I’ve always been used to planning celebrations for others — so it’s a bit of a new thing for me to be planning my 50th birthday celebration. We had the party a month ago and I cannot be happier for the way it turned out. I am just winding down on the celebratory mood of the milestone, but I am celebrating the whole year in ways big and small.
One thing I knew was I wanted to be able to have fun and enjoy the time with my friends. I wasn’t going for “simple,” but neither was I going for “grand”. I wanted it to be a fitting celebration of the last 50 years I’ve been around.
I’ve always taken great joy in seeing the celebrant “happy” — and I thought I owed it to myself to come up with a fitting celebration, even though the other half will be at a much later date back home.
FOUR WEEKS IN ADVANCE
Determine what kind of a party you want to throw. I’d go with the usual “When, What, Where and Who, ” — in that order.
WHEN: This is the deal breaker in all events and parties because this is what would determine who goes or doesn’t. My birthday, April 2, fell on a Saturday, but early on, two of my intended invitees had already said no to that day. So I said, Sunday it is. I was never really one to insist on the “day of” celebrations because for the longest time, my birthday parties were “shared” with my brother whose birthday lands on the 7th. And what’s a day or two or even a week? I’m actually not even opposed to celebrating months later, and that’s what I plan to do when I finally do a party in Manila when I go home sometime second half of 2016, way past April. (That’s another blogpost.)
WHAT: Will it be lunch? brunch? dinner? Drinking at some bar? I knew I wanted my 11-year-old son to be present so that eliminated a bar at night, and it meant shooting for brunch. Will it be a big party of 30-50 people? Or a single table of 12-16 guests? I chose the latter. I wanted this party to be intimate and personal, not just for me but for my friends as well.
Once you have that figured out, you can determine the WHERE. From the get go, I had never planned to host this at home. I wanted to hold it in Manhattan which was the most convenient place for the people on my guest list. I have had the chance to go out more the last couple of months and have always been intrigued that one of the restaurants I had always wanted to eat at, ABC Kitchen, was forever booked whenever I tried to land a spot there. So I checked out the menu — looked promising. Then I called in an inquiry based on the date I wanted. I was three weeks away to my event, and voila, they could accommodate my party of 16.
It kind of worked out that the longest table they could accommodate was for a party of 16 because that helped me keep a tight leash on my guest list, or we would have to split the party into two tables which wasn’t what I wanted. My son and I were already 2 — so I had a list of 14 people to fill.
With the above decided, it came to what to me is the most important part of planning a party: Deciding WHO is coming.
I don’t have that many friends here in New York. Practically everyone near and dear to my heart is in Manila, but I do have some gems who have added sparkle and joy to my life here in the tri-state area. Knowing who they were and how many there were was one of the reasons that made it easy for me to decide I would have one long table of guests, and that was that. Don’t get me wrong. I love big parties where people mingle and eat and have fun dancing and drinking. We used to have a lot of that back home, be it the usual Fiesta in San Juan or some birthday or other or the annual Christmas party my parents used to throw for our employees. But this was not one of those occasions where I wanted to have to hop tables the whole time, trying to spend more than but a fleeting moment with this or that guest. I wanted an intimate gathering of friends.
The list wasn’t difficult to come up with, but I had just a few criteria in mind: per BFF Fe, to make the list, it had to be someone who doesn’t give me any crXp. That made a lot of people fall off the list quick. Then secondly, it had to be someone who wouldn’t mind trudging into Manhattan on a Sunday. Again, trimmed the already not very long list easily. Third, and I told them this on the day itself, it had to be someone who loved me enough to go through the torture of sitting with people they didn’t know from Adam. I have to admit, half a dozen possible invitees had to be shed from the list because I felt they would have a tough time with that, or worse, I would be worried sick all throughout the brunch wondering if they were okay and having a good time. I wanted this to be fun and I didn’t want to put pressure on anyone — least of all me. So with all that in mind, I came up with 14 friends. 12 said yes, so it was a table of 14 with my son and I as host.
I would have invited another table of 12 easily, and I have no doubt they would have said yes, but I would lose the intimacy of the event. It would have seen me going around like a headless chicken trying to make it all work. My 12 guests were perfect. The smaller party allowed me to be comfortable with the venue and the pricing of the menu, more so since I was given a prix fix flat rate meal.
TWO WEEKS AHEAD
With the details down pat, send out invitations. I had planned to make invitations for the party and had bought materials, but I ended up doing an e-vite instead. I was actually all set to make paper invitations but my metal dies or my die cutter (can’t quite figure out which was not working) failed me, so I opted to go for the easiest way to send out the invites: digitally. I used to use them a lot but had stopped throwing parties or inviting people to events, so I am happy to say they have upgraded and changed for the better! And in keeping with the times, they even have an app that allows you to monitor and send out evites from your smart phone. Happiness!
I wasn’t too worried, but I would’ve wanted to send out invites three weeks out. I ended up sending it two weeks in advance of the event, but by then, I had invited my guests verbally already. So half of them had made plans or were aware of the event, and I had a pretty fair idea of the attendance.
Once the invites were sent, three of the invited actually asked me for a wish list. I will share that with you in another post.
Decide on whether or not you will do an informal sit down dinner (everybody just sits and eat) or will you do the “place-settings, games and give aways” kind of a party. I wanted this to be a real celebration. I would have wanted pink all over the place, but the best I could do was stick to that as the color theme for the things I was bringing over to the restaurant. And yes, I definitely wanted place holders (which I felt was necessary because I was sitting strangers next to each other.. well, for the most part.). I also wanted games! And lastly, I wanted to put together a loot bag.
The venue thwarted any possibility of balloons which I didn ‘t mind. I only had minutes to set up so anything elaborate was out of the question. The smaller size of the party also made it convenient for me to think of items to purchase and just walk into a store, without worrying that I might have to order the actual number I needed. I was shooting for 16, in case my 2 declines actually made it, and I always made room for extras in case one of the items I purchased was defective — or if I accidentally ripped it apart. (Yes, I have done that in the past.) So everything I bought for the party itself had to be 16 of each.
If you have a wishlist, send it out to give your guests enough time to go over it and find something they would want to give you. I wasn’t comfortable about doing this but it ended up helping my guests out a lot, and they were grateful I did it. I was also happy that they stuck to what I had written — I loved each and every present I got. We were happy all around!
Send out any special requests in an email or an update to your evite. I asked that they wear pink if they could. Simple enough!
ONE WEEK TO THE EVENT
Do an ocular of the place, more so if you haven’t been there. I was being adventurous. So no, I have never eaten nor been to ABC Kitchen before I decided this was where I would celebrate my 50th birthday.
The Saturday before my birthday, I thought I’d (1) treat myself to a nearby spa, (2) get some or all of the bits and pieces for the party logistics, and (3) do an actual site visit. Spa done, I visited a favorite store in Chelsea and grabbed my goodies. (More on that in a separate blog post), and I headed to the restaurant. While I had originally planned to eat a late lunch there, I ended up going for dinner at the bar in the back end. It was an interesting experience on different levels — again, deserving of a blog post in itself (soon) — but I got to size up the venue, saw an actual 16-person table setting for a dinner party happening right at that moment, and I was able to virtually plan my own party.
As someone who had been in charge of events both small and large in previous jobs, I know the importance of familiarizing yourself with the actual venue. And if the event involves a meal, it doesn’t hurt to try the cuisine.
Purchase all your supplies so you know if you need to make adjustments. I’m a very spontaneous shopper. So unless it involves a superhero or some such theme which requires purchasing my supplies from one place, I will walk into a store and find what I need.
I actually shopped from several stores to get things ready for the event (supplies, giveaways, prizes), and I found that the flexibility helped me plan the party with more ease. I wanted pink but was not bent on having every single bit in pink. If I had something in mind and it wasn’t available, I looked at what was and tried to make that work.
THREE NIGHTS BEFORE
Produce all the items that need to be crafted or worked on. I failed miserably at making “Thank you” gift tags, but I figured, that wasn’t necessary. I did need to print out part of my giveaway and package them all.
Make sure that you have all your supplies and make a list of what needs to be bought before the event to avoid last minute panic buying.
THE NIGHT BEFORE
Pack your goodies to make it easy to transport to the venue. I was commuting to the venue via UBER, so I had to be able to carry everything I needed. My extra pair of hands were actually not able to lift much, so I prepared everything but did not assemble them all. Instead, I packed them so I could pull them together with ease at the event.
Someone wrote me: Bring an extra tote bag, but what I had brought the loot bags in with the other party supplies was plenty.
Pack all your supplies and put the bags together the night before. I have found this rule of thumb most helpful even at corporate events, picnics or even traveling. The day of the event tends to be very busy and hectic, so minimize your chances of forgetting something by getting everything together with time to spare.
Rest and be ready to party!