Sunday, 16 November 2014

How to organise a 21st party

A few weeks ago my cousin had her 21st birthday party. So I thought I would share some photos from my 21st birthday 7 years ago. Here is how we set the party up in the weeks and days before. 
Make a list of the guests that you like to attend the party. Most people send out the invitations 6 weeks before the event. Decide on a dress code, party theme (if you want) and a RSVP date. I also make a Facebook private event called ‘Save the date’ a few months beforehand and let the guests know that the invites will be sent out soon.

Decide if you want children there or not. For a large cocktail party, invite 20 percent more people than you can fit, since typically only 70 percent to 80 percent of invitees attend. Here is a link to my husband’s 30th birthday invitations and how to make them.  

You can create a Facebook event 8 weeks before the event to see who may be able to come to the party. Tell the guests that invites will be sent soon. Make sure you set the event to private or invite only so you don’t get strangers or gate crashers. I also never put the actually address on the Facebook event, just the suburb for safety. The actual invitation will contain the real address.

Food and drinks: 
We had about 70 guests. The number of guests is important as you will need to organise enough food and drinks for each guest. This will need to be bought or cooked and frozen in advance if possible (mini quiches recipe). Organise a family/friend or hire someone to serve to food and top up drinks on the night.
For example: 50 guests could mean 25 females and 25 males. We had 1 bottle of wine/champagne per female, three to four cocktails per guest (for each 2 hours) and 6 bottles of beer/bourdon per male. For finger food we had 10 pieces per person. You can stagger the serving times by 30 to 45 minutes. If you have too much you may not need the last serving.
Make a list of finger foods and drinks that you want at the party.  
Drinks: You may need to order in large quantities of your favourite alcohol. So check from your local alcohol distributer now. Watch for store specials over the next few weeks.
Cold foods: potato chips, lollies, fairy bread, sandwiches, nuts and dried fruit platter, dips and cheese platters, antipasto platter, bruschetta, cake pops, cupcakes and the birthday cake after it is cut.
Hot foods: hot chips, potato gems, spring rolls, meat balls, mini quiches (meat & vegetarian), mini pizza and whatever you come up with! My friend’s favourite once they are drinking is chicken nuggets – NOT something I ever eat! 


You will need to organise the colours or a theme for the party. Make, buy, or borrow any decorations or music you may need to fit the theme. The colour theme that we used was pink and purple.
Once you have a colour theme you can buy/order your balloons, table clothes, chairs/chair covers, flowers, streamers, table decorations and the cake.
We made purple and pink tulle drapes. Hereare the instructions for how to make them. 
We hired 3 tables and chairs for the party. This was organised through a local party hire company. If you can borrow from family and friends it would save some money.
You may also like to create a photo wall. This was 7 years ago. Now I would have a large screen with photos streaming, as we did for my husband’s 30th recently.

Decide where you want to have the party. We had it at our house in the outdoor entertaining area and the garden. However if you are going to book a venue, you may need to book up to 1 year in advance.
Organise a DJ if needed. Plan a song playlist for the night. The music should be upbeat and sufficient to last throughout the party.
All that we needed to do was to book the canvas walls for our undercover area. They were delivered a few days before the party.
We also had an outside area that needed to be organised. This included making sure there was enough seating and lighting for the party. We had 2 fires on the night and multiple bamboo lanterns in the garden.
Start collecting glass jars or tin containers for candles in the garden. You can ask your family and friends to help too. Here is how to make them.  

  • Clean any crystal, china, and silverware you’ll be using. Take inventory of cookware and serving dishes. If you don’t have enough for every dish you’re serving, consider purchasing inexpensive pieces from a discount or thrift store. Label each dish with a Post-it so you’ll remember what you plan to use it for at party time.
  • Send a list of your favourite songs to the DJ or the family/friend that is playing the music.
  • Buy glow sticks and sparklers.
  • Organise helium balloons to be delivered on the party day.
  • Call or talk to any guests that have not returned their RSVP. You should be able to finalise the number of guests.
  • Check that the air conditioning or heaters are working. We have all been to an event that was too cold or hot!
  • Choose and print all the photos for your photo board or electronic photo board. Once they are printed make the photo board. Before you start check the measurements of where you want hang it and buy cardboard to fit. Make photocopies of any photos that are too old or precious to have on display.
  • Make sure you have enough fire wood for the outside fire pits.
  • Cook and bake all the food that you can. Freeze in small amounts so it is easier to defrost.
  • Go shopping and buy any non-perishable foods - potato chips, lollies, nuts and dried fruit platter.
  • Buy the candles and sand to put in the glass/tin jars for the garden.
  • Organise a cake table if needed. We had a special circular table for the cake. Check that the cake maker is still on time and knows what they are doing. We have had bad experiences before – so definitely worth the call.
  • Also plan where you want the presents to go. We had a present table set up near the entry.
  • Do a first round of grocery shopping and cooking. Prepare any dishes that can be frozen. Buy the frozen food - hot chips, potato gems, spring rolls, meat balls, mini quiches (meat & vegetarian), chicken nuggets, mini pizza.
  • Choose your dress or suit for the party. Also organise your shoes and accessories.
  • Watch for specials on the alcohol. Buy when you are ready.
  • If your dogs/pets are not friendly organise a minder for the party.
  • Clean the house thoroughly. This way, you’ll need only a quick once-over before the party.
  • Make sure you have a payment or small gift to give friends/family that are helping on the day of the party.
  • Organise to have fresh flowers delivered on the party morning for something special.
  • Designate a coffee table or side table for coffee and dessert, if you’ll be serving them. Tuck away things that will be in the way, precious items that might get broken and any clutter.
  • Watch for specials in the large alcohol stores. Buy when you are ready.
  • Finish grocery shopping. Make a detailed cooking schedule for your remaining dishes.
  • Buy soft drinks and juices. A lot of people like to mix orange juice with wine or soda water/lemon juice with vodka.  
  • Organise where people will put their rubbish. We always have a black plastic bin in each entertaining area. We had about 4 in total. Also make sure you have plastic bags that actually fit each bin.
  • Specify a place for coats and jackets if the party is in cold or wet weather. Make space in a closet and fill it with hangers or choose a bed to put coats on.
  • Buy and choose the table clothes you want. Iron if necessary.
  • Arrange the furniture as you’ll want it for the party, making sure that guests can move easily from one part of your house to another.
  • Start collecting ice in empty ice-cream containers for the drinks at the party. I usually set 5 ice trays per night and empty the next night into the ice-cream containers. Then repeat until you have enough ice.
  • Check the medicine or bathroom cabinet. Remove any personal items you wouldn’t want guests to see.

  • Notify the neighbours and let them know you’re having a party.
  • Pick up the birthday cake if possible.
  • Book taxis to come tomorrow to pick up people at the end of the night if needed.
  • Organise where you will serve the alcohol and food.
  • Make sure your dress or suit is ironed for the party.
  • Make sure you have candles and a lighter for the cake. Also a cutting knife.
  • Make jelly shots with vodka and jelly crystals.
  • Last chance to buy any alcohol you haven’t already got.
  • Bake or buy all the food that needs to be fresh for the party. You can make most of the platters and leave in the fridge till tomorrow.
Finish as much of the cooking as you can. Also for any foods that require cooking on party day, do as much prep as possible. Defrost all the frozen food. If not, make room where you will be cooking on the night to defrost as you go – this way there is no waste. I often use the laundry sink to defrost the food in different plastic containers.
We put purple cellophane on the fluoro lights. Make sure there is enough gap so you don’t cause a fire (5cm/1.5inch). This made the room purple!
Re-check air conditioning or heaters are working. Make sure they are fixed in time if broken.
  • The extra tables and chairs should be delivered today. Set them up how you would like. Also put the ironed tablecloths on if possible. I also like to add glitter or 21st sequins to the tables. Add all your special table decorations now.
  • Put the bamboo fire lanterns where you want them in the garden. We used them to light the walkways outside.
  • Make sure you have lots of firewood for the fires. Also check that there is a water source nearby.
  • Hang all the fairy lights undercover and in the garden. If you are using solar powered fairy lights hang them a few day before so they can charge up.
  • Put your candles in the glass/tin jars where you want them. However if it is going to rain wait till tomorrow.
  • Give your house a once-over clean. Do whatever touch-ups are needed.
  • Make sure toilets are very clean and stocked with toilet paper.
Put your candles in the glass/tin jars where you want them.
  • Set up the food and alcohol on tables. One to two hours before guests arrive, set out appetizers and snacks that won’t spoil. Wrap them tightly to ensure freshness; tear off the wrap when the first guest rings the doorbell.
  • Hang the balloons and streamers. Tie wool or string around the balloons and make small groups of 3 or 4 balloons. They are easier to hang already in groups.
  • Make sure everything is child and pet safe!
  • Put fresh flowers out in clean water.
  • Pick up the birthday cake if you haven’t already. Put the candles, lighter and a cutting knife on the same table.
  • Pick up bags of ice for the drink holders/ice boxes.
  • Light the fires and make sure the firewood is close by. Also check that there is a water source nearby.
Monitor your car so this doesn’t ‘magically’ happen!
Enjoy the night!

Download the checklist PDF here:

Here are some more articles about this party: 
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Lady Creativity

1 comment:

  1. I am just in love with these tips on how to host a successful 21st birthday party. My daughter will turn 21 soon and I want to host a surprise party for her at one of the local party venues in Chicago. Your post will help me on each step for party planning. Thanks dear for helping me out.


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