There’s a certain expectation if you’re the spouse, child or best friend on the planet of someone who’s approaching a BIG milestone birthday. You need to make an occasion of it, possibly throw a party, definitely make it memorable and unique. And I have to tell you, the bigger that birthday number gets, the harder it can be. If for no other reason then they have been there and done that on previous birthdays!
Pre Betsy Benn days, I was an events manager for over a decade, and that has definitely been helpful in planning birthday parties and celebratory occasions, and never more so than in planning my husbands 50th birthday. For anyone who hasn’t been an events planner, or for anyone who just fancies a bit of inspiration, here’s what we did.
Planning a big milestone birthday
My husband is a big foodie; he loves to shop for food, cook food, eat food, and talk about all the good food he’s just eaten. All with a glass of red in hand. For his 50th birthday then, it was almost a no brainer that food had to be a central part of the event.
Having a quick count up of numbers, I figured that there’d be maybe 14-18 of us. More than I want to cook for at home, but definitely do-able at a restaurant. Only trouble is we’ve been to most of the great restaurants in Cheltenham for lots of other birthdays, anniversaries, all sorts.
There was one we’d only been to once before that we loved, and another that he’d not been to but I had and I knew he’d love it. And that’s when I had the idea of doing a fine dine around - four different restaurants in town and one course at each. Oh, and I was going to keep the details of the event secret from my husband. Just to make it even more challenging!
The first thing when planning any kind of event like this is to secure the date in people’s diaries and get a ball park of numbers. My husband’s birthday is in April so almost immediately after Christmas I sent the first diary holder notification to our friends. You absolutely have to get in early with restaurants if you want to secure a group booking and as this was going to have the added challenge of securing four different venues, it had to be started even earlier.
Date set, I began approaching restaurants.
If you’re looking at creating a dine around event like this for a big birthday, get the menus up in front of you and study the starters. A truly great restaurant will put as much effort and attention into their starters as every other course and if you’re doing a dine around, you might only have starters in every venue.
Does one of the restaurants have a starter that they are renowned for? This was the case with one of our restaurants, Le Petit Coco. They have the most amazing cheese soufflé I’ve ever tasted. A cloud of fluffy cheese surrounded by a bubbling sea of molten cheese, it is to die for. If you have a dish that you simply must have, then I recommend you begin the evening there, and secure that restaurant first.
The first restaurant and final restaurant will be the most tricky to secure. Some restaurants really won’t want to get involved, and some will embrace the idea so be flexible where you can.
Most restaurants have two sittings for the evening, an early and a late. This will cover your two middle courses if you’re having four in total. So, you may need to be prepared to have your first course much earlier than normal. Our first course had us seated at 5pm with a maximum time for the table of 1 hour 15 minutes.
This time limit allows the restaurant to clear the table and resell again for a later sitting. Be helpful. Be clear and honest to the restaurant on your intentions. Even though technically you could just arrive for one course and then leave without explanation, it would just be bad form to do that, and you may never be welcomed back into that establishment!
Our second course was at local French Asian fusion restaurant, Muse, and was again selected from the starter menu. Our third course was at a restaurant in a hotel and we went with mains, but I wish we’d stuck with starters as most of us were full by the time we moved on to the pudding venue.
Allow at least an hour and a quarter for each course and movement between venues. Some venues will use all that time (especially if an enormous soufflé is in the mix) some venues will finish much quicker.
If you do have time, bring something to fill in the gaps. I constructed a quiz sheet on all things related to my hubby and provided pens in a handy envelope. This filled in time between courses and also was a great conversation starter between guests that may not have known each other at the start. The front of the envelope also had everyone’s menu choices, in beautiful calligraphy though I say so myself. Helpful for the waiting staff as well as the guests.
Speaking of menus, pre-choose everything. I restricted the choice of food to three options per course, and asked everyone to select beforehand. This is super helpful for the restaurant and way less stress for you. Luckily, I’m pretty good at knowing what my husband likes to eat so I didn’t have to spoil the surprise for him.
Also pre-choose the wine. Once you know what most people are eating you can ask for recommendations for wine from the restaurant or choose your favourites. Agree with the restaurant how much wine will be on the table when you arrive and what else like sparkling water, or tap water.
How to pay for it! Work out a per head cost and ask your guests to pay that up front to you and then you pay on the day. I’d saved some funds in advance of the party so I worked out what the per head cost for the food would be and asked the guests to pay that and I agreed to cover all wine, beer, soft drinks and champagne on arrival: cocktails and spirits were on everyone else. This avoids that awkward and complicated end of night splitting the bill, which is by far my least favourite part of a group meal out.
On the day, take one inflatable balloon to each restaurant. This allows you to build the suspense for the birthday boy/girl... how many balloons are they collecting... but also allows you to walk the route, and physically check that everything is sorted and all restaurants are happy with the plan.
Then just sit back, enjoy the food, and bask in the adoration for organising such a kick-arse event.