How To Plan A Surprise Birthday Party In 19 Steps

No matter how old you are, a surprise birthday party is an experience you’ll remember for years to come! After all, who could forget a spontaneous celebration filled with lots of food, gifts, and your friends and family?

While it can be pretty fun, throwing a successful surprise birthday party is a big challenge. A mere slip of the tongue or an accidental glimpse of a party invitation is all it takes to ruin the element of surprise.

So if you want to throw a successful surprise birthday party, you’ll want to come up with a solid plan and stick to it.

No matter your budget or party-throwing experience, anyone can make a surprise birthday party work. All you need is some time, dedication, and a little bit of creativity.

Here’s how to plan a surprise birthday party in nineteen steps!

1. Will They Appreciate It or Not?

While surprise parties can be fun for some people, they can be pretty stressful for other people. So before you even begin planning, you’ll need to determine whether your guest of honor will enjoy it. Otherwise, the party will not be worth the time or money.

Does your guest of honor enjoy spontaneous events? Or do they prefer to stick to routines? Most importantly, do they like to celebrate their birthday, or do they prefer to treat it like any other day?

These are all factors to consider before you start planning a birthday party. Keeping these details in mind can also help you determine the best way to throw your surprise birthday party, should you throw one at all.

So if you think your loved one will appreciate the surprise party, congrats! We can move on to the planning stage.

2. Float the Idea Around

Once you’ve decided to throw a surprise birthday party, you can start sharing your ideas with some friends and family. Try to find people who may be willing to help out later on. And if you’re throwing a party for a child, make sure you involve their parents or guardians.

Be sure to jot down any party ideas that come up while you’re floating the idea around; these will come in handy in the later steps.

picture of 3 women brainstorming party ideas

3. Party Planning Team

Planning a party alone can be a big challenge. But when you have some trustworthy friends to help you out, you can expect the event to be a huge success.

Make sure you choose party planners who are good at keeping secrets. You should also find some creative teammates—they can help make your surprise party even more memorable.

Try to find some people with good connections, too. Do you know a friend who can bring in a magician or a DJ? Or does someone in your family own a catering business? These sorts of connections can be valuable to your party planning!

Once you assemble your party planning team, find an easy way to keep in touch. Consider swapping phone numbers or creating an online group chat where you can discuss your party plans in private.

4. Form a Plan

Now that you’ve assembled a party-planning team, it’s time to form the party plan!

Consider giving each member of your team a different role. One person could be in charge of the food, another could be in charge of the invitations, etc.

In addition, you should come up with a plan to help keep the party a secret. What are the best ways to discreetly pass out invitations? Where will you store your party supplies?

And if your guest of honor catches wind of your plans, what will you tell them? These are just a few different questions to consider while forming your plan.

Careful and thorough planning is essential to a successful surprise party. If you’re not cautious enough, you might accidentally spoil the surprise!

picture of friends planning a surprise party

5. Theme

The key to a memorable birthday party is a theme. It doesn’t have to be anything grand or super-specific—it just needs to tie the whole event together.

When choosing a theme, you’ll want to consider the guest of honor’s interests. So if you’re throwing a party for a child, perhaps a cartoon or video game theme may be best. Or if they’re an animal lover, a jungle-themed party may put a smile on their face!

Themes are important for adult birthday parties, too. Don’t be afraid to embrace your inner child—some adults might love a Disney or superhero-themed party, for instance.

The time of year could be another good source of inspiration for your surprise party’s theme. A Halloween-themed party could be a great idea if you’re celebrating an autumn birthday.

Or if you’re celebrating a summer birthday, you could go for a beach theme! Simple themes can work, too. Perhaps you could base the party around their favorite colors if you want to keep things simple.

No matter the party theme you choose, make sure you choose something you think they will love! That’s what matters the most.

6. Budget

While birthday parties are a lot of fun, they can also be pretty expensive. But when you set a budget, you can avoid overspending. So before you pay for anything, determine how much you’re willing and able to spend.

The food, decorations, gifts, and other features will need a separate budget. Make sure you divide your money evenly, so each area gets the proper funding.

You should have everyone on the team pitch in some money, if possible. This can help ensure that the party gets all of the resources it deserves without emptying anyone’s wallet.

Remember: even a low-budget party can be a fun and memorable one! If you put your mind to it, you can give your loved one an exciting birthday party with mere pocket change.

picture of budgeting for a surprise birthday party

7. Date and Time

When throwing a surprise party, it may make sense to throw it on their actual birthday; however, this isn’t always practical. Fortunately, throwing a party a few days before or after the actual birthday can make the event even more of a surprise!

You’ll want to consider your guest of honor’s preferences when choosing the time of day. If they’re a morning person, an early party could be a great thing to wake up to. Or, if they’re somewhat of a night owl, it may be best to throw their party during the evening.

8. Location

The ideal location for your surprise birthday party depends on the size, and to an extent, the theme.

If you’re having a small party, it may be best to hold it at a friend’s house. For larger parties, renting a venue may be the wiser choice. The beach, a bowling alley, or even a restaurant are just a few examples of places you can host a party.

Try to consider the time of year when choosing your location, too. Indoors is best for wintertime parties, but you may want to make the most of the sunshine for summertime parties. However, make sure you have a backup plan for indoor parties in case it rains.

9. Seating Chart

If you’re hosting a large surprise birthday party, setting up a seating chart may be a good idea. This can ensure you have enough food and party favors to go around.

Arranging a seating chart can also help prevent an overly-crowded party venue. Try to prepare your seating so there’s plenty of room for people to sit, but still enough space for the party activities.

picture of a surprise party seating

10. Decorations

What’s a surprise birthday party without some fun decorations? When you put enough creativity into it, some vibrant decorations can genuinely wow your guest of honor when they walk into the room!

Balloons, streamers, and decorative signs are must-haves for any birthday party. You can use some decorative tablecloths and dining utensils as well.

For the best results, stick to a specific color scheme—it’ll help tie everything together!

11. Party Activities

Activities are one of the most exciting parts of a birthday party! They can help bring everyone together and create some truly happy memories.

Here are a few popular party activity ideas to consider:

  • Pinatas
  • Pin the tail on the donkey
  • Water balloons
  • Musical chairs
  • Hot potato
  • Tie-dying
  • Karaoke
  • Bingo
  • Scattergories
  • Jenga
  • Charades
  • Egg and spoon races
  • Tug-o-war
  • Corn hole
  • Ring toss
  • Trivia games 

This list is by no means complete—the possibilities are endless! Regardless of your budget, plenty of exciting activities will fit into your party plans.

12. Food

Food is one of the most essential parts of any birthday party!

The birthday cake is a given—if possible, try and find out your guest of honor’s favorite cake flavor beforehand. You can make a cake from scratch if you’ve got enough time on your hands. Or if your budget allows it, you could order a cake from a professional.

picture of food at a surprise birthday party

Bear in mind that not everyone likes cake. If you need an alternative dessert for your surprise birthday party, cookies or ice cream can work just as well.

You should have some non-dessert foods at your party as well. Pizza is a classic choice—it’s cheap, easy to serve, and almost everyone likes it.

If you’d like to try something a little different, you could set up a taco bar or a pasta buffet. Or if you’re having an outdoor party, you could fire up the grill and serve your guests some hamburgers and hot dogs!

13. Invitations

When you’re so caught up in arranging the party, it can be pretty easy to forget invitations. Make sure everyone knows about your party well in advance, and ensure that the plan stays under wraps.

If you’re hosting a small party and would like to keep things simple, you can simply invite your guests by word of mouth. But if you’re throwing a big party, it may be best to give out some paper or digital invitations.

You can purchase pre-made invitations from most craft stores. If you’d like something a little more personal, you can customize invitations from online sellers like Etsy. And if you’d prefer to save paper, consider sending some invitations over email or instant messaging.

No matter how you do it, make sure you emphasize on these invitations that the party is a surprise—otherwise, the secret may get out!

14. Decoy Plan

As the day of the birthday party approaches, you and your team of party planners will need to think of a decoy plan.

Choose one person from your party planning team who will act out the decoy plan. Be sure to pick someone who can keep a straight face!

The ideal decoy plan will vary depending on the location of your party. If you’re throwing a party for a child, surprising them will be pretty easy, but if you’re trying to surprise an adult, you will need a compelling decoy plan.

This is one of the most important steps of throwing a surprise birthday party—without a successful decoy, your guest of honor will catch wind of your plans, and the surprise will be ruined.

15. Prepare Food and Drinks

To avoid rushing around at the last minute, prepare your food and drinks well before the party starts. Set up coolers for cold dishes, and turn on crockpots for warm dishes. You should also make sure there’s enough food to go around—it’s better to have a lot of leftovers than to have your guests go home hungry.

Don’t forget the drinks! Stock up on several different options so everyone has a few other options. This is especially important for summertime parties where your guests need to rehydrate frequently.

picture of surprise party drinks

If you’re throwing a party for adults, alcoholic drinks can be a great way to liven up the event. Just make sure you properly label any alcoholic drinks at your party, especially if you have minors attending.

Be sure to stock up on dining utensils, too! Plates, silverware, napkins, and cups are essential.

16. Music

Music is an excellent way to liven up your party, regardless of the theme or size. It can encourage fun activities like karaoke or dancing, too!

If you want to keep things simple, you can turn on a radio or create a playlist on your phone. Or if you’re throwing a big party and have a hefty budget, you could hire a DJ or a band!

When it comes to genre, you’ll want to pick something upbeat and party-friendly, yet still fitting for your guest of honor’s tastes. Try asking them what kind of music they enjoy so you can make the perfect playlist for their special day!

17. Photographer/Videographer

While a surprise birthday party is hard to forget, having some physical memories of their special day can be an excellent gift for your guest of honor. To ensure that everyone remembers this party for years to come, consider hiring someone to photograph and record some videos of the event.

picture of a party photographer

The price of photographers and videographers can vary depending on how long your party is and who you’re hiring. Some photographers can cost several hundred dollars per hour.

So if you want some professional-quality pictures and videos of your party, you’ll want to factor that into your party budget.

With that in mind, you don’t always need to hire a professional. Amateur pictures and videos can be just as memorable, if not more so. If you have a good camera of your own, you can save a lot of money by being your own photographer!

18. How to Surprise

A party in and of itself is an excellent surprise for your guest of honor. But there are a few other ways to ensure that this party will genuinely wow your loved one.

The more unique the party, the more of a surprise it will be. Don’t be afraid to use many colors in your decorations and try out some uncommon party activities! And if you stray away from the usual party food—for instance, serving tacos instead of the usual pizza—you’re sure to wow everyone.

As long as you make an effort to be creative in your party planning, you can easily throw your guest of honor for a loop!

19. Execute

With all the party planning out of the way, all that’s left to do is execute your plan. Make sure everyone involved knows the game plan so the special day can go smoothly. Communication is key to a successful surprise birthday party.

When your guest of honor walks into the room, be sure to shout “surprise!” or “happy birthday!” When they see their loved ones and the extravagant party you’ve all arranged, the smile on their face will make all of your effort worthwhile!

picture of a surprise birthday party in action


We’ve covered all the basics about how to plan a surprise birthday party. However, some questions may still hang in your mind. There’s a lot to know about surprise birthday parties, after all.

Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions!

  • Are surprise parties a good idea?
    Whether a surprise party is a good idea depends on who you’re throwing the party for and how well you organize the party. Remember that surprise parties aren’t for everyone. But if you have a guest of honor who enjoys spontaneity, a surprise birthday party can be a great way to celebrate their special day! Careful planning is vital for a successful surprise party—but that applies to all parties, not just surprise parties. So overall, as long as you have the correct circumstances, a surprise birthday party can be a great idea!
  • How do you keep a surprise party a secret?
    Keeping secrets can be difficult, especially if you’re sharing that secret with several members of a party planning group. Here are a few tips for keeping your surprise birthday party a secret:
    • Keep your party planning group small.
    • Try to keep a straight face when you’re around the guest of honor.
    • While planning is a good idea, try not to plan too far ahead. The closer you plan your surprise party, the less time you’ll worry about keeping your lips sealed.
    • Try to avoid telling children about the party ahead of time. Younger kids may struggle to understand why keeping a surprise party a secret is essential, so it may be best to keep your party plans to a small group of adults instead.
  • How do you invite someone to a surprise party?
    When you invite someone to a surprise party, it’s best to do it discreetly, so the secret doesn’t get out. Try giving out your invitations in private; doing it over email is the best option since this means there won’t be any physical evidence that the wrong person could stumble upon. Be sure to emphasize that the party is a secret on the invitation. Many people will be eager to talk about the party or ask the guest of honor for gift ideas—to avoid this problem, leave no room for confusion on the invitation that this birthday party is meant to be a surprise!
  • How do you know if someone is planning a surprise party?
    Do you think your loved ones may be throwing a surprise party for you? There are a few signs to keep a watch out for. But even if you see a surprise party coming, you should still try to show surprise when the reveal comes—it’ll make the whole experience fun for everyone else! A few signs that someone is planning a surprise party for you are:
    • Your friends and family are very secretive.
    • Your birthday is coming up soon.
    • People around you have avoided talking about your birthday.
    • Your friends and family have been asking many hypothetical questions, such as your favorite cake flavors or favorite music.
    • The people around you seem to be unusually busy.
    None of these factors is a guarantee that your friends are planning a party. But if you’ve noticed more than one of these signs as of late, a surprise party may be on the way!