • I gave Allyn’s stepmom a big poster card that she had everyone sign while waiting for me and Allyn to arrive. It gave people something to do, plus it is a meaningful memento for Allyn to have from the party, to remind him of all the people who care about him.
  • Keep things as simple as possible! Especially where alibis are concerned. Allyn knew where we were going, when we were going, and how we were getting there. He knew that we were going to dinner to celebrate his birthday. The only thing he didn’t know was that there would be 30 other people there to celebrate with us!

One thing I didn’t take into consideration is my hubby’s early bird tendencies! It’s something I love and admire about him — he is always punctual {often early} and hates to keep people waiting. So I should have guessed that he would want to leave for the subway station early to make it into the city for our 7:20 reservation! He said, “If we’re early we’ll just catch an earlier train.” I tried to hide the panic on my face and said, “But we’ll be too early for our reservation!” Then I camped out in the bathroom for a while to “get ready”

Stalling tactics if you’re trying to delay the guest of honor:

  • change your outfit
  • “accidentally” spill something on them so they have to change their outfit
  • go to the bathroom one more time
  • decide to wear a different pair of shoes instead
  • “forget” something and have to go back inside to get it
  • get gas on the way there
  • get “lost” or go the wrong way

Fortunately, none of these stalling tactics are really out of character for me, so Allyn was not suspicious when we left later than he suggested. We ended up hopping on the 6:50 train into the city just like I had planned, which got us into the city at 7:15. Walking to the restaurant, I felt so excited it was hard not to skip! When we got there, I dragged him past the bar area at the front, because I knew everyone was waiting a little further back into the restaurant. My legs were shaking. Everyone jumped up and yelled, “SURPRISE!”

I will forever cherish the memory of that moment. The look on Allyn’s face was absolutely priceless. He said later, “I wasn’t surprised…. I was stunned.” He just stood there for a few moments, looking around at all the people from his life — his parents, sister, childhood friends, grad school friends, roommate, mentor — and he kept repeating, “Oh my god. Oh my god.” I could tell he was blown away. It was absolutely wonderful!

The rest of the night flew by. I had so much fun talking and mingling with all these terrific people from Allyn’s life. We ended up closing the restaurant down! It was a perfect night, and one we still love to reminisce about years later.

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