How to Throw A Surprise Party

Hey there! So for the 1,012,983,047th time this month I am talking about my boyfriend’s surprise birthday party that I threw for him at the beginning of this month. #sorrynotsorry

If you can't tell, I think birthdays are a BIG deal. Today I'm going to be going into all the details of how I planned and decorated for a "manly" surprise party and give you a complete and FREE party planning checklist, including cleaning, food and decorations prep! Ok, let's party!

Activity: Ax Throwing & After party at our house

Theme: Manly, Summer, Whiskey

Playlist: Spotify - Good Vibes


So, I freaking love surprises but I completely suck at keeping them. I've ruined the last four that I've tried to plan for Josh, so needless to say the last 3 months were torture trying to keep it in! Today I’m going to show you point by point how I kept this party a surprise when living with him and all of my preparations I made to try and make things go smoothly. Of course there were a few hiccups along the way but overall he had an amazing time, and I got all of our friends together for some fun - which were, of course, the two main goals!

So about two years ago we were playing one of those couples questions games and one of the questions was “describe your dream day”. .
He went on to tell me that it would be to wake up early, workout, have a nice leisurely breakfast and then all of the sudden his friends would call him and “abduct him” to take him to a fun competitive activity. 
Well I never forgot that and ever since then I have just been waiting for a time when I could make that day happen for him. 
So I reached out to his best friend (and best coordinator ever) to help me make this a reality. Ax throwing has been very popular here in Philly and we decided it would be the perfect competitive and manly activity to make his dream day come true.

1. plan The surprise

Think about how you would want to surprise this special someone who you're throwing the party for. Make it ALL about them, the things they love and who they would want there.

For example: I had the idea for a surprise birthday party for Josh a couple of years. One day we were playing one of those couples questions games and one of the questions was “describe your dream day”. So I got together with his best friend to plan a day of Ax Throwing at Bury the Hatchet and then come back to our apartment for an after party so he could hang out, play games, eat and drink and enjoy everyone’s company. 

2. send the sneaky invites

Facebook event invites are perfect for coordinating a surprise party, and they really saved me quite a few times when trying to communicate with the 18+ people coming to the party. Make it private and make sure you DON'T accidentally invite the person you're surprising! (I had to quadruple check he wasn't on the invite list before sending haha)

Pro Party Tip: If you live (or spend the majority of the time) with the person you're throwing the party for turn off ALL notifications for the event so if the person happens to look or be on your phone they won't see notifications of people posting in the party thread. Also if people are Venmo-ing you money make sure you set your privacy to private in settings. 

10 tips for hosting a surprise party

What I also love about facebook events is it allows you to poll the guests and ask questions.

For example: who is going to ONLY the axe throwing and who is parking at our house to take an Uber there.

10 tips for throwing a surprise party

3. the decoy

Now, the trickiest part of the whole thing is figuring out the "little white lie" - which ends up being lies (plural) - to pull off the surprise. If you're anything like me, you're about as good at hiding a lie on your face as Pinocchio. So for me, keeping things from Josh is nearly impossible, especially since he can read me like a book and any inconsistency on my face just totally tips him off!

So my method of working around this was to simply tell him my little white lies when:

1) I had sunglasses on so he couldn't see my eyes

2) We were walking side by side and I could slightly cover my face with my hair

3) When he was in the shower and I was brushing my teeth or putting on lotion ect. 

So if you're as terrible a liar as I am, you need to find out what your decoy is and get anyone else involved or going to the party on board as well. 

I told Josh I was having a girls spa party that day and that he needed to get out of the house, and "conveniently" that same day his best friend was in the area looking at houses and wanted to grab lunch and hang around the city for a few hours. Also, if you tell a guy you're doing girly things like waxing each others legs, doing facials ect. they immediately don't care to know any more and won't ask any questions, it was all a part of the grand plan....muahaha! (although side note - this girly spa day party is totally going to happen at some point in the future) 

4. Make a Timeline

Now this is quite possibly the most important part of the plan. You need to make sure everyone knows where they need to be and what time so they get there well before the guest of honor arrives or is within eyesight. 

Write your plan down to every 10 minutes if you need to - be super specific and then post on your facebook event invite. This is effective because everyone will see how important being on time is! Also message everyone ALL the details incase they don't see the facebook event invite.  

Here is the example from Josh's party that I sent to the group: 
(yes slightly OCD, I know...)

12:30 - Garrett takes Josh to lunch to distract him

12:45 Decorating and parking crew (Pre-Party Crew) arrive and help set up for after party. Pre-Party Crew gather beer, alch, decorations, water, cups etc in bags to bring to Bury The Hatchet.

1:20 - Last call for people parking near our house to arrive.

1:30- People decorating and parking take Uber XL to BTH

2:00 - People parking at Bury the Hatchet Arrive (closed toed shoes required) (Street parking nearby only)

2:10 - Garrett takes Josh to BTH

2:20 - Josh and Garret arrive


2:30 - Axe Throwing Starts

4:30 - Axe Throwing Ends

4:45 - Pack up alcohol & food and Uber back to Nikki & Josh's for After Party

5:30 - Arrive back to Nikki & Josh's for After Party and have a blast

5. Prepare the food

When planning a party (surprise or not), preparing as much as possible in advance is the best way to make sure you’re not running around like a chicken with its head cut-off the day of, and you can actually ENJOY the party yourself. When it comes to choosing what foods to make, try to think about the guest of honor's favorite foods or flavors and create a menu and drink around that. Read below for how I create an easy, stress-free menu for the party.  

eats & apps

Make a list of how many people are coming and what types of foods you want to include. I try to do a "signature" dish or app that is homemade and special, and the rest are our staples or "easy" apps that are a must at every party.

The Signature Dish: Fried Chicken Sliders with Brie, Arugula and Truffle Honey - I recreated one of Josh's favorite sandwiches from one of our old date spots City Tap into fun-sized sliders for easy eating. 

The Staples: Chips & Salsa, butterfly shrimp (also one of Josh's faves), veggies & dip, and cheese & crackers depending on how large the party is.

Party Food - Summer-27.jpg


With drinks, I also love to do a signature cocktail. This time I wanted to do a summer whiskey mix so I created this amazing peach bourbon lemonade as the signature drink.

Signature Drink: Try to choose a drink that goes with the theme of the party. For example, our theme was manly, summer, and whiskey, and what says all those things better than a nice cold glass of peach bourbon lemonade. After a hard day's work it's usually lemonade or whiskey for a man anyway, so I decided to combine them and add a summery touch for taste!


Classic Mini-Cupcake Dessert: Now this is my classic dessert that I make for every party, but you can decide on your own "classic" and it can be your go-to dessert for hosting. I love using an out-of-the-box vanilla recipe and just getting creative with the frosting/decorations to make them appear fancy. I did an easy whiskey-honey drizzle to stay on-theme. 

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surprise party ideas for man
surprise party ideas for man

Alcohol: Aside from the signature drink, you'll want to have other alcoholic options if someone isn't into your signature drink. Beer, wine and a few options of hard alcohol do just fine. I usually tell people to BYOB, that way you never worry about someone not having something to drink. 

manly birthday party

Non-Alcoholic Drinks: As much fun as those tasty cocktails are, you have to have some responsible and non-alcoholic drinks available! I like to do water "infused" with mint and some in-season fruit, along with some flavored seltzers or mixers to mix with alcohol if needed.

Since we were going Ax throwing and needed to bring bottled water, I created some custom water bottle labels to go with the theme. 

Stock up efficiently

So, before I had the party, I was planning on writing on here that to be a SUPER DUPER EFFICIENT party planner, you should order all your food from Amazon Fresh and have it delivered the day before the party. That way you can prepare any food or drinks the night before and be ready to enjoy yourself the day of. Well, this is exactly what I did. I went on Amazon, ordered all the ingredients, appetizers, everything and scheduled it to deliver Friday morning between 7-9am (party was on Saturday), and then at 8:25 I got a notification that my order had been delivered. I went out to get it and nothing was there. I called Amazon and it was nowhere to be found! 

So as they say, "the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry", well this is exactly what happened to me. The food never arrived and with Josh at work with the car, and me working from home with the store a couple blocks away, I had no choice but to go re-stock on everything and carry it back to the apartment.... NOT the most efficient way to do things! I ended up going to Target and Whole Foods to get everything and had to Uber back because it just wasn't possible to carry all 7 bags by myself! 

Side note: Amazon Fresh was WAY cheaper.

  • $93 was spent at Amazon Fresh for all the party food and supplies (they gave me a full refund thank god!)

  • $156 was spent between Target and Wholefoods for all the party food and supplies. Now of course I had to get different brands and slightly different quantities so it wasn’t a completely even comparison but the convenience of searching for lowest price and delivering right to your door (#cityliving) is well worth ordering from AmazonFresh instead.

And though Amazon didn't arrive this time - this was the only time I haven't received my order - and they issued me a full refund. This little mishap won't stop me from ordering from them again, I just now know to order TWO days in advance in case any mix-ups occur!  

6. Last but not least, decorate! 

how to throw a birthday party for your man

I saved my favorite tip for last! Aside from the people, decorations are what really bring a party together and make the person feel ULTRA special when they walk in to see what you and their friends set up just for them! Now when it comes to decorations you, again, want to make it ALL about them. Pick out a theme they like or their favorite color and stick to it. 

Also, when hosting a surprise party, you want to make sure you have all the decorations ready, but hidden in bags, closets or even at someone else's house to make sure they don't see them! Then when the decoy has them leave the house, you will be super organized and can quickly put up all the decorations when your friends arrive to help. I recommend breaking up decorations by either room or category so you're super efficient in executing the decorating once the birthday boy (or girl) is out of the house.

For example: For Josh's manly, whiskey themed birthday I copied the Jack Daniels logo design and made a bunch of food, drink and table signs with that design. I also made sure any colored decorations we had were orange (his favorite color), so I got clear balloons and stuffed them with orange confetti. Pretty simple but I tried to make sure it was all about HIM (and of course I had to make it Pinterest worthy as well lol)! 

So there you have it! I know that was probably more detail than you need for your surprise party, but I really wanted to give you all the specifics so that, if it is your first time throwing a surprise party, you know just how much thought needs to go into it, and hopefully you can learn from my first surprise party mistakes and successes!

Based on what Josh told me after the party, he is going to remember this for a VERY long time and he felt truly, deeply loved because of it. Nothing feels better than knowing your people and your loved ones care enough about you to plot sneakily behind your back to make you happy! So go ahead, find out your special person's perfect day, and make it happen without them ever seeing it coming! (then, tell me all about it in the comments below!!) 


And on a side (but very important) note: today is also his sister's GOLDEN BIRTHDAY! 25 on 25!

Happy happy birthday Nicole Martin, can't wait to celebrate with you! I 💙 you! 

(And yes, both of our names are Nicole haha)

(She's the one in the cat shirt standing next to me ;) ) 

bury the hatchet surprise party for man


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