Earlier this year it was mum’s 60th birthday. We wanted to do something special to show her how much we love her and thank her for everything she does for us. It had to be a surprise because we knew mum would say she didn’t want to do anything big or she’d get stressed at the thought of having to organise her own party. Plus our family loves surprises! We surprised dad with a 60th afternoon tea a few years ago so now it was mum’s turn.
Mum’s birthday fell on Easter Monday and we decided an afternoon tea on the day would be perfect. This allowed people to enjoy their Easter weekend without completely ruining their holiday plans by putting a party smack bang in the middle of their long weekend!
It’s all well and good when you have a great idea. “Let’s surprise mum with a 60th birthday party!” My two sisters and I exclaimed. But in reality, we faced many challenges in the party planning phase. Our goal was to deliver a sophisticated surprise, high tea style party on a budget. This meant our main focus was on the food. Our three biggest constraints were time, money and keeping it a surprise. I nearly ruined the surprise when I accidentally wrote a comment about one of mum’s friends (who I never usually see) in our family WhatsApp group, instead of our party planning WhatsApp group. Luckily my sister covered it up nicely by linking my comment to our little sisters’ engagement news. Boy, that was a close call!
Time vs money
We all lead very busy lives and our youngest sister lives overseas so was only able to give input remotely, however this was still really helpful as she contributed to decision making, obtaining quotes and keeping me accountable to deadlines. To work within our budget, I planned on taking Okka Pies party food and making finger sandwiches, a cheese board and the mini desserts myself. In reality, my youngest sister would be visiting from overseas and I wanted to spend the Easter weekend enjoying time with my family, rather than slaving away in the kitchen for two days. If I had no other plans that weekend I would’ve enjoyed cooking and creating beautiful little desserts. When I worked out how much it would cost me to buy all of the ingredients and how much time it would take me to make the desserts, it just didn’t make sense to spend two days in the kitchen and lose that family time. I also wasn’t going to save that much money by making it all myself, so I decided to get other people to do the baking and then we would just pick up a pie warmer, the Okka Pies party food and desserts on our way. My middle sister took on the task of picking up the pie warmer and Okka Pies party food which was a huge help as I could not fit these in my car along with the cake and desserts. There were others who also helped out on the day, including our friend Louise who took these beautiful photos and our aunties, uncle and mum's friends who helped me set up and serve food. We all worked together to make the day a success.
I remembered I’d come across a beautiful Instagram account in the past where I’d seen a dessert buffet set up with a cake and stunning mini desserts. I trawled Instagram and finally found the account I was looking for, called Couture Bakes. I looked up their Facebook reviews to ensure their food tasted as good as it looked and found glowing reviews. Marianne from Couture Bakes, was a delight to work with and her prices were extremely reasonable, especially considering I knew she’d be the one spending two days in the kitchen baking, not me! When I analysed the food situation, I also decided the sandwiches were an unnecessary addition and I could remove the cheese board without it detracting from the party. This cut my party prep time down even further. In the end, we confirmed a selection of gourmet hot Okka Pies party food and the Couture Bakes dessert table. It was simple, yet highly effective.
Keeping it a surprise meant finding a venue
We couldn’t have the party at mum and dads because it would be too hard to keep the surprise when there was so much setting up required. We also had other limitations preventing us from having the party at our houses (my house is too small, little sister lives overseas and middle sister was in the middle of renovating). We wanted to find a venue close to mum and dad who would supply drinks but allow BYO food. In our search for self-catering venues we came across Hanrahan Vineyard which has a reverse BYO policy. Hanrahan will let you BYO food, as long as you purchase their drinks. On inspection, the property was stunning, almost dreamlike and the kind of place I imagined myself getting married as we wound our way up the driveway, between two large ponds and up to the vineyard. The cellar door was quaint and rustic and had a large courtyard with views overlooking the property. It made the perfect backdrop for our sophisticated afternoon tea and that combined with their reverse BYO food policy made the perfect venue for our party. We organised to bring a pie warmer (available for hire) and a gourmet selection of Okka Pies to heat and serve ourselves. We also brought along the cake and desserts from Couture Bakes which I picked up on my way. Because the venue was so beautiful it meant we didn’t really need to spend any money or time on decorating except for the two giant gold glitter balloons which we got from Senior Party and Paper supplies in Bayswater to sit either side of the dessert table.
The afternoon was a huge success and mum was blown away by the magnitude of the surprise (yes there were tears)! We told mum we were going for afternoon tea with just the seven of us and she had no idea we had planned such an extravagant affair. We had approximately sixty of mum’s family and friends attend and mum couldn’t believe so many people would turn up just to see her and help her celebrate. All of the planning was worth it when we saw mum’s reaction on arrival and then experiencing the gratitude she felt afterwards for being able to spend the day with all of her favourite people.
Here’s a few things to consider when planning a party
What’s your goal? Set yourself a clear goal right from the start. It will help prevent you from getting side-tracked when researching ideas and this can save time in the long run.
What are your constraints? What are the biggest challenges you face? Acknowledge these upfront so you can immediately work to solve these problems and find suitable solutions quickly.
What’s your theme? Use Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration then stick to the theme you decide on. The best parties always have a theme, even if it’s just a simple one like a colour scheme!
What’s your budget? What are you comfortable spending on a venue, decorations, food, drinks, invitations and entertainment? Knowing upfront what you’d like to spend money on and what you wouldn’t, will help you prioritise where your budget goes and help steer your planning efforts in the right direction.
What’s your time worth? Do you need to allow a bigger budget to make up for the time you don’t want to spend planning, baking or decorating?
What can you do yourself and what do you need help with? Work this out early and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Who would be willing to help you plan or help out on the day? If you have a friend or family member who’s willing to help, perhaps you can repay the favour at their next party. Create a group chat like Messenger or WhatsApp to make communication quick and easy.
Can you cut anything out to make your life easier? Write everything down and then work out what you can remove without anyone noticing. Sometimes less is more. Focus on the things that will make the biggest impact then remove the rest.