Help me brainstorm some birthday ideas for a milestone birthday
April 29, 2018 3:45 PM   Subscribe

A two-part question 1) Did you do something for a milestone birthday that you really enjoyed? 2) given my internet-person restrictions, could you make some suggestions for me?

I'm approaching half a century in a few months and it's been a pretty good run. I am a grown-up lady who enjoys birthday parties, mostly getting a chunk of my friends together somewhere and maybe having cake and snacks. A librarian friend of mine just did hers in a nifty library (and I went to one several years ago in a nifty movie theater) and it made me think I could, you know, PLAN something.

However, when I plan things it's usually "Hey everyone come over whenever you want and we'll have hot dogs and beer!" and I get a random assortment of people because hot dogs are not THAT tantalizing and this is not really a plan. Also I make myself nuts doing set-up and takedown and making sure everyone has the right hot dog for them and it's not setting myself up for success. Also I have a higher than hot dog budget if I want to, so I should think about that, but I've only ever had hot-dog-budget level parties. What else is available? What did you do?

My friends are a combination of my age and older/younger. Some have kids. My goal is to hang out with people, not, for instance, all attend a thing together or have a sit down meal together. I have a partner and a sister who could help me put something together. I'd like something that could work for ten people or for fifty. We're not real big drinkers. Maybe it's just as simple as saying "We're having hot dogs and beer FOR MY 50th, come over at 3" and not worrying about people's special hot dogs? Your input welcome, I'm still at the brainstorming stage. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I love throwing casual parties like this. I usually do more then hit dogs though; my favorite menu currently is pulled pork sliders, coleslaw, mac & cheese, baked beans, caprese "salad," and various ice creams and/or cake at the end. Or brownies. You could grill some chicken for the non-pork eaters, throw some veggie dogs or veggie burgers on the grill for the vegetarians...the varieties are really pretty endless. And beer, of course. But I *love* cooking and I especially love cooking for other people. YMMV.

We also like to turn dinner parties like these into outdoor movie nights where we set up a screen of some sort (garage door, tightly stretched sheet, etc.) and view a movie or two when it gets dark. Everyone brings movie candy and shares it, we pop popcorn, all that jazz.

If that's too unsociable, maybe have a fire pit for when it gets dark. I love sitting around the fire making S'Mores, drinking beer, laughing, talking. Whatever you decide to do, absolutely mention it's for your birthday. Your friends will love getting together with you no matter what! Happy upcoming birthday!!
posted by cooker girl at 3:56 PM on April 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

I love little more in life than gatherings like this. I tend to tell people what hot dogs I will have and let them know their special hot dogs are welcome if mine don’t suit their needs. We tend to supply pork bratwurst and whatever veggie hot dog is on sale. Some people bring $3 co-op dogs. Some people bring engineered quinoa.

Honestly, letting them know it’s your milestone birthday hotdog party, and that you’d like them to join you is enough.
posted by advicepig at 4:04 PM on April 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

For my 40th I bought out* a room in our favorite bar and paid for a punch bowl and some hors d'oeuvres, but then people were on their own tabs for the rest of the night. That's maybe a little less useful for the "not big drinkers" detail, but you could just as easily buy out a room in a restaurant.

* Note: our deal was not technically a buyout, but a guaranteed minimum. The punch bowl, etc, got us about halfway to the guarantee, and our friends ate and drank enough that the bar asked us to invite our friends more often.

For my wife's 40th we borrowed a theater space and I hired a live karaoke band. Her party cost more than mine did, but it was worth it.

You can also do stuff like rent a bouncy castle or hire a face painter, and/or have a food truck park in front of your house. Get ice cream delivered along with somebody to scoop it. Get a cake made with a cat scan photo printed on it, or something else appropriately internetty.

Have a block party and get a permit to close the street, even (that might make the bouncy castle a little easier).
posted by fedward at 4:21 PM on April 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

We had some friends who had a handfasting ceremony at their house, and the reception was a sort of potluck dinner. They had several rooms where people could wander and seating areas where they could sit and talk to each other, as well as an outdoor area (the deck, where the ceremony had taken place earlier).

The elements that I liked was there was a long table in the kitchen with all of the potluck meals, and enough room there for people to stand around and talk. But there was also another room for people to gather and sit and talk. And another area (outside) for people to also gather.

I've also seen this at Celebration of Life gatherings. At a town hall. Someone gets up on stage and talks, other people talk, then someone tells jokes (helps if you have a good joke-telling person) and then they all migrate to the table of food and then sit at tables and talk. This was in Vermont.

So I think my suggestion is that you rent a town hall, either in Vermont or Massachusetts, and have your SO coordinate the bringing of the food, and then maybe get a special friend to make cake (if you like cake, or some other dessert), and then welcome people to your town hall and all have a good time. Maybe letting people get up and tell stories about you, if you are okay with that, or playing games, having games tables, but otherwise just having a relaxing time and some good food with people. Sort of like a meet-up, but it's your birthday.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:50 PM on April 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

I threw myself a 30th birthday party several years ago. One of my sisters was in charge of the cake and a friend handled all of the decorations (twinkle lights, little flower bouqets, and big tissue paper flowers hanging from the ceiling). The best thing about the party was that I decided to throw a little money at it and have the thing catered. A friend of a friend who likes food and event planning did all of the food; it was such a relief to not have to think about whether things were warm or needed refilling. That, more than anything else, really allowed me to just have fun and socialize with my favorite people. Have a lovely party!
posted by WaspEnterprises at 5:56 PM on April 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Seconding advicepig. I honestly think you answered your own question. Tell your friends that it is a milestone birthday and give them a time to be there. I bet they show up. If you want to make it more special, upgrade the hotdogs and the beer and let your friends spoil you if they so desire.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 5:56 PM on April 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

To make this awesome, and since you have extra money in the budget, you should hire a house cleaner for both before and after to make it easy for you instead of a lot of work.

And order all the food in. I did this once with Indian food; my favorite restaurant provided big pans of the dishes I selected and a ton of naan bread. It didn't cost all that much And we had a ton of great leftovers for the rest of the week!
posted by metasarah at 6:17 PM on April 29, 2018 [9 favorites]

I just had my 46th at my local tabletop games place. I rented a big table for the evening and people came whenever. I provided a decorative setup and sorted cupcakes and canned prosecco with the venue. It works for all ages and if you want to be at home, a deli or restaurant can cater to make it easier on you?
posted by DarlingBri at 6:29 PM on April 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

I did a last minute milestone birthday party that took a signifier of middle aged Korean ladyness (the visor) as its theme. Visors were provided as party favors (an assortment to choose from, so people could find their own style). We had a picnic, followed by a walk around the park (all of us wearing visors of course). Maybe you can find some object with meaning (either specific to 50 or to you in general) and build the party around that?
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:18 PM on April 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

Some museums will let you rent out a room (or the whole museum, if it's a smaller place) for events- think places where you've seen kids' birthday parties, or weddings. There's no reason you couldn't do this for a birthday- you and your friends get to hang out and be all casual in super cool surroundings that you wouldn't usually get to loiter in, and everyone gets free admission. Selfishly, this also sort of appeals to me because your friends will be forced to check out whatever museum you've been raving about lately that they'd really like but they'll probably never get around to checking out unless you drag them there. For example, I have some family who would probably choose the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Or if it were my landmark birthday, I'd choose the Rice Museum of Rocks and Minerals.

And regardless if it's at home or out- I think catering would be worth it, for sure. This could be as simple as picking up giant trays of bbq or whatever and setting up a little buffet with food warmers- only barely fancier or more expensive than hot dogs or potato salad, but so much easier for prep for you. And if it turns out only 10 people come- they all get to take home a tupperware of bbq for lunch the next day, and you put the rest in the freezer.
posted by Secretariat at 7:41 PM on April 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Get it catered (buffet style). Rent dishes (you don’t have to wash them!). And yes, get a cleaning service after. Let your partner and your sister know that you’d like them to handle any details that come up day of. Otherwise, just let folks know that it’s your 50th, and enjoy yourself!
posted by ocherdraco at 7:51 PM on April 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Maybe it's just as simple as saying "We're having hot dogs and beer FOR MY 50th, come over at 3" and not worrying about people's special hot dogs?

I find that your best flexibility is when it's your place and brought-in food, or a borrowed place and your food (cookout or potluck), though you shouldn't rule out municipal options that you can borrow (parks, but also there might be museums or libraries or etc) for free or cheap and then cater in.

I do prefer a buffet or grazing-oriented food to accommodate all but the most strict dietary restrictions, and I try to make sure there's at least one vegetarian set of options. Anyone with more difficult restrictions is probably used to bringing their own. If you want to do your own location plus catering, you can generally put out hard/soft drinks an hour or two in advance of food (maybe a deli tray or crudite, or if you want to work with a local restaurant you can get some passed cocktail snacks and then a buffet dinner later).

Do ask, if you're up to it, around your local faves. You'd be surprised how fun/nice/cool a local spread your favorite place can do with a little planning. I've organized buffets for meetings, weddings, funerals, holiday book club parties, all kinds of things, and I've found restaurants to be incredibly accommodating for what I wanted.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:33 PM on April 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

To address one part of your question: people are much, much more likely to attend milestone birthdays than non-milestone birthdays. Even acquaintances. Simply sharing the reason for the shindig and giving people ample notice to plan will help ensure they arrive. Oh, and ask for RSVPs via PaperlessPost/etc - people are more likely to arrive if they commit to it. (I’m always afraid no one will show up to my events! But people always do, and I do my best to make it easy for them.)
posted by samthemander at 10:41 PM on April 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

We've had a couple big but basically casual milestone or other special occasion parties with lots of friends coming from out of town to visit, and my over optimization in getting everyone just the right kind of hot dog and stressing about all the little things tends to prevent me from enjoying the party. My trick when I don't mind throwing a little bit of money at the occasion is to get it catered from a local restaurant or catering company, where you pick up the food from them. It's not as expensive as having it truly catered with waitstaff, etc., but is a step up from just doing take out. For example, one caterer I've used will do things like lasagna, cheese and veggie plates, appetizer platters, bbq-ed roast or chicken, etc. That takes care of 90% of my guests and then I can handle the one offs I need to without being too stressed. I've attended other parties where folks have done this from all sorts of restaurants ranging from Chipolte to fancier local places, and it always seems to go over well.

At the last party we did I also hired one of my kid's babysitters to help out with prep/clean up, putting out dessert, etc. Friends were more than eager to help out, but it helped so much to have someone there who I didn't mind asking to do something.

For my husband's milestone we rented a room at a local small but niche museum that we knew would appeal to many of our guests. It wasn't a place that does big events like weddings, etc. so their prices were very minimal and they had a bar and bartender set up. It had the feeling of a vets or elks lodge but smaller and private.
posted by snowymorninblues at 11:13 PM on April 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

A lot of good suggestions already about food options, catering, activities. I don't think these have been mentioned specifically yet and you may already have them covered, but just in case:

- Photos. Ask someone (or someones) to help you with documenting the day with photos (if you want), so you don't have to worry about that part of it. A group photo might be nice, but also tricky if people are going to be stopping by/leaving at different times. Maybe a series of group photos? During similar milestone occasions I've always tried to make sure I get a photo with everyone who attends, and there always seems to be one or two people I don't have a good photo of, for some reason. You could ask guests to tag their photos also, if they're okay with posting them online. #jessamyn50

- Music! For me personally, this is an essential element of any gathering. Could be something where you invite people to play live or DJ, as mentioned above, or as casual as playing a playlist you already have, but depending on where the event is, there might need to be some thoughts around *how* to play the playlist so that people can hear it.

  Since this is a milestone birthday, perhaps you could put together a playlist of a bunch of your songs/music that have been meaningful to you since childhood until now, and maybe culling based on "Okay, maybe this would not be great for a party because it's way too dark/noisy/{insert criterion}" or "Okay, this would be great to include because some people might remember it fondly because it's not played a lot these days" or "It's a favorite a lot of people like and maybe would singalong to" etc. I have a feeling your SO can help you with this. :)

- Speaking of which, another possibility is just a casual thing where you have a singalong, or jam -- not necessarily karaoke, just maybe some songs everybody can sing to. Put together a list of songs/tabs/chords, bookmark them on an tablet or print them out. Break out the guitar and ukulele. Especially if there will be a firepit/s'mores.

- Speech/thank yous. At some point you may want to say a little speech and thank everyone for attending, etc. If so, consider doing it earlier in the event, and if you want, add in some news about what you've been up to (especially if there will be people there who you haven't seen in while). That way, you won't have to answer "How are you? What have you been up to?" from a bunch of different folks individually (especially if it's going to be 50 people), and instead they can just springboard off of what you said to the group. Yeah, this won't work 100% if it's a "rolling admission" type of event but still will help cut down the number of times you have to say the same thing.

- This might be an Ask/Guess thing -- it might be helpful to set expectations about some sort of gift policy, if you will, for whatever you are comfortable with. Invitations to a casual get-together is one thing -- for invitations to a milestone birthday, I would guess a lot of folks will assume that gifts/birthday cards/etc are welcome, unless stated otherwise (which totally makes sense IMO).

  I mention this because I've been invited to birthday gatherings where the invite specifically said "No gifts, please - just bring yourself!" or something along those lines. I think some people have it ingrained from their culture/background that you can't show up empty-handed to a birthday party, so I'm not sure how the success rates of that messaging turn out. I've also seen invitations that ask people to donate to a favorite/local organization or charity if they really want to get something. If you're doing a potluck, stating it's a potluck and "food welcome" or "BYOB" or other "BYO" types of messages could help clarify what guests should bring.

I know you are very, very versed in this - at the risk of being too obvious, just setting expectations for what is okay will go a long way (not just Ask/Guess but for people who may be nervous about social situations), and clear and friendly messaging also will convey that Planning is happening, re: kids being welcome, whether it's okay to stop by for a short while, directions, where/how to park (that's a big one where I am), something that indicates dress code (especially if there will be opportunities for walking or being outdoors), the type of food available (to reassure people with dietary restrictions), if it's okay to arrive later, etc.

Happy planning!
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 11:48 PM on April 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

Also I make myself nuts doing set-up and takedown and making sure everyone has the right hot dog for them and it's not setting myself up for success. Also I have a higher than hot dog budget if I want to, so I should think about that, but I've only ever had hot-dog-budget level parties.

For a recent milestone birthday, we got some taco guys. They were not very expensive - $7 or $8 a head, I think. They came and set up in our driveway and started to cook. They had several different types of meat, and rice and beans, and a bunch of toppings. People who loved to eat could eat tacos all night long. People who didn't could get one plate and be done. Then at the end of the night the guys packed up and they went.

It was a good way to do it because it felt like something novel and the set up and take down part were 12 times easier than trying to cook our own stuff. And it made the drink offerings much easier too: Mexican beers and margaritas for drinkers, Jarritos and Mexican Coke for soft stuff.
posted by AgentRocket at 7:03 AM on April 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Outsource! Get your sister and partner and any other close friends you can enlist to handle setup/tear-down as their gift to you. Whatever won't stress you out to not be in control of, from "do all the shopping, here's a list" to "handle all the details."

Special decorations! Maybe a big sheet of paper on a wall and people can write birthday greetings to you on it during the party, and also doodle; suitable for photographing and then recycling.

Part of it depends on where you want to have the party - if you're close in to a city, you could do things like "get a food truck to come visit for a while", or "rent a function room at a restaurant/bar", both of which shift some of the boring labor to people you're paying, too, but if you'd rather be down among the beach-grass, those might be harder but does have the advantage of shuffling off to go to sleep when the party is over.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:30 AM on April 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yes, it sounds like doing your usual thing, but making it a little more fun/less painful for you, is the way to go! One friend had his milestone birthday at his place (per usual) but hired a caterer that was just one guy with whom he'd discussed expectations. That way there was plenty of (non-fancy, but tasty) food, someone doing dishes when more glasses were needed, someone generally filling the place of a lot of the hosting duties so that the friend could enjoy more of the event. Happy Pre-Birthday!
posted by ldthomps at 10:16 AM on April 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I just did exactly this for my 45th! In my case social dancing has been a recent big thing, so I was able to get use of the studio during an otherwise quiet afternoon, found folding tables and chairs, hired my chef friend to bring a main course, invited folks to bring snacks, desserts and BYOB and invited a lengthy list of local folks. I specifically had done a family birthday separately.

My advice from the experience is to consider whether you have any friends who are good party planners and enlist them! Everyone helped out with set-up and clean-up and transition to the dance studio's evening social, but I'd have been a better host to have had an actual plan for some of that. Plus, I inevitably end up thinking about whether I have enough paper towels or cups or whatever in the days leading up to an event. It'd have been smarter to just hire/donate in their name for a friend who is already inclined towards loving to arrange this sort of thing.

Beyond that, I'd say, be a little ambitious! You deserve it and folks will enjoy whatever is the touch that makes it you. I pulled together a set of questions and ran a huge group Wits and Wagers tournament where all the facts were numbers about my life. It was hugely amusing and a hit.
posted by meinvt at 12:15 PM on April 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I know you are on the other side of Vermont but you can rent the pavilion at Button Bay state park and hire a bartender with a couple kegs and bring in your own food which can be as simple as pizza from that brewery on rte 7. They have picnic tables and you have the run of the whole park. We did that for our wedding reception and it was awesome.
posted by pintapicasso at 11:14 AM on May 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Double down on the hot dogs. Do all the hot dogs. Do you half even realize how many regional varieties of hot dogs there are? It's as if there are all these tubed shaped meats with very little in common beyond having the phrase "hot dogs" on the label!

North Carolina hot dogs are eye-searingly bright red and made of pork! Some of them are long and skinny! Some of them are stubby and fat! Northwestern Pennsylvania hot dogs are beef and taste a little like veal hamburgers and they don't resemble kosher all-beef dogs in the slightest! I'm sure people from Chicago might have opinions about hot dogs too!

Do HOT DOG SCIENCE! Run impromptu consumer surveys on hot dogs! Hand out test respondent surveys on hot dogs! Require hot dogs for admission! This is a thing we did (well, with biscuits, not hot dogs). It was an incredible amount of fun, because people enjoy talking about food and also drinking beer while they do it; this is not a hobby exclusive to highfalutin' folks who like to sniff wine corks.

posted by ardgedee at 4:36 PM on May 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

I had my 40th not too long ago and my wife rented out our local art house theatre so I could have a viewing of my favorite movie Sunset Boulevard with a bunch of my pals. I think we had about 30-35 people; red vines, popcorn and a few homemade sangrias were had. Many of us had seen the movie a bunch of times before and so while lounging around on eclectic sofas and such, we had a blast making MST2K-style commentary. A good chunk of folks also dressed up Norma Desmond style (including a friend who found a vintage mountain goat coat at the antique mall that we all took turns posing for photos in).
It was a pretty easy event - not everybody came on time or stayed til the end, but that didn't matter. It was just a super fun way to hang out with pals and have snacks!

Madame is the greatest star of them all.
posted by ikahime at 6:50 PM on May 16, 2018

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