Planning The Perfect Graduation Party

By Karen Deer

St. Louis Post-Dispatch


A graduation party is a day that celebrates a pivotal moment in your life. It’s also a day you want your child to remember. From the invites to the decorations to the food, a lot of planning and preparation goes into the perfect graduation party, and it can be overwhelming if not organized. Try a basic checklist. It will help you cover the necessities for any graduation celebration.

Set your date three to six months in advance. Start spreading the word to family and friends so they can mark it on their calendars.

Most middle school and high school students get out of school the end of May, so consider planning an early June party. One thing to remember: Many families with younger children, plan weekend summer getaways, so the earlier the better.

Your college grad party could be scheduled as early as May. But if the grad is taking summer classes to complete a degree, an August graduation party could be the answer.

Besides a wedding, this could be the second most expensive party you plan for your child. Set a dollar amount and stick to it.

If you opt for a home party, make sure you can accommodate your guests with plenty of seating. A tent placed outdoors with additional seating can be a good idea. Check with schools and churches in your area to see if they rent tables and chairs. If you’re a member, you may receive discounted rental prices.

Other locations include:

Parks — city and county parks often have pavilions that can be reserved for group events.

Apartment and subdivision party rooms—If a friend or relative lives in an apartment complex or a private subdivision, they may have a clubhouse or party room available for residents. Usually, there is a fee for rental, but it might be minimal.

Restaurants—If you don’t think there will be enough room in your home, call around to area restaurants for party rooms. Many restaurants can accommodate small and large parties, and it could be less work for you.

Bowling lanes—This could be an option for a younger graduation party. Consider renting the entire place and have a bowling party.

Health clubs—Some clubs have party rooms. If you’re a member you could receive a discounted rate.

Banquet facilities—Local banquet halls can accommodate small parties. “Rates are cheaper on Friday evenings, during the day on Saturdays, and all day Sunday,” says Matt Casalone, owner of Genesis Banquet in St. Louis County. “Weddings occur on Saturday nights, and that’s prime time,” he adds.

Send invites out around the time of graduation, or at least three weeks before the graduation party.

Choose a theme in the early stages of planning. With a little thought, you can match your invites, decorations and the type of food to your theme. Popular grad themes include: sports themed, a Luau-themed party, a sail-away party (for the college grad relocating to another city), Western-themed and more. Pizza parties are fun for younger kids. You can set up your delivery service at different times to have hot pizzas served throughout your party. Mexican-themed parties are also on high on the list for graduation parties.

Your menu can be decided once you’ve chosen your theme. For example, if you choose an all-star baseball-themed graduation party, think ballpark food. The menu can be as simple as roasted hot dogs, brats and a nachos station complete with a crock pot filled with hot shredded beef. Fill bowls with peanuts and set out boxes of cracker jacks.

The No. 1 choice is a graduation cake. If you choose a custom cake, talk to the baker to bring in a special design to match your theme. Cupcakes and cake pops in school colors are fun for the younger crowd. If you dare to be different, try chilled crepes filled with fruit. They can be prepared ahead of time, and removed from the refrigerator as needed.

Besides the basic fun party decorations such as balloons and streamers, photo walls are the new rage. This is an easy process. Dig out photos of your child from birth to present day. Get creative by arranging the photos on a wall. Family and friends can reminisce about the good old days. Or, try a collage photo frame.

Create a centerpiece for the food table. We designed a quick and easy style by filling a photo frame vase with glass pebbles and inserting a photo of the grad. Vases available at and



We talked with owner and lead party consultant Simcha Lourie of Simcha’s Events in Creve Coeur, Mo. ( She offered some expert advice for planning your graduation party:

How much food should a hostess prepare for a graduation party? — Most importantly, you don’t want to run out of food. Rather than focusing on having large quantities, I like having a large variety to give guests plenty to choose from. I recommend 10 to 12 different items, mixed between appetizers and entrées, both hot and cold options.

Is one large sheet cake enough? — I’m all about variety and convenience for guests. You can offer a quarter- or half-sheet cake if you want to have a congratulatory message on it, and then complement it with miniature dessert bites, mini cupcakes or fresh fruit kebabs. Or, hire a gelato cart to come to your house, which you can arrange for about $3 a person. It will make an impact on your guests.

What about finger foods? — At a graduation party, your guests will want to walk around to socialize. Because you may not have seats for everyone, consider what can be enjoyed on a cocktail-size plate while also having a drink nearby. Smaller, bite-size food items that are easier to eat are preferable than anything that requires utensils. Chicken wings, for example, can be messy and leave guests with the bones.

Don’t feel like you’re limited to tailgating food. You can introduce unique items like California rolls, individual shrimp cocktails, skewers of tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella, and mini sliders, I also like setting up a dips and spreads table that includes items such as hummus and grilled and chilled vegetables.

What are your thoughts on food and beverage stations? — A few food stations in various locations work well to prevent long lines and keep guests from congregating in one area. For a beverage station, I think it’s fun to do different infused non-alcohol drinks, like a strawberry lemonade with fresh strawberries and raspberries to make it fun and festive. Limit the amount of soft drinks to two to three options; you don’t have to offer everything. You also can buy cute straws in various colors on Etsy to tie in the color scheme. If you’ll have guests who are 21 and older, it’s nice to offer alcohol beverage options. Beer, wine and one liquor-infused drink will provide enough variety. Rather than keeping the beer hidden in coolers, display it in iced buckets at your drink station. Most importantly, ensure that alcohol is being enjoyed responsibly by adults and is off-limits to those under 21.

Afternoon or evening party? — Unless you have a specific call time for the meal and enough seats for everyone, plan on having guests come and go at different times. Most graduation parties are a drop-by style party, like an open house, so an afternoon event works well. It allows people to attend around their schedules and doesn’t risk interfering with evening plans, or require families with small children to arrange for babysitting.

How do you feel about cookouts for a graduation party? — I don’t recommend doing the cooking yourself. It takes you away from hosting and entertaining. It’s important that you appear to be enjoying the party. If you’re busy running around, cooking, and not socializing, it comes across that you’re stressed and unorganized, and impacts the energy of your party.



3 to 6 months ahead—Pick date and location. Select theme. Determine budget. Call caterers and restaurants (if not planning a home party). Order or make invites.

2 months ahead—Prepare food list and collect memorabilia and photos. Start assembling photo walls and collages. Order rental items.

One month ahead—Buy thank you notes and stamps. Buy all paper products and serving pieces. Make or buy centerpiece. Get decorations. Order catered food.

Three weeks ahead—Mail out invites. Buy extra batteries for camera and video (or consider hiring a professional photographer). Purchase leftover containers, plastic wrap and foil.

Two weeks ahead—Pick up beverages. Confirm delivery of rental equipment. Shop for food.

Week of the party—Clean up yard, sweep driveway, gather coolers, crock pots and serving platters. Prepare food.

Two days before party—Set up decorations, tables and arrange furniture. Pick up cake. Get ice. Prepare last-minute food.

Day of party—Set up outside tent. Drop off pet to a neighbor. Pick up balloons. Set up trash containers. Nonperishable food can be set out early and save the perishable food for last-minute set up.


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