How to Throw an Unforgettable Birthday Party

How many birthday parties would you guess you've been to in your lifetime?

Dozens?  Hundreds?

Now think back to how many of those celebrations you actually remember.  

That's likely to be a muccccch smaller number, even though you probably enjoyed yourself.

(Want to learn the Top 10 Must Do's for Memorable Birthday Parties?  Click here.)


The reason we only remember a small fraction of the birthday parties we've attended is because most of these celebrations run together in our minds.

To be clear, the parties were probably very fun.  We likely mixed and mingled with friends and family, ate delicious food that included a slice of birthday cake, and watched the birthday person open up gifts.

But to make a birthday party something that permanently lodges in our memory bank, it has to hit a higher bar.

It has to be memorable.  

Definition of memorable to help you plan an unforgettable birthday party


To level set, I thought it was useful to check out the definition of the word.  Oxford Dictionaries offers this entry:

"Worth remembering or easily remembered,
especially because of being special or unusual."

Though the first part is obvious, I think the key words are hidden at the end of the entry.  For a birthday party to be one that people remember, there has to be something that's special or unusual about it. 

So how can we create a great event that's not only enjoyed by the guests, but one that's remembered---years later?

Milestone birthdays are the ones people remember most often.  Check out our Ultimate Guide to Milestone Birthdays for awesome tips!


I was recently introduced to The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact.  This NY Times best-seller by Chip and Dan Heath was a great read and offered some valuable nuggets on how to make your next birthday party stand out.  (Do the authors sound familiar?  They also wrote Made to Stick and Switch.)

Similar to the example above where you likely recalled only a very small fraction of the birthday parties you've ever attended, they found that people tend to remember a teeny tiny fraction of our experiences.  

And those experiences we do remember?  They tend to have an extraordinary impact on us.

The authors contend that our most memorable positive moments have one or more of the following characteristics:

    • Elevation-the moment rises above our normal routine
    • Insight-an "Aha!" moment where we realize something
    • Pride-the moment celebrates people's achievements
    • Connection-the moments that link us together  

    The Power of Moments makes the case for celebrating milestone birthdays for your wife or girlfriend

    By deliberately creating experiences with these characteristics, we can increase the likelihood a moment will be savored...and remembered.   


    Using the elements of memorable positive moments from The Power of Moments, we can architect a party that is unforgettable.  In particular:

    1. Elevation

    Take a typical birthday celebration and make it a little more special.  What's typical?  How much is a little more special?  It's all relative. Just think about what's normal for you and then go above and beyond.

      If you're like the ~97% of Americans who only use their dining room for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, elevate your next family birthday party by having birthday cake in the dining room.  Go crazy and serve the cake on your best China while you're at it.  I bet the kids will talk about it for years to come.
      Need an idea for a dining room table centerpiece?  Check out our 
      Birthday party celebration at home in fancy dining room
      If you always take your spouse out to dinner in honor of their birthday, try announcing during dessert that there's more fun to be had.  You could go out dancing, check out that drive-in movie theatre you've passed by dozens of times but never gone to...

      2. Insight

      As host of the party, you are in the unique position of serving as the intermediary between the birthday person and the guests. You can help your party guests learn more about the birthday person by sharing details that may not be well-known...or that have been forgotten.  You can also discreetly relay the birthday person's wishes to the guests.

      One of the best examples of how you can use insight to create a memorable birthday party comes from a woman I used to know named Sharon. Her husband, a judge who was a tad...stuffy...really had a thing for women in red shoes.  
      Even though his birthday party wasn't a surprise, he was STUNNED when he walked into the room and saw that every woman was wearing red pumps. Rumor has it that his face was as red as the stilettos!

      Red high heels from a birthday party for a man turning 50

       3. Pride
      Birthday parties are a wonderful way to celebrate someone we love and acknowledge their special day, so this one almost takes care of itself...almost.  
        An easy way to make the birthday party memorable and share how proud you are of the birthday person is to incorporate photos of the birthday person into your decorations.  It's a fun way to look back at special moments and it's a great way to stimulate conversation between party guests. 
        birthday girl photos for turning 50 years old above a fireplace
        I was lucky enough to have a friend throw a birthday party for me recently. She had photos of me everywhere---on the front door, on the table, above the fireplace...even on the vanity in the bathroom!  I laughed and laughed. 
        Among  the comments from the party guests: 'I will never forget seeing that larger-than-life photo of you over the fireplace' and 'There were more pictures of you than I have of my kids.'  Memorable. 

          4. Connection

          Birthday parties are testament to the importance of relationships in our lives. The party host cares enough about the celebrant to organize the event. Each and every guest who attends?  Out of everything else they could be doing right now, they've chosen to help you celebrate your birthday. 

          A fun and easy way to  connect people at a dinner party in honor of someone's birthday is to slide slips of paper with trivia questions about the birthday person under each person's place setting. 

          As people are finishing their food or at that first lull in conversation, ask someone to look under their plate.  A question like, 'How old was Terry when she went on her first date?' or 'Why did Terry get thrown out of her first apartment?' is sure to get people talking. 


            Whether your wife or girlfriend is celebrating turning 50 (or any other year) or if  it's your husband, nephew, best friend or neighbor who has a birthday coming up, hosting a wonderful birthday party involves a great deal of effort and expense.

            It's nice to know we can increase our odds of having an amazing event that entertains AND is unforgettable.

            This post was a companion piece to Ask this One Question to Make Your Birthday Party Memorable.

            If you know someone turning 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 or 80, you might enjoy our Ultimate Guide to Milestone Birthdays


            4 Ways to Throw an Unforgettable Party-Birthday Butler