How to Plan a Surprise Engagement Party

Shhh—it's a secret!

bride and groom


Planning an engagement party can come in many forms, from throwing an elegant soirée to putting together a backyard BBQ. And while most engagement parties are traditionally hosted by the couple of honor, for those who'd like to do something unique for their loved ones, a surprise party is an event to consider for a truly memorable occasion.

Whether you’re preparing to surprise your partner, or looking to create a sentimental moment for your newly engaged friend or family member, there are many reasons why people choose to host this exciting celebration. That's why, we consulted with an expert to help shed light on the best tips to follow when organizing this wedding-worthy event. Read on to learn more, including advice on how to plan a surprise engagement party on a budget.

Meet the Expert

Rebecca Martens is the owner of Belle Events, a full-service event planning company based in Houston, Texas.

Create the Budget

Before heading out to start swiping your credit card, you should first establish a budget and outline exactly what you're able to afford. According to Rebecca Martens, owner of Belle Events, the first step in appropriately allocating your funds is to conduct market research, including finding a venue and understanding all the respective fees that may come with this particular location. “There will be a venue at every price point, but location, service, and parking are all factors that you need to determine if it is a good fit,” she says.

In addition to the venue, you'll also want to determine how much you're able to spend on outside vendors, food, décor, entertainment, and invitations. What's more, for those on a budget, it's extremely important that you adhere to your budget in order to minimize any stress while planning. “Evaluate if that budget makes sense for you—and if not, continue shopping to find what seems reasonable to you," Martens adds. Thus, consider renting a few items to save money on décor, opt to host the celebration in someone's backyard to save money on the venue, or keep the guest list small to decrease the amount you have to spend overall.

In the end, however, "The couple will be happy no matter what because you took the time and energy to put together a celebration in their honor," Martens notes. So whether you're planning an engagement party on a budget, or you have unlimited funds to celebrate the to-be-weds, you don't need to overextend yourself financially to plan a memorable event.

Plan the Guest List

Once you have your budget locked in, your next step is to ensure that the guests are all on board. And when it comes to creating a guest list, it's important that you invite family and friends who have a great relationship with the couple, or with you and your partner. After all, engagement parties are typically a bit more intimate.

“When thinking through who should attend, keep it simple,” says Martens. “What is the potential guest's relationship with the couple? Do they speak frequently and are they family? Getting engaged is a huge amount of emotions for a couple, from the excitement of the proposal to the upcoming anxiety of planning the wedding. It is important to make sure your couple doesn't feel burdened at the party. Allow them to be engulfed in close relationships with people that genuinely want to celebrate their love.”

Lastly, once the list has been finalized, be sure that all guests know that you're planning a surprise. “You cannot over-communicate this to your guests enough,” adds Martens. So for those planning a party for a couple (rather than your own partner), ensure that everyone has fake plans to share in case the couple asks to get together. Planning the surprise for your partner? Use the help of a close friend or family member to get them to the venue. To pull off the surprise, you’ll definitely need support from people who will vow to keep the celebration a secret.

Get Personal With the Venue and Décor

The theme and décor for a surprise engagement party should reflect you and your partner together, or the couple of honor if being planned by a loved one. “Think outside of the box to reserve a coffee shop, bookstore, boutique, museum, bar, or park,” suggests Martens. “These options are not common and might otherwise be closed, therefore, they may be open to a buyout at a great price for the evening. Restaurants have built-in tables, food, and servers, so restaurants make planning easy. If you go this route, consider a private room so that the couple can be themselves with their guests and have privacy.”

What's more, depending on your venue, it may not be necessary to do a lot of decorating. Instead, focus on simple touches that represent you and your partner or the couple you’re planning for—like signature drinks, photos, and fun games—to truly make for a special occasion. Additionally, if you're planning to hand out favors, consider useful items that guests can take home, or snacks and drinks they can enjoy. Remember, there’s beauty in keeping things simple.

Hire a Photographer

Whether you’re surprising your partner or planning for your favorite couple, a photographer is crucial to capturing the celebration. So, when booking a photographer for the event, be sure to provide them with a desired shot list, in addition to an early arrival time to ensure they're able to set up and capture the surprise entrance.

Finally, once the party is over and all photos are ready to be reviewed, consider compiling the images to create a thoughtful gift. “At the beginning [of the engagement], the engaged couple is overwhelmed with questions about wedding and reception planning. Compiling and documenting the engagement party becomes a distant memory once the planning is in full swing,” says Martens. “An album would be a thoughtful gift to commemorate the kick-off to this special season of their lives!"

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