We held Sis’s 5th birthday party at a neighborhood community center this year. As I was preparing for the festivities, I realized that getting ready for a party outside of your home is a totally different ballgame than prepping for an in home party. Today I want to share with you some of my tips for planning a birthday party away from home!
The first thing to do is figure out how much time you have. Renting a space isn’t exactly cheap, so you really need to figure out how much time you need so you don’t waste money. Our parties are always scheduled for 2 hours. I have rented the space for both an extra hour (so 30 minutes to set up and 30 minutes to clean up) and for an extra two hours (one hour each for setup/clean up.) I think that the optimal way to do it is to plan for an extra hour to set up and an extra 30 minutes to clean up. I have always used the entire hour for set up and never used the entire hour for clean up.
Here is my list of helpful hints to follow once you sort out the time factor!
1. Bring Supplies
Bring duct tape, scissors, a glue stick, and sticky tac. Don’t ask questions about this one – just do it.
2. Forget fabric and go with plastic
When I have an at home party I use fabric linens. They aren’t fancy (our main tablecloth is a drop cloth) but they are easy to layer for different looks and are reusable. When having a party away from home, you have to give nature the finger on this one and use plastic tablecloths. When all is said and done you can ball them (and whatever is on them) up and throw them in the recycling bin. Another reason to use plastic – community centers usually provide a lot of tables. It could cost a fortune to cover them all with fabric.
3. Think posters and flat banners
You are not going to be able to create a really elaborate backdrop in the hour of setup time you have and most pre-made backdrops you might create don’t travel well. Search Amazon for posters for whatever your theme may be. For Sis’s doctor party we got some $3 medical posters and slapped them up behind the food table. I love Shindigz for personalized banners. For $15 you can get a high quality banner with your kid’s name on it that will make a big impact. And no, they aren’t paying me to say that. I just like them.
4. Keep your food simple
We never have our parties during a meal time on purpose. A party from 10 – 12 means the guests don’t expect a full lunch which then means any food we bring is good enough. PB&J is always a winner, travels well, and is easy to work with. You can use a cookie cutter to cut them into whatever shape works with your theme (we did hearts for the doctor party and trucks for LBT) and you can also easily do gluten-free bread/sunbutter for allergies. Throw in a fruit platter, a veggie platter, and some form of crunchy snack and you are done. As for drinks, go with bottled water and juice boxes. A party away from home is not the time to bring a giant pitcher of any homemade drinks. It is more trouble than it is worth.
5. Don’t overbook the day
If your space includes a playground, do not plan more than 1 or 2 games or activities. All the kids are going to do for the majority of the party is run around on the playground. At the doctor party we did a pinata and a variation of pin the tail on the donkey right before the cake cutting. The pinata was a total hit (because kids love to hit things with sticks) but the pin the tail game was only a halfway win. If we would have had just one activity we would have been fine. Don’t go overboard trying to plan things for the kids to do.
6. Keep an eye on the clock
Unlike a party at your house that has no time constraints, you have an end time for a party out side your home. You will need at least 30 – 45 minutes to do the cake cutting, the cake eating, and the goodbyes. Plan for that and make sure either you or someone else is the designated time keeper. No one likes to watch parents bickering at a birthday party because they are in a rush at the end.
7. Never turn down help
This is a general life tip as well as a party away from home tip. I am HORRIBLE at following my own advice on this one, but I encourage you to try. Let people help you clean up when you are having a birthday party outside your home. Let them help pack up the gifts or throw dirty stuff away or carry things to your car. I get not letting people do that when you are in your own home. You usually have some system you use in your own space – what has to be washed by hand, what gets recycled, etc – and it is easier for the people that live in the home to deal with that. But outside the house, let it be more of a free for all. People will offer to help. Let them and make your life easier.
8. Plan the gift opening process
We are officially at the age where kids open their gifts at the party rather than after everyone leaves. I love this – I think it teaches manners and gratitude and the kids giving the gifts always want to see their present being opened. However, when you are doing this outside your home you need some sort of a system. Much like a bridal or baby shower, give someone the task of writing down who gave what to the birthday child. Make sure someone is also paying attention to the gifts. At the doctor party, we had not planned for this well and all of a sudden I looked over and saw a pile of 5 year old girls throwing gifts at Sis while she opened them at Veruca Salt speed. We are currently writing thank you notes with messages like, “Thanks for the gift you gave us…because we aren’t sure which one it is.” Not cool. Plan the gift opening and prepare the birthday child for how it will all go down.
9. Case the joint
I know this one seems basic, but make sure you visit the space before the party. You want to know the bathroom situation, the trash can situation, and the table/chair situation. And don’t forget all the little details you may need. We needed a tree for the pinata and we also needed to know how much rope we would need to make it work. I scoped it out before hand so the Husband knew what he was in for when we got there. It is much easier to ask someone to scale a 20 foot tree if they are prepared beforehand.
10. Talk to real people in person
In the age of email this may seem like a super annoying step in the party process, but please be human and try it. If you are renting a space stop by a few days before the party when employees are there and confirm the details of your rental. You will be amazed what a little face to face gets you.
One year we rented a facility that had no employees on site. We picked up a key from a separate facility on the morning of the party and the place was ours. I had stopped by to meet with the key holder a couple days before the party and found out they would actually give me the key 30 minutes earlier than I had planned. Talk about a win!
This year, our space had a garage type door that opened to the playground. I stopped by the space the week before the party and found out that not every employee had keys to that door. If the people working the day of our party didn’t have a key, I was given the name and phone number of the man to call so the employee could get the spare key out of the safe. If I hadn’t stopped by we never would have know that detail.
So…there you have it. 10 steps for planning a birthday party away from home! Party on!