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How to Throw a Surprise Party

By Charles Hopkins Published 07/6/2006 | Entertainment

Surprise parties can be a lot of fun for everyone involved. Friends and family get the chance to come together and do something special for a loved one who is celebrating a birthday, just found out he or she is going to be a parent, or perhaps just got a promotion at work. The great thing about surprise parties for the guest of honor is that the party comes as a complete surprise, an unexpected display of affection and esteem that is above and beyond the usual expressions.

Throwing a surprise party does require some advance planning, but it does not have to be a difficult process to pull together a party that is exciting and a lot of fun for everyone, even the planners. Here's a few tips to help with planning a surprise party. 

The major difference between a surprise party and any other type of party is pretty obvious: the guest of honor is not to know anything about the planned celebration. Keeping a loved one in the dark will require assembling a tight little band of allies who will be ready to assist in making the arrangements on the sly. At a bare minimum, you will need a couple people who can be counted on to have the honoree at the right place and at the right time for the party to begin. Make sure these are people who will not let details slip to anyone else. Secrets shared have a way of working their way back to the wrong ears.

Next, the venue for the party needs to be settled. Some ideas for a great place would be a favorite restaurant or hangout of the honoree. Contact the owners or general manager ahead of time and see what they might be able to pull together without anyone getting suspicious. The great thing about this option is that you often can have everything from decorations to the preparation of a cake done as part of the package. If they are not able to accommodate handling the decorations and other details, they might be open to allowing you and a small group to come in and set everything up in advance.

If circumstances dictate that someone's home is used, make sure it is a residence that the honoree would normally visit anyway. A sudden invitation to the home of persons that the guest of honor knows but has not previously visited might seem a little unusual and create some suspicion that something is up. One advantage to holding the party at a home is that preparations can be made without any being crunched for time. Also, it would appear very natural to have an old friend over for dinner, so the idea of a surprise party will most likely not occur to the guest of honor.

Timing is everything when it comes to getting everyone in the right place at the right time. Make sure people get to the party site at least a half-hour before the event is set to begin. If necessary, make arrangements for them to park well away from the site and arrange some means of shuttling them to the scene. Nothing spoils the surprise at the last minute like the honoree showing up and noticing that the dozen cars he sees all belong to friends. 

In like manner, make sure all the food and drink -- including the cake -- arrive well before the party is set to begin. Check the list once and then check it again. Make sure there is enough time to secure last minute substitutions, in case something is missing or something happens to any of the food and drink. 

In the moments before the guest of honor is due to arrive, make sure everything is in place: the food, the drinks, the cake and the guests. Once the honoree arrives and receives the exuberant "Surprise!" as everyone jumps out, just step back and let the party happen. And have a little fun yourself. You've earned it.