How to Throw a Surprise Birthday Party

Want to keep things hush-hush? This is how to throw a surprise birthday party—and keep the secret under wraps.

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Pulling off a real surprise is one of the best birthday gifts to give. If you know the star of the party would love a surprise get-together, we’ll explain how to plan the best possible celebration!

How to Plan a Surprise Birthday Party

Choose the Location

When deciding where to throw down, keep things simple. Think about a friend’s house or a hangout spot—if you pick a familiar place, you’re more likely to keep the birthday guy or gal in the dark until the last moment.

If the gang isn’t able to get together in person, these fun Zoom ideas can keep the party going from afar.

Send Invitations

You can send a virtual invitation (or keep it traditional with paper invitations), but social media makes planning a surprise party easier than ever. Start a private Facebook group—double- (and triple-) check the privacy settings so the birthday guy or gal doesn’t catch on—or create a group chat. It will be simple to see who’s coming, send reminders, share ideas and keep everyone up-to-date on the day of.

Whatever method you decide, make sure everyone knows that it’s a surprise, so they don’t accidentally let it slip!

If They Hate Surprises…

It’s possible to throw a surprise party for someone who hates surprises. You can do a “semi-surprise” birthday party by telling them there will be a party, but not sharing any of the details. That way, they can be prepared, and you know they won’t be double-booked!

Prep for the Day of the Surprise Party

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Choose a Theme

When it comes to decorating, remember that the party should be all about the birthday guy or gal. Slyly ask them what types of parties they’ve enjoyed in the past to get a sense of their ideal decor, food and drink, and vibe. He’s a major Harry Potter fan? Transport the guests to Hogwarts with a Harry Potter party. Is she obsessed with Disney? Host an adorable Minnie Mouse party.

Here are some essential party decorations that can go a long way for an understated night or help anchor a more immersive theme:

Don’t miss all our adult party ideas for grown-ups who love a theme!

Plan the Menu

Your nibbles should reflect your birthday honoree’s favorites. Do they have a sweet tooth? You’ll want to pack the dessert table or plan a candy bar buffet. Do they make kombucha and love to run 10Ks? Then whip up fresh, healthy entrees.

The best prep is simple and delivers delicious results—opt for canapes and small bites (and enlist some friends to help you whip up the menu)!

Here are some of our go-to party recipes:

  • Champagne Punch: This blend of champagne and citrus juice is refreshing and easy to make in big batches. Garnish with some fresh fruit. (These plastic champagne flutes look classy and will make cleanup a breeze.)
  • Peach Mocktails: Peach meets club soda in this sweet and refreshing drink that even the kids can sip.
  • Stuffed Mushrooms: This appetizer looks (and tastes!) like you’re right out of culinary school, but it comes together easily, and will satisfy any gluten-free or vegetarian guests.
  • Birthday Cupcakes: Cupcakes are often easier to serve than a traditional cake.

Keep the Surprise a Surprise

You’ve done all the hard work. Just make sure nothing will tip off the guest-of-honor at the last minute! Remind guests not to post on social media ahead of time. Make sure no one parks on the street or near the venue, so the birthday guy or gal won’t become suspicious when arriving.

Take the Birthday Star Out Beforehand

While it might be tempting to downplay the impending festivities, remember that the guest of honor will want to feel great when they walk into the party. Take them out of a day of pampering or cocktails so they’ll already feel special—and will be dressed and ready for the surprise event!

Plan Transportation

Have a plan in place for who will bring the guest of honor to the party. Designate one or two people to escort them to the party location, under the guise of going out for dinner or swinging by a friend’s place. That way, if everyone’s traveling together, they can’t cancel or arrive late.

Unveil the Big Surprise


The moment you’ve been waiting for! The birthday guest has arrived, and it’s time to reveal the surprise. But just like when planning the party, the unveiling should be customized to the guest of honor’s preferences, too.

  • If they’re a fan of surprises, have your gang hidden in the next room, ready to jump up and scream, “Surprise!” (Don’t forget the confetti and noisemakers!)
  • If they’re always snapping photos to document their day, set up a camera to capture the moment.
  • If they prefer something more low-key, let the surprise happen gradually as they enjoy the party and slowly realize all their friends are together in one place.
Party Dishes So Good You Won't Have Leftovers
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Kim Bussing
Kim Bussing is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. She has written for publications including Reader’s Digest, Modern Farmer, Clean Plates and Vice, among others, and she is working on her first novel. She is always on the hunt for the perfect gluten-free cinnamon roll.