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Surprise party tips

Celeste Gish is a freelance writer and recovering Gonzo Mom based in the Savannah area. Her work has been published in ABA Bank Marketing, Atlanta Journal & Constitution, Health Management Technology, Advance for Health Information Profe...

Foolproof surprises

Pulling off a surprise party takes skill, organization, stealth and a lot of luck.

Woman hiding behind balloons

But seeing the expression on your victim's face at the moment of truth is well worth the extra trouble. With a little planning and just a few white lies and these tips, you'll succeed.

Zip it

The first rule of planning a surprise party is: Do not talk about the surprise party. The second rule of the surprise party is: Do not talk about the surprise party. Getting all of the party guests to keep the secret is notoriously difficult, but not impossible. 

Designate an accomplice

Having a partner in crime who does not live in the same house as the guest of honor makes it easier to store party supplies, track RSVPs, decorate the party venue and ensure that the guest of honor shows up at the right time and place. Make sure this person can keep a secret (and a straight face).

Keep RSVPs secret

A surprise invitation should make it crystal clear that this is a huge secret and that you are counting on guests not to spill the beans. Direct RSVPs to a private cell phone or e-mail (yours or your accomplice's), especially if you're planning the party for a spouse or someone who lives with you.

Set a dress code

Keep in mind that your surprisee will not appreciate arriving home to a formal soiree if she's decked out in sweatpants and sneakers. Ask guests to dress the same way the guest of honor will be attired.

Plan the diversion

Never assume that your guest of honor will arrive at the designated party venue at the right time without a babysitter. Have your accomplice take him out for a quiet dinner or movie, then head to the party at the designated time.

Park smart

If the party is at a home, ask guests to arrive at least an hour before your victim's expected arrival and instruct them to park around the block. Better yet, see if a neighbor will let you use her driveway. The last thing you want is to ruin the surprise at the last minute with 20 cars parked in front of the house. For the same reason, ban exterior party decorations.

Capture the moment

Plan to have someone capture the moment of surprise in a photo.

Make it memorable

Before the party, ask each guest to email you an anecdote about the guest of honor, and put them all together in a small book or photo album. During the party, take a Polaroid of each guest and paste the photo into a scrapbook with the corresponding anecdote. At the end of the party, the finished book makes a wonderful keepsake.

fake it

One fun way to keep the real party under wraps is to either plan or even throw a smaller "fake" party on a different date. This way, the guest of honor thinks that his birthday is being remembered and will not suspect a larger surprise birthday party.

time it right

Another way to keep the element of surprise is to hold the party before or after the actual birthday, or at an unusual time. While the birthday girl may be suspicious of an outing in the evening, she will not be expecting a birthday brunch or afternoon picnic.

On the Big Day

Ask for help: The day of the party is the time to ask your accomplice for extra help. One person should coordinate the party guests, while the other "babysits" the guest of honor.

Work it into the routine: Try to plan the surprise birthday around something that is routine so as not to arouse suspicion. If the birthday girl always takes a dance class at a certain time, arrange for the guests to be at her house when she arrives home. If the birthday boy always goes out with the guys on Friday night, arrange for the party to be at their usual hangout.

Gather a flock of early birds: The person coordinating the guests needs to be sure that all of the guests have arrived at least a half-hour before the guest of honor is due. This will avoid awkward moments and flimsy explanations.

Keep it in: Decorations can make a big impact, but be sure none can be seen from outside. Helium balloons floating on the ceiling, crepe paper flowing through the room, and confetti ready to be thrown all make the surprise that much more memorable. If the birthday boy is a really good sport, you can give all of the guests a can of Silly String to launch as he arrives.

Mask your joy: At some surprise birthday parties, guest hold masks made from a head shot photo of the birthday person with eyeholes cut out of it. Imagine the surprise of walking into a room full of look-alikes!

Host it right: Unforgettable parties begin and end with a good hostess that welcomes each and every guest with open arms. The hostess of all hostesses provides an inviting atmosphere filled with mood, food, beverages and entertainment.

party Ideas

While homes and restaurants are traditional venues for surprise birthdays, here are a few more unusual ideas.

Table for two

This is a fun but quiet surprise where the party comes to the guest of honor -- appropriate for those who might scare easily. For this birthday surprise, rent out either the entire restaurant, or as many tables as you need to accommodate guests. The guest of honor and her companion arrive at a nearly empty restaurant and are seated at a table in the center of the room. One by one, the surrounding tables fill up with friends and family of the birthday person. Coincidentally, the entire restaurant is soon full of the entire party -- surprise!

Uptown express

Rent a large shuttle or minibus and fill it with party guests at a secret location. Decorate the inside of the bus with crepe paper or balloons to make it more festive.  The guest of honor and companion are out on the street as they walk to a restaurant, or run another errand. The bus pulls up to the prearranged corner with all of the friends and family on board -- surprise! The guest of honor then boards the bus, which can take everyone to the designated party location.

A kidnapping

For this party, the guests arrive at the birthday girl's house in cars, or even a limo. They "kidnap" the guest of honor and whisk her away for a day of wine tasting, a spa getaway, or anything else that she would appreciate. You need to have someone in the household as an accomplice, so that he can quietly pack a bag full of anything that the guest of honor might need for the day. This type of party is particularly effective if the kidnapping happens early in the morning.

have fun with the food (and the drinks)

Surprise parties are a great time to get creative and fun with food and refreshments. Throw rules and food pairings out the window, and focus on serving food that the guest of honor loves. Whether that means caviar and ice cream sundaes or fast-food hamburgers with baked Alaska, surprise her with a buffet of her favorite indulgences and comfort foods. Here's a great surprise party recipe from epicurious.com:

Tequila Surprise

Ingredients:
1-1/2 ounces tequila
1 ounce Malibu coconut rum
3 ounces orange juice
3 ounces pineapple juice
1 ounce Chambord raspberry liqueur
Wedge of lime
Wedge of pineapple
Raspberry

Directions:
1. Fill a margarita glass with crushed ice. Add tequila, rum and juices.

2. Stir briefly, then drizzle Chambord over drink.

3. Garnish with wedges of lime and pineapple, and drop a raspberry into the glass.

Wherever you choose to hold the surprise birthday party, the main ingredients for success are secrecy, coordination, and fun. With a little advanced planning and just a few white lies, the guest of honor can easily be kept in the dark. Plan the type of party he will love, gather his friends, and be ready to give him the surprise of his life.

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