There is nothing quite like the face of a young child before they blow out the candles on their birthday cake! The excitement and the anticipation all building up, while family and friends sing “the birthday song.” It’s that moment we all strive to capture with our cameras, phones and tablets. It’s also the pinnacle of good birthday party planning. Regardless of your budget, every parent or grandparent wants to make that one day special and meaningful for the young child in their life. That’s why I’ve complied the Top 7 Tips for Planning your Kid’s Birthday Party.
There are hundreds of websites out there that offer basic planning guides or checklists. Some start months before the big bash for moms and dads who want ultimate control, while others are geared more for the last minute let’s-throw-something-together-and-call-it-done type of parents. Personally, I fall somewhere in-between. I think about it for a few months and then a couple of weeks before the big event I whip out my magic wand and it somehow all comes together. I’m sure that sounds odd coming from someone who made a living owning a kids birthday party center. Regardless of which type of planner you are, there are definitely some do’s and don’ts that I learned by helping to plan over 1,000 kids birthday parties a year and I’m happy to share them with you.
Most parties are planned at large facilities that cater to children’s birthday parties. It doesn’t really matter if it’s at a bounce house facility, trampoline park or whatever the newest, latest, greatest trend it, these tips are pretty universal.
Top 7 Tips for Planning your Kid’s Birthday Party
1. Party Location: Book your party at least 3 weeks in advance. In some cities and towns you might need to make your reservation at least a month or two in advance if you want a specific date and time. The point is don’t expect to get your first choice if you wait until 2 weeks before the party.
2. Party Size: Always book the smallest party package available for the largest block of time you want. You can usually get an upgrade a few days before your party if more guests will be attending then previously thought, but you might not be able to add more time. Some facilities will not let you downgrade a party on the day of the party if you have fewer guests, because they will lose anticipated revenue and they still have to cover staffing costs for a larger party. For example, if you want a two hour long party, book it, but reserve it for 10 kids instead of 25 kids. It’s easier to bump up kids than to bump up party time from 90 minutes to 2 hours.
3. Party Time: Plan on serving a meal for the kids if your party starts at the following times: 10:00am, 10:30am, 11:00am, 11:30am and anytime between 4:00pm and 6:00pm. By the time you enter the party room it will be meal time – either lunch or dinner. You don’t have to serve the parents, but it’s cruel to expect kids to eat chips, cake and ice cream when it’s really meal time. The younger kids won’t have a melt down and the parent’s will thank you.
4. Budget: If you are on a budget the following start times are ideal for snacks, cake and ice cream: 9:30am, anytime between 12:00pm and 3:00pm, or after 6:30pm. These parties usually enter the party room before lunch, mid afternoon, or after dinner time. Any of these time slots will allow you to throw a terrific party while keeping the budget in check.
5. Party Food and Drinks: Based on the time of your party, you can decide what food and drinks you would like to serve. Most facilities will not allow you to bring in your own food besides cake and ice cream. Some will allow you to bring in pre-packaged snacks like chips, cookies, fruit snacks, etc. And, most will allow you to bring in bottled water. So where does that leave you? Well, a lot of facilities offer pizza or sandwiches from a preferred vendor. There are a number of reasons for this. First, it eliminates the liability of contamination since the items are made in licensed facilities. Second, the party facility has control of the timing. Catered food usually arrives about 15 minutes before you enter the party room so it is nice and hot when you go into the party room. Lastly, it is a source of revenue. I’m not going to lie about it.
When it comes to ordering pizza, based on my experience, kids ages 2-5 usually eat only 1 slice of pizza. Whereas, kids ages 6-10 usually eat about 2 slices. Most large pizzas can serve about 12 kids depending on how its sliced. So, two large pizzas should be enough for 10-12 young kids to have 2 slices each. And, unless you have the one kid that eats pepperoni, I’d stick with cheese.
Sandwiches are a whole other story. I know not all kids eat pizza, odd… but true, so sandwiches could be a good option. A good rule of thumb is to order turkey and cheese or ham and cheese on white or wheat bread with lettuce only. Ask for the spreads and the tomatoes on the side. I would avoid onions at all costs. No one eats them and they stink up your party room.
Ice cream is always fun, but it’s major pain in the you know what to scoop. Regardless if the staff is scooping or you are, it’s takes time and it’s a mess. So if you have your heart set on ice cream, I would recommend the cups. They are easier to hand out and they are easier to pack up and take home when you are done.
It would be a big mistake on my part not to address kids with food allergies. I can’t begin to tell you how many kids we came across with nut or gluten allergies. I can’t speak for all facilities, but I’m sure if you spoke with a manager or owner, special arrangements could be made for that child. That doesn’t give you free reign to bring in all your own food. However, it wouldn’t be an unusual request for the host to ask to bring in something special for the birthday child. If it’s a guest that has an allergy, that child’s parent knows the drill and will usually bring in something for their child in a lunch box cooler.
6. Decorations: Keep it simple! I can’t stress this enough! You are welcome to have a theme, in fact I would encourage it. It makes the party room more festive. However, most places do not allow confetti or large posters to hang on the walls. Confetti is really difficult to clean up and posters can take paint off the walls. If the facility has a separate gift table ask for the dimensions. You can always tape a light weight banner to the front of the table. I would also avoid centerpieces. Those cheap cardboard pieces are always falling over. What makes a party look more festive – balloons! Most facilities sell them or allow you to bring in your own. Check with the facility.
7. Customer Service Counts: Have you ever heard the saying you get what you pay for? The least expensive party facility is not always the best party facility. When you call to reserve your party you should ask the following questions:
- Will the entire party be private and not just the party room?
- Will there be staff on hand to help supervise the kids? Note: staff are not babysitters! It’s still the parent’s responsibility to make sure their child is following the rules and playing safely.
- Will there be someone to set-up, help serve and clean-up the party room?
- Will the staff play games during the party?
- What is your facility’s policy on kids that show up who did not RSVP?
- What is your policy on drop-offs?
- Do you charge for all kids or are kids under a certain age free?
- Are there height, age or weight restrictions?
- How often do you sanitize your equipment?
Happy planning. I hope your child’s birthday is a memorable one for everyone!
Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in this post. However, I have personally used Windy City Novelties for glow products when we had our business. Their glow necklaces are really good quality, not like the cheap stuff you buy at the dollar store. I also want to say we used to purchase several tubes of these for friends who went to Burning Man because they last!