In the last several years I have helped plan many a 50th anniversary party, as well as given two. One party was in honor of my parent’s 50 years together, the other to honor the same for my in-laws. I frequently receive calls and emails from my clients saying how much the anniversary party meant to the anniversary couple and how often their guests still talk about it. This article will summarize some of the party planning aspects that make the biggest impact on the celebrants and their guests
Mailed invitations are a must: Although today it is absolutely acceptable to send email invitations for many types of events, a 50th anniversary party is not one of those. However, it is acceptable to send ‘save the date’ notes by email and I highly recommend doing this. There are several free online services that offer this (type the words “free online save the date” in a search bar to find some). For those guests that aren’t proficient in email – a ‘save the date’ phone call to them would be appropriate.
Similar to wedding invitations, the formal 50th anniversary party invitations ideally should be sent out 8 weeks before the party so that those who need to make travel arrangements can do so. Make sure you include a RSVP reply date, as well as your contact information (I recommend providing a phone number and email address). To help with your planning, set the ‘reply by’ date about 3 weeks before the actual event. Not everyone will reply by then, but it will certainly help cut down the number of follow-up calls you need to make.
Assist those that are coming from out of town with their hotel accommodations and transportation needs: In all likelihood you will have family and friends coming to the party that live in other cities and states. Help make it easier on them by doing a bit of research ahead of time and including a separate page with the compiled information inside the invitation envelope for those guests who will require accommodations. Things to research and include:
- Provide the name, phone number, and website for one or two conveniently located hotels. Call these properties ahead of time and ask for the best rate for the weekend of the party as well as room availability. Provide the rate information on the invitation insert page.
- Include directions to the party from each hotel as well as the approximate time it takes to travel from the hotel to the party.
- Also provide the name, phone number and website for one or two car rental services. Again, call ahead and ask for best rates and provide this information. For those guests who don’t need to rent a vehicle but do need transportation to and from the airport – also include the name, number, and website of companies that provide this service (airport limousine services, private transportation services, and taxis) along with their rates. In large cities some hotels provide this service free of charge – inquire when you call about availability and rates. (You may also choose to enlist family members or friends to transport out-of-town guests.)
Food and Beverages: Everyone looks forward to the food and drink at parties, not so much because it is free, but because they didn’t have to prepare it and because they are hoping for something interesting and delicious. Don’t disappoint! If you aren’t into cooking or entertaining and don’t have ideas as to what to serve, solicit the help from a friend or two that does do a lot of both. If you have it catered ask the company for sample menus from past parties that they catered. It will provide you with great ideas as well as with general pricing information.
If it is an afternoon or evening event that doesn’t include an actual meal, you’ll want to offer a good variety of appetizer-like items. Items that can be eaten out of hand (no utensils) are terrific. And make sure that you have enough – better to have too much than too little. There are many terrific cookbooks that specialize in just this type of food. The web is also a wealth of information when it comes to recommendations and recipes for appetizer parties (type “planning an appetizer party” in the search bar).
If you are serving a meal just think of ‘balance’. You’ll want one or two entrée choices, at least one starch (although I always recommend also serving rolls & butter too), and at least one vegetable. If it isn’t a sit down meal I always provide at least a choice of two items for each component of the meal (entrée, starch, vegetable) but it isn’t necessary if that seems like too much. I would also recommend serving a hearty salad (meaning make sure it contains several ingredients such as tomatoes, cucumbers, croutons, red onion, and perhaps some grated or crumbled cheese) for those guests who prefer to eat lighter. Offer them a choice of at least two salad dressings.
As for beverages – the usual water, diet and regular soft drinks, and perhaps lemonade should be offered. If you choose to serve alcohol cater to the taste of the couple and most of the guests. Are they beer, cocktail, and/or wine drinkers? I do recommend that you splurge on having a champagne toast from all the guests to the happy couple. Most party supply shops, and even many grocery stores, sell small plastic stemmed cups that are perfect for toasting. As for the champagne, you don’t need to spend much – but you need to make sure it tastes good. Visit a local wine merchant, tell them your price range and let them recommend a few bottles to you. For my parent’s party we were able to obtain very good Californian ‘Champagne’ for about $18 per bottle. Since you don’t need to pour full glasses, just enough for a toast and a bit more, you need not buy a lot of it.
This celebration definitely calls for a decorated cake. A cake that resembles a wedding cake is always a nice choice, but it does cost more. I’m sure that the ‘bride’ remembers well how her wedding cake was decorated – ask her about it and perhaps you can have the bakery embellish a sheet cake to resemble the wedding cake to some degree (for example – maybe she had yellow and pink roses on her wedding cake). It is always nice to personalize the cake with the guest of honor’s names such as “Happy 50th Anniversary Robert and Joan”.
Decorations and Ambiance: Creating a festive mood for a party is, in part, accomplished by the decorations and music. Since every one knows that a 50th wedding anniversary is their golden anniversary – decorating with gold-colored touches is perfect and easy to do. I always recommend balloon bouquets. If you use only the latex balloons they are quite affordable. Mylar balloons are a nice touch – but they can get pricey. I like using two colors for the bouquets – one of which is gold. You can also typically find “Happy 50th Wedding Anniversary” banners at party supply stores or even at stores like Target. You can also choose gold-theme paper plates, napkins and cups. I also like to set out a couple of vases of fresh flowers – it lends a nice touch to the decor. You may want to find out what flowers the bride had in her bouquet and purchase similar flowers or at least flowers in the same color family.
You can also set the mood with music. Ask your celebrants what their favorite type of music is and if they have a favorite singer. And ask them what songs and artists were popular when they got married. If they have an ‘our song’ or a song that they danced their first dance as a married couple to make sure you play it during the party.
“And a word from our guests of honor”: This part of the party elicits anything from hearty laughter to heart-felt tears from the ‘audience’ – depending on what celebrants share. In advance of the party ask the couple being honored “what is the secret behind the success of your marriage?” Ask them if they are willing to share those reflections with others during the party. If they are uncomfortable speaking in front of a group – ask if it would be okay for the host or hostess to share them. At my parent’s party my father told those that had come to share that special day that “being married to my best friend is the secret.” He then elaborated on how she had seen him through his best times and worst and how she looked with respect upon his strengths and loved him dearly despite his flaws. There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience by the time he finished. But at a friend’s parent’s party the wife told her guests that their secret was “earplugs. The room practically shakes when he snores”. Tears resulted, but they were tears of laughter!
Also – find out a head of time if the couple being honored would like a few minutes to address their guests aside from sharing their secrets to success. Most couples want , at the very least , to have an opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to their guests for coming, although quite a few also take the opportunity to say more.
Finally, thank your guests for coming: Gracious hosts always make sure that they personally thank their guests for coming. Guests then leave the party feeling that their attendance was truly appreciated. I always like to send guests home with a little ‘thank you’ bag to remember the event with. You need not fill it with expensive items – one or two small favors are perfect. I love to include cookies decorated especially for the occasion as well anything which incorporates a photo of the couple.