Child’s Away-From-Home Birthday Party Checklist

Have all the fun with a lot less work when the party is somewhere other than your house. Here’s a schedule to suit any outside venue.

One to Three Months Before

  1. Check Discuss with your child what kind of party he or she wants and whom to invite.

  2. Check Pick a date.

    You might check first with essential guests to make sure they’re available. Your child won’t be happy if his best friend isn’t there.

  3. Check Set a budget.

  4. Check Decide on the number of guests.

  5. Check Choose, visit, and book a venue.

    You are probably having a party at a venue because of the activity it provides (in other words, less balloon animal-making for you). Good options: a bowling alley, a museum, a pizza parlor, a zoo, a crafts shop, or a children’s play center. If the venue does not provide food, you can order pizzas and drinks to be delivered and bring a cake. Some fast-food restaurants with indoor playgrounds offer party packages including everything from cake to favors; other restaurants offer party rooms, better fare, hostesses, and entertainment.

  6. Check Find out the venue’s deadlines for final guest count, menu selection, and up-front and final payments.

    Mark these on your calendar or put them in your date book so you’ll be reminded.

  7. Check Decide on a theme, if you want one.

  8. Check Line up any entertainment (like magicians or clowns) you may want.

    You may get lucky with a last-minute reservation, but earlier is a safer bet. Ask for references of people who have used the entertainers recently, and check up. Be sure to ask if there are any setup requirements.

Four Weeks Before

  1. Check Send invitations.

    Make written invitations creative and coordinated with the party theme. Include venue details, an RSVP date, and start and end times, and indicate whether parents are invited to stay (parents of toddlers should remain). If you’ve chosen an outdoor venue, give an alternate indoor location or date in case of a rainy day.

  2. Check Decide on activities if the venue does not arrange them.

    Even if you are having the party at a bowling alley, you may want some calmer, quieter activities lined up for downtime—or some alternatives to keep kids busy who aren’t interested in bowling. If the presents will be opened, save that for the end. You can skip it if you run out of time.

  3. Check Ask the venue coordinator what decorations can be provided or brought in.

    Then, make a list of supplies (balloons, hats, music) you may need to get on your own. Check online sites like and

  4. Check Buy or order party favors that fit the theme (and goody bags to put them in) and prizes for the games.

Three Weeks Before

  1. Check Plan the menu.

    If the venue provides food, or if you’re hiring a caterer, work out the menu with them. Otherwise plan to have something simple, like pizzas, delivered to the venue; find out from the provider how much notice they need.

  2. Check Line up any help you may need.

    Enlist friends, older children, other relatives, or parents of party guests to help supervise activities. Consider hiring a high school student, your baby-sitter, or a professional to help supervise games, replenish food, and generally take some weight off your shoulders.

One Week Before

  1. Check Follow up on RSVP stragglers to get a final count.

  2. Check Confirm reservation for party venue.

  3. Check Confirm reservation for entertainment.

  4. Check Order or bake and freeze the cake.

  5. Check Check your list of needed supplies and purchase any missing pieces.

Three Days Before

  1. Check Prepare the cameras.

    Charge video camera and digital camera. Stock extra film or memory cards.

  2. Check Prepare goody bags.

One Day Before

  1. Check Order pizza or other takeout food.

  2. Check If opening presents is on the agenda, practice polite “thank you’s” with your child.

Day of the Party

  1. Check Pick up cake and balloons if ordered.

  2. Check Do any setup needed at the venue.

  3. Check Give parents who are staying tasks to oversee.

    They can help with games or supervise a craft so you’re free to run the show and keep kids from running amok.

  4. Check Make a list of gifts and who gave them.

  5. Check Send everyone off with party favors.

    Your child can hand them out and say thank you at the same time.

Two to Three Days Later

  1. Check Help your child send thank-you notes, and send your own to your helpers.