- Keep it casual (and rainproof.) You're throwing a party that's all about the young people — even if many older family members are present. You don't want to be too formal, so leave the fancy place settings and complicated cooking for another event. A backyard is homey and perfect for a grad party, but be sure you have a rain option, whether it's moving the festivities to the living room or a covered porch. If you're leasing space at a local park, make sure there's a shelter included in your rental fee, just in case the weather turns ugly.
- Pick the date wisely. Do a little networking and find out when other families are holding their grad parties. There are two schools of thought: Either try to pick a date that no one else has snagged yet; or pick the same date other families have, especially if your kids share many of the same friends. If you stagger the start and end times, guests can hit several parties in a row on the same day.
- Combine forces with another family. If your kids have the same friend group, you can save money and effort — and maximize the fun — by throwing one joint party. Get together a few weeks before the big day and decide who's doing what, divvying up responsibilities for food, paper products, drinks and decorations. Make sure to think of all aspects of the party: Who's sending the invites? How many guests? Who's responsible for cleanup?
- Go buffet-style. Since many of your guests will be hitting more than one party that day, they may not eat a whole meal. That's why a buffet — less waste, less hassle — is the way to go. Choose a teen-friendly theme, whether it's a burrito bar, mini sliders or pizza with a variety of toppings. Fruit and veggies are easy sides, along with prepared Cole slaw or potato salad. Be sure to have plenty of sturdy paper or plastic plates, cutlery and napkins on hand. Wet wipes are a nice addition to any buffet, especially if you're serving something with sauce, like chicken wings.
- Serve grab-and-go food. Even if you have seating, many of your teenage guests are going to be eating on the run; so items like walking tacos or a ready-made sandwich ring are terrific choices. (Plus, there's almost no prep work.)
- Provide a decorated box for gift envelopes. Skip the cumbersome, space-wasting gift table; most guests bring cards — many containing cash or checks — to a grad party. (If your kid gets a few wrapped gifts, they can always stash them elsewhere.) Make sure the box is placed where someone responsible can keep an eye on it.
- Keep drinks simple. Teens will appreciate a few coolers stocked with ice, soda, lemonade and water bottles. You can have some fun with retro touches like the Little Hugs or juice boxes your graduate loved way back when.
- Opt for Food Lion cupcakes instead of a sheet cake. Cupcakes are way easier to eat standing up or on the go. If you simply must have a congratulatory cake with your child's name on it, you can always opt for a smaller one along with an order of cupcakes — all in your kid's school colors.
- Decorate with little kid photos of your big kid. Blow up a few shots of your graduate at various ages and place them strategically around your space (by the envelope box, the dessert station or on a table near the entryway) for some “aw" moments. Looking at photos invites guests to mingle; adults who've never met (your kid's great-aunt and his best friend's mom, for instance) have a common starting point for conversation.
- Have some entertainment — but keep it simple. You want to give guests something to do, but remember the focus is on the kids. If your party is outside, include corn hole, badminton or bingo. Aim for something fun, but not so athletic that many people might feel left out.
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It's that time of the year: graduation parties galore! But just because your youngin' put in all that hard work, time and energy to get that diploma doesn't mean planning the perfect graduation party has to be as strenuous. Throwing a graduation should be just as fun as attending one. Whether your grad party is a simple family affair in the backyard, or you've rented a venue that holds hundreds, the festivities will go more smoothly if you keep the following tips in mind.