The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Birthday Party

By HOPP Team
Feature Image Wise Productions

It is a truth universally acknowledged that birthdays do not take place often enough. Cake, champagne, live music and confetti are, lamentably, reserved for only the most special of days. 

For that reason, organising an event in celebration of the Birthday Girl or Boy — whether they are turning one or one hundred — is an honour and a privilege, but managing a list of birthday party suppliers and last-minute tasks can make it a much more difficult experience than many of us anticipate. 

So, before you allow yourself to feel bogged down by the process, take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Planning a Birthday Party for help with budgeting, booking, designing, and liaising with your birthday party suppliers.

The Tablescape Company

How to Budget for a Birthday Party

Birthdays come but once a year, and it’s easy to throw caution to the wind in order to give our loved ones the celebration they deserve, but calculating a realistic budget before making any concrete plans is a necessity. 

Talk to other close family members, who may wish to contribute to the budget as a birthday gift to the Guest of Honour, and don’t commit to any birthday party suppliers before you have a definite number in mind.

To keep the plans on track, make a list of the essential birthday suppliers you need to reach out to, before moving on to the non-essentials. This will help you to prioritise, and to get the most important aspects confirmed early on.

Are Surprise Parties a Good Idea?

We have all seen the films: guests crouch behind the furniture, in the dark, as a close friend draws their car into the driveway and escorts the Guest of Honour into the house. There is a pause — perhaps a few moments of shuffling of feet and rattling keys — and then, as the lights flash on, fifty people jump out from their hiding spots and shout, “Surprise!”

Of course, what happens next remains in the balance. Whether the Birthday Girl or Boy experiences a surge of excitement or dismay — or just plain fear and dread — is very much dependent on their personality. Knowing them well enough to ensure that a surprise party is ‘up their street’ is essential before you begin making any concrete plans, or you may end up with a birthday manhunt on your hands.

If you do decide to plan a surprise, lock down your date in plenty of time, and make sure the Guest of Honour will be ready and available on the day. If it’s a black tie event — or a costume party, for that matter — then have something prepared for them to change into soon after the initial surprise.

Planning a Milestone Birthday Party

It goes without saying that nobody needs an excuse to throw a party, but there are a few milestone birthdays that warrant a little extra celebration. Centring your theme around a birthday milestone is a brilliant way of commemorating a significant age, and streamlining your search for the right birthday suppliers. 

  • Sweet Sixteen
    Perhaps influenced by our American friends, the sixteenth has come to be an important milestone in England. Historically, this was the age young women and men were introduced to society, so celebrate this turning point with some sophisticated and special birthday accessories. Non-alcoholic champagne, luxurious party decorations, and no holds barred on the food.
  • Official Eighteen
    Turning eighteen opens a lot of doors, and marks the moment we take on more adult responsibilities. Celebrate the finer things in life with elegant cocktails, a black tie dress code, and a live singer — just don’t try to make a theme out of traffic jams and tax returns...
  • Turning Twenty-One
    Although it is no longer the age of majority, a twenty-first birthday remains retains a special importance. Make it a special day with a bohemian, festival vibe; a live band, street food-style party catering, and contemporary teepees. Alternatively, celebrate the roaring 20s with a night worthy of Gatsby; golden decor and art deco birthday accessories...
  • Marking the Decades
    Celebrating the years is a lifelong rite of passage, and each decade should be marked by a little extra indulgence. Classic opulence with a touch of Old Hollywood Glamour — stunning floral arrangements, three course table service, and a top class mixologist — will give the right start to any new decade. 
Albion Parties

What Makes a Good Venue for a Birthday Party?

Many spaces lend themselves to birthday parties; fill it with the right people, the right food, and, of course, the right music, and a party you have made. 

Of course, one of the easiest ways to realise your theme is to choose a party venue that reflects it. A Harry Potter themed celebration, for instance, will come alive within the walls of a historic hotel or stately home with the help of a few candles (levitation at your discretion), some well-placed props, and a little birthday magic. 

An eighteenth hosted within a chic, inner city art venue will scream sophistication, while a summery, outdoor buffet will create a relaxed, laissez-faire atmosphere for guests old and young to mingle, enjoy some live music, and celebrate another year of life.

Viewing party venues can be a time-consuming task; you need to make sure that they can accommodate your guest list, that they are accessible to guests driving some distance to get there, that it will be possible to serve food and drink, and that there is space for your party entertainment. You will also need to liaise with the venue management team on your party decorations, and whether or not they require you to use their internal catering team.

Begin your search for the right venue well in-advance of the party itself. For one thing, you will need to secure the date with the management before issuing your invitations and organising your birthday party suppliers, schedule, cake, and birthday accessories. What’s more, popular venues may have a longer waiting list, particularly in the long run-up to Christmastime. 

Velvet Entertainment

When Should Party Invitations be Sent Out?

Sending out your invitations should be of top priority, just as soon as you have confirmed the date with your venue. Ideally, they should be issued no less than four weeks before the event, to ensure that you guests have adequate time to arrange transport, annual leave, babysitting, and, of course, a gift for the Birthday Boy or Girl.

Designing your birthday stationery around the theme and formality of your party will give guests a sneak peak into your plans. Use colour, font, and any embellishments or paper embossing to your advantage — guests will love reading between the lines.

Remember to include the vital information: whose birthday they will be celebrating, when, where, and any extra information about food or gift policies. And add an RSVP at the bottom, so you can be sure about who will be there on the night.

When ordering your birthday stationery, you may wish to have a set of additional prints made for your Thank You cards, ready to be sent out a few days after the party. 

What About Gift Policy?

Birthday etiquette tends to dictate that gift-giving is a prerequisite for guests, but you may feel more comfortable asking your friends and family to skip this tradition. If so, simply include a brief, courteous request in your invitation, informing that their presence is more valuable to you than any gift. 

Otherwise, you may wish to nominate a charity, to which your guests could donate on your behalf in lieu of a present. 

How to Choose a Birthday Cake

A perfectly baked birthday cake is one of the most popular birthday supplies you will need to arrange. It will become a centrepiece for your party, drawing sweet-toothed guests across the room to marvel at the design. Professional cake suppliers will be able to capture the essence of your theme in sponge, fondant and buttercream, creating something truly special — and delectable — for you, your guests, and the Birthday Boy or Girl to enjoy together. 


Before you get into the specifics, you need to ascertain how large you need your cake to be. The number of slices a cake yields will depend largely on the shape — for instance, a round cake will offer slightly fewer portions than a square or rectangular cake.

Double Check your guestlist before you speak with your birthday cake supplier and remember that a few leftover slices is infinitely better than running out halfway through the evening.


There is no definitive ranking of cake flavours. Chocolate, lemon, marble, carrot and red velvet all stand up to even the harshest of criticisms, which gives the Birthday Boy or Girl free reign over the taste of their birthday cake. Alternatively, a traditional sponge can be enhanced by flavoured fillings; a champagne buttercream, devilish chocolate ganache, or a tangy, citrus curd will add another indulgent, moreish twist to any sponge. 

If you are planning for a Kid’s Party, the safest flavours tend to be vanilla or chocolate. Fondant is not as popular as it used to be, but it is a useful medium for creating truly outstanding and intricate designs. 


With the practicalities tied down, it will be time to begin thinking about the design of the cake. 

Tiered cakes lend themselves to more intricate embellishments, and will draw the eye from across the room — although the Guest of Honour may need a stepladder to reach those candles. 

Shaped cakes are a little more labour-intensive, but expert cake makers are capable of transforming even the most bizarre objects into fully edible creations, and the final result will be worth the extra investment. 

Elizabeth's Cake Emporium

How to Find the Right Caterer

Forget the conscience — let taste be your guide when it comes to finding catering for your birthday party. Devise a menu that excites you, and that suits the event you are throwing. Take into consideration:

  • The Party Theme
    A sit-down, three course dinner will seem a little incongruous at an al fresco, bohemian event, whereas a woodsmoke barbeque with buffet-style trimmings will amplify the festival vibes. 
  • The Formality
    If you are planning a more lavish affair, then table service and a table d’hote style menu will give the night a chic, Parisian atmosphere, though you will need to hire a few waitstaff to handle the service. Street stalls or food trucks are great for giving guests more choice, and allowing them to take their time to mingle — and make a few return trips. 
  • The Number of Guests Invited, and Your Budget
    Your party catering team will be able to discuss the ‘cost per head’ for different options, depending on your budget. Feeding a roomful of people is a costly undertaking, but your catering team will be able to discuss money-saving options 
  • Your Personal Tastes
    It would be impossible to devise one menu to cater to everyone’s favourite tastes; your party, your palate.  
  • The Venue
    Your birthday party suppliers can, for an additional cost, hire any equipment your venue is lacking, but if you are limited on space or basic amenities, you may need to curb your expectations and work out a solution with your birthday party suppliers. 
  • What’s in Season
    Draw a little inspiration from nature, and consider shaping your party menu around fresh, local produce. Professional chefs are masters at creating bold flavours out of seemingly basic ingredients — and seasonal ingredients tend to be more cost-effective, too. 
Caper & Berry

What About Entertainment?

Entertaining a roomful of family and friends should never be the sole responsibility of the host — or the Guest of Honour. Finding suitable birthday party entertainment is a good way of ensuring that the atmosphere will not dip too early on, and that your guests’ spirits will remain high long into the night. 

Live Music creates an atmosphere unrivalled by any other form of entertainment, and there is a vast array of musicians and bands out there to suit any mood, taste, or theme. Enriching the space with live, smooth jazz, acoustic covers, a solo voice or a classical quartered will transform the atmosphere, and immerse your guests fully within the evening. 

Marble Private

  • Live Acts will shift the focus from conversation for an hour or so, whether you opt for a dance act, magician, impersonator, live artist or comedian, your guests will have an opportunity to revive themselves with a 
  • Fireworks add a (literal) touch of sparkle to any celebration. A glittering fireworks show designed by an experienced pyrotechnician is an unforgettable and unmissable experience. To make your experience truly cinematic, have your fireworks choreographed to music.
  • Projection mapping  If your venue does not permit fireworks, or you are hoping to surprise your guests with something truly unexpected, then projection mapping will allow you to create a stunning visual display on the facade of any building, the inner walls, or the tables at which your guests are seated. A projection mapping company will be able to carefully map the shape of your ‘canvas’, and transform it with colour and video without any warping. 
  • Lighting and Sound Professional lighting and sound technicians are masters at making the most out of a space. Whether you wish for the soft, warm glow of candlelight, or to immerse your guests in a spectacular light show set to music, your technicians will dream up a vision worthy of your event. 

Reach out to any potential birthday party suppliers with plenty of time to go before the party; they will need to make arrangements for hiring equipment, travel, and setting up the space before your guests arrive. 

Velvet Entertainment

Is it Worth Hiring a Photographer/Videographer?

Along with the rest of your party suppliers, hiring a photographer and/or videographer should be near the top of your list. 

Photography is an art, and professionals are able to view the scene from a new perspective. Celebrate your hard work by immersing yourself within the atmosphere, and allowing someone else to take on the responsibility of capturing those ephemeral moments between you and your guests. 

Nothing compares to a collection of stunning, candid shots from the evening, and anticipating the delivery of your photographs will replace any post-party blues when the day has passed. 

Videography, too, has excelled far beyond the point of a simple fly-on-the-wall narrative. Professional videographers have a wealth of skill and technology at their fingertips, and rather than simply capturing the evening’s events, they will create a vivid retelling for you to rewatch for years to come. 

A Few Insider Tips

  • Create a seperate To Do list for your birthday party suppliers. Jobs  such as paying deposits, making decisions, arranging delivery and sending through your final payments can be easily lost in the fray, so make a checklist compiling all of your birthday party suppliers in one place.
  • Always overestimate the needs and requirements of your guests. Calculate how much food and drink you will need and arrange for a little more to be delivered, to ensure you don’t run out mid-party.
  • Enlist help from close friends and relatives if you feel the plans beginning to slip away from you. Party planning can be complicated, but you shouldn’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed.
  • Any birthday party suppliers who will be there on the day, whether they are your photographer or musician, should be counted when you hand the final numbers over to your catering team.
  • Hiring a photobooth will contribute to your in-house entertainment, as guests will love having the opportunity to make return trips with friends and family as the evening goes on. What’s more, they will have a stack of photos to take home with them, as an additional little party favour from you.
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Written by our Team of HOPP Experts.