Here are our top 10 Tips for planning a Graduation Party, because chances are, someone you know is graduating from high school or college this spring and you may be the one planning the party. Graduation Day is definitely celebration-worthy, bring-out-the-good-china, full-scale-celebration-worthy!
Here we’ve compiled some ideas and tips to plan a graduation party that he or she will never forget, and, most importantly feel like the rockstar he/she is.
1. Decide on a budget
Chances are, you have spent a small fortune already with the cap & gown, graduation dinners, class ring, announcements, grad gift, etc, etc…So we have some money saving tips on planning a stress-free, economical grad party that will send off your student feeling elated and “celebrated”. On the other hand, if you have been saving for this big day and can afford to splurge, then we recommend consulting a party planner to take the load off. Having someone to work out the details leaves you time to relax and enjoy the party. If you fall into the other category and the budget is a little tight, consider throwing a joint grad party with one or more of your graduate’s best friends, especially if they share many mutual friends. Sharing the cost and tasks with other parents saves time, money, and of course- stress. Consider costs for food & drink, venue, decor, entertainment, invitations, and guest favors in the budget. Creating your own invitations is a simple way to save money. Canva.com is a great site for custom invitations for any occasion.
2. Choose a location early
Keep in mind- the entire high school or college has hundreds of students graduating at the same time and finding a venue may be challenging if you don’t book several months in advance. On the upside, weather this time of year should be nice and warm, leaving the option of holding it in the back yard or at a local park. Check with the community parks department for guideline on private parties. Restaurants are a great option, many have a banquet room that you can use free of charge as long as you purchase food and drink. Even if the weather turns, you are covered, and the food is taken care of, which means checking that off the to-do list! If you plan on having a smaller group (say 25 or less), even if there is no separate room available, most restaurants can accommodate a fairly large group by joining several tables together. Be sure to call and schedule at least 30-60 days prior. On the other hand, if you are inviting a slew of relatives and friends, you are better off renting a hotel banquet room, or another large venue. Again, you will have to book early.
3. Allow ample time for guests to plan
Ideally, invitations need to be mailed 2 months in advance for out-of-town guests, especially if they will need to make travel arrangements. It’s best to give them a heads up a few months before that as well. If guests are all local, 30 days notice is sufficient. An inexpensive invite can be created and personalized online from many photo centers at drugstores, e.g. Walgreens, Rite-Aid; big box stores -e.g. Walmart or Costco using a senior photo or other favorite shot. (Ordering matching thank you cards at this time is one more thing to check off the list). Typically there is the option of having invitations mailed to picked up in a matter of a few days. Don’t forget to buy plenty of stamps and enlist the help of the grad to hand-write addresses on the envelopes or enter them in a computer for printing on address labels. Print an extra set of address labels for thank you cards will save time later. Although “old school”, “snail-mail” invites are appropriate especially if grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and others are not exactly social media savvy and prefer a paper invitation. Besides that, a “formal” paper invitation makes guests feel important. Play it safe and do both paper and e-vite. You can simply create an event on facebook or other social media outlet.
4. Encourage guests to RSVP early
In order to plan adequate amount of food, tables, drinks, and party favors, it helps to have a ballpark figure on the number of guests attending. Many people procrastinate when it comes to RSVP ing, even if given a deadline. By creating an event on facebook or other social media outlet in addition to the paper invites, guests will be reminded each time you post on the event page and hopefully prompted to RSVP sooner than they would if it meant making a phone call. Posting trivia questions or interesting facts about the guest of honor once or twice a week is a great way to get guests engaged and exited for the event.
5. Plan mingle-friendly food
Planning the food seems to be the most stressful part. The decision of either having it catered, preparing food yourself, or enlisting the help of family and friends to prepare it depends on your budget, how much time you can afford to invest, and how much you can count on others to help. The stress free but more expensive approach is to find a recommended caterer and let them handle it. In many cases, it’s not as expensive as you might think. A slightly less expensive option is to have a restaurant cater the food, and better yet, some faster food places like sandwich shops (e.g. Subway), Chinese fast food (e.g.Panda Express), or Mexican fast food (e.g.Baha Fresh) offer an affordable catering menu. Choose food that your grad and his or her friends enjoy and items that can be munched while standing and mingling.
If you choose to make the food yourself, keep it simple and doable. Things that can be make 2-3 days ahead and refrigerated will save time the day of the party. Try to do as much prep ahead of time as possible, and enlist the help of friends or family members. Anything hot will need to be kept hot (using chafing dishes) and anything cold will need to be kept cold; (obviously, the last thing you need is for someone to get food poisoning!). Large sheet trays filled with ice are great to lay platters of cold sandwiches or other finger foods on. Cover the ice with plastic tablecloths. Place cold salads in bowls inside larger bowls with ice. Purchasing pre-made sandwiches, cut fruit, and vegetables from your deli or big box store is always a convenient choice. Whip up a couple of salads. open a few bags of chips, and it’s good to go. Inexpensive and always a crowd favorite, burgers and hot dogs on the grill paired with some fruit and veggie trays, chips, and desserts are also a great option.
A pot luck is the easy/cheap alternative. Although you cannot control the quality, exact quantity, and exact type of food brought in, you will be able to feed a crowd for cheap. And just so you don’t end up with 16 bowls of potato salad and 1 main dish, it’s best to assign dishes or types (sides, desserts, main dish, drinks, etc.) either by the last initial of the name, age group, etc. If you know some of your attendees are the “Worst Cooks in America”, you may want to make sure to assign them something pre-packaged like chips or soda. 😉
Lastly, a candy buffet is always a hit- for all ages, especially teens. With a huge variety of colors of candy available, finding plenty of sweets to match your school colors is easy. Fill apothecary candy jars with bulk candy- don’t forget scoops– and provide matching treat bags on the side for guests to grab and mingle.
6. Have plenty of drinks available
Beverage tubs filled with ice and bottled/canned beverages are great for indoor and outdoor events. Save money and space by filling beverage dispensers with lemonades, ice teas, or punch. Serve your favorite punch recipe in a punch bowl. If the celebration is held outdoors in scorching heat, filling a small kiddie pool with ice and bottled/canned drinks and water bottles is a great option. Providing enough for each guest to drink 2 bottles of water and 2 cans/bottles of other beverages is a safe guideline. A huge dispensing cooler of ice water with cups on the side is another option to help keep guests hydrated in the heat, and save space and cost. If you are serving alcoholic beverages, make sure to assign someone to watch for underage or over consumption and keep alcohol separate from non-alcoholic drinks.
7. Think school colors for the decor
Planning the decorations around the school colors is a no-brainer. Plastic tablecloths are fine, but for just a few dollars more, polyester tablecloths can be washed and reused over and over. Polyester tablecloths are available in over 30 colors including the most popular school colors: royal blue, navy blue, silver, red, gold, hunter green, white, black, purple, and burgundy. Creating a remarkable ambiance for your star grad is as simple as mixing and matching. For example: start with one school color for tablecloths, napkins, and chair sashes, a combo of both colors for balloons and centerpieces, and using the secondary color for table runners or overlays, plates, chargers, and chair covers. For example- say the school colors are navy blue and silver; cover the tables in navy blue tablecloths and dress the chairs in white or silver chair covers with navy blue sashes. Top tables with either table runners or overlays with a centerpiece using both colors. Decorated wooden numbers using the grad year is perfect for the center of the table or for any other room decor. Learn how to How To: Decorate Wood Numbers and Letters with Scrapbook Paper. Create “diplomas” using white napkins rolled and tied with black ribbon to place on the center of each plate. Tassel Garland in the school colors is perfect for streaming along walls or draping in front of tables.
8. Plan memorable photo ops
As a once in a lifetime milestone, plenty of photos are a must. Set up a photo booth with fun props like novelty jumbo glasses with the graduation year, photo prop signs like “best dressed”, “most athletic”, “biggest flirt”, and other fun titles, graduation caps, or other whimsical photo props. Create a backdrop with the grad year, tassel garland or a ribbon curtain with school colors and balloons. This is a great way to fill wall space in conjunction with creating the perfect photo backdrop. Perfect indoors or out, a balloon arch with a mix of balloons in the school colors double as a charming photo backdrop. Create an Instagram tag for the graduation party photos and create a sign saying “If you Instagram use this hashtag….e.g. #tommysgradparty” using a chalkboard or photo frame.
Show off your graduate by either creating a wall or table of his or her accomplishments, trophies, school memorabilia, and photos. If there is not enough to fill a wall or table, fill it with childhood photos or a school photo from each grade. A pennant photo banner, balloon photo banner, or slide show is another way to honor your grad. Slide shows are also perfect for entertaining guests, especially if some embarrassing photos are included. If he or she has a specific career path or college he/she will be attending, think about creating a wall or table with with tokens relevant to the college or career. Lastly, let guests leave lasting impressions on your grad with words of advice or special memories shared. Create a keys to success board, words of advice jar, or have guests jot down memories on Jenga blocks.
10. Properly give thanks
Assign someone the task of keeping a log of the gifts given. The majority of gifts will be cards with cash, gift cards, or checks inside, which will easily get lost in the mix. Made sure the grad takes the time to personally thank each guest as they leave. Sending them off with a little favor and memento of the grad is an excellent way to thank them for attending. Make sure the guest of honor takes the time to hand write a thank you card to each gift giver.