Your best friend has just asked you to be her maid of honor. You’re thrilled, excited, over-the-moon…oh wait, you have to do what? Plan and organize a getaway weekend for all her closest friends, whom you may or may not know? Don’t panic, you can do this.
Bachelorette weekends have become something of the norm, at least in my circle of friends. Since friends are spread out all over the country, it makes sense to come together for a weekend of fun rather than make multiple trips for different parties. But planning can seem daunting, especially when you take into considerations all the feelings and expectations you’re expected to navigate. To help you through this troubled time, here’s my step-by-step guide to planning a bachelorette weekend.
When She Gets Engaged
- Find out what the bride wants—location, theme, and guest list. The first step in planning any occasion for the bride is to have a one-on-one. The bride should tell you where she wants the party to be and she should provide a guest list, complete with contact information. Try to find two or three potential dates that would work for the bride. If she is open to input on location, give her yours and consult the bridesmaids. However, I highly recommend keeping decisions within this group. Don’t reach out to every single person on her guest list, or else you’ll end up driving yourself insane.
- Ask the bride how much involvement she wants to have beyond the basics. Some brides are going to want to have input on where you stay and what you do. Others will be relieved to have one less thing to plan. Make sure you know where your lady stands.
- Reach out to the bridesmaids to finalize a date. The bachelorette party is typically one to two months before the wedding. I do not understand why anyone would want to have it closer to the wedding. The bride has like ten trillion other things to worry about, so give her some breathing room. If all the guests are local, the bride may choose to have the party as close to a few weeks before the wedding, but if guests have to travel, it’s best to put a little space between the two events. Again, do not try to accommodate every person on the bride’s list. There will never be a date and location that works for every girl she wants to invite. Your goal should be to choose a date that works for all the bridesmaids, since they are the most important attendees as the bride’s closest friends.
- Decide if you need help and then ask for it if you do. As you will see from the length of this post, planning a bachelorette weekend can be pretty time-consuming. All the decisions and details can be overwhelming, especially if you have a busy schedule to begin with. Who has time to price comp all the hotels in Charleston or read through Yelp reviews of sushi places in San Diego? But you have an option: Recruit a cohost. Is there another bridesmaid in the wedding who might have just narrowly been edged out for maid of honor? Or a bridesmaid you are very close with? It also might be wise to recruit a maid who knows the bride from a different period in her life. If you’re the bride’s childhood best friend, ask one of her college friends if she would be willing to cohost with you. Having someone to bounce ideas off of and to split duties (and hosting costs!) with will lower your stress level and also up the fun of planning. Shared Pinterest boards anyone?
Six to Four Months Before the Party
Research your planned destination: It’s time to start getting an idea of what your planned destination has to offer. You’ll need to decide what area you want to stay in and see if there are any activities or spaces the city is famous for that you’ll want to take advantage of. If you’re not familiar with the city, I recommend using resources like Trip Advisor or the DesignSponge City Guides (and, of course, Yelp for restaurants). Reach out to friends, relatives or Facebook acquaintances who live in the area for recommendations. I obsessively keep lists with notes to myself like “good prices for breakfast” or “great location, but no swimming pool.”
Select your type of accommodations:
- Recruit a host: If you, a bridesmaid or the bride herself has the space and kindness of heart to host the guests for the weekend, go with this option! Accommodations are typically the number one cost for a weekend getaway. If you can eliminate that cost altogether by shacking up at a guest’s house, you will have so much more to work with when planning the weekend’s events. Pros: Drastically cuts down on costs; gives you access to a kitchen so guests can have casual breakfasts, make their own drinks, or create a pot-luck dinner; allows all the guests to hang out together in common areas; eliminates scheduling difficulties like check-in and check-out times. Cons: Host assumes financial burden of providing towels, linens, toiletries, and potentially food and drinks. This can be alleviated by asking the bridesmaids to chip in monetarily or help with set-up and clean-up. Another potential con is that staying at someone’s house might not achieve the same sense of special occasion you experience when staying at a hotel or renting a vacation home.
- Find a hotel: If you’re traveling to a special destination, staying at a hotel may be your best option. It’s the most low-maintenance, will put you close to major attractions and provide you with a stress-free home base. In some big cities, hotels may offer complimentary transportation to the airport or to major tourist areas. Be sure to check for hidden charges for putting more than the listed amount of people in a room. Sneaking five people into a four-person room is probably doable. Packing six or seven in? Someone may take notice and you may incur extra charges or be asked to rent another room. Pros: No clean up or maintenance and full-service options like room service, laundry and maid service; amenities like pools, gyms, and on-site restaurants; central locations with easy access to transportation; stress-free home base. Cons: Large groups must split up into multiple rooms; check-in and check-out times dictate arrivals and departures; fees may apply for guests over room-occupancy limit.
- Rent a house: Renting a house may seem like the most expensive option, but that isn’t actually the case. Depending on the size of your party and your needs, sometimes renting a house is actually cheaper. A good place to look for vacation rentals is vrbo.com. You can search for houses by occupancy, bedrooms, location and amenities (you know you want a hot tub!). Pros: Renting a house offers all the benefits of staying with a friend, but without that burden on the host. Cons: Rentals require hefty deposit so you’ll need to plan ahead and get your guests to send checks earlier rather than later. Rental owners are also more likely to be picky about who stays at their home. You don’t have the anonymity of a hotel, so you’ll need to be sure your group can be counted on to clean up and leave the place how you found it. Otherwise you’ll lose your deposit or get stuck with hefty cleaning fees.
Plan events: Map out the broad strokes of your weekend. Will you throw a shower for the bride? Go on a pub crawl? Take a class or some kind of tour? Have a special dinner or visit a certain landmark? See a show or hire entertainment? You do not need to have every moment of every day planned out (and you shouldn’t!), but you do need to work out the big picture. For your own sanity, I recommend planning out two big activities a day, one outing and one meal. Then leave yourself and your guests some breathing room to explore the city on their own or follow your own whims. People will like that you’re providing structure, but also giving them room to make their own suggestions or check out quirky findings of their own. It will also save you time and stress. Planning every moment of this weekend will put you over the edge—so don’t!
Three Months Before the Party
Finalize the guest list: This may seem early, and it is if you are planning a party in the bride’s hometown or where no one has to travel. This applies to destination weekends that will require most of the guests to travel. Think of this as sending a “save-the-date” card. Guests need time to arrange transportation and budget for accommodations. See more on this below. But first, a note on who pays for what.
If someone tells you there’s a hard and fast formula for what you should pay for and what the guests should chip in for, they are lying. I’m sure Miss Manners would disagree, but the reality is it depends on the group. If you throw a bridal shower in your home, you are responsible for paying for the whole thing. But when you invite people to come to a getaway weekend, you probably do not have the financial resources to foot that bill. And people understand and expect that. However, you’re still the host, so you will take on more expenses than the guests. In my experience, this usually includes paying for invitations, decorations, favors, and party games. It may include providing some food and alcohol, depending on your plans. More on that to come. So, here’s how you handle the money thing.
- Estimate a cost per guest. I personally that it’s important to give guests an idea of how much this weekend will cost before you ask them to commit. Bachelorette weekends can range wildly from a relatively cost-friendly weekend in the bride’s hometown to over-the-top bonanzas in far-flung locales. When you are planning events, booking rooms or making reservations, you’re going to need a head count for the weekend. But, if guests expect to spend $150 a person on accommodations and events and the total ends up running more like $600, you’re going to have people dropping out last minute, which will then effect your overall cost and send you into a spiral. Based on your research, planned events and ideas for accommodations, estimate a cost that includes all major expenses except food (unless you’re doing catered or prix-fixe meals), drinks, and transportation to the destination (i.e. don’t include airfare or gas, but include a cost if you’ll be renting a limo or party bus during the weekend).
- Email the guests with the date and budget. Contact the bride’s guest list and share your planned destination, date and expected budget. Share with guests what this budget does and does not include so they can account for any extra expenses they may incur. Tell guests that a formal invitation will follow. This may seem counter-intuitive, but you will eliminate so many problems by being up-front about costs and expectations. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress this way and your guests any nasty surprises. You don’t want to include budget on a lovely printed invite, so a more informal email is the best way. I’m sure some people would think this is tacky, but I think most guests, especially those still in school or just starting out, appreciate clarity on cost. If money is no object for your group of friends, congratulations! Feel free to skip this step! But my guess is that most girls will be grateful to be able to budget for the weekend and appreciate that you are being sensitive to cost and trying to make them feel comfortable. They can easily RSVP “no” now and save face by claiming the date doesn’t work for them, rather than having to back out later when they realize your plans are beyond what they feel comfortable spending.
Book accommodations and events: Now that you have a firm headcount, you can book that hotel or vacation rental or set up that wine-tasting session or pole-dancing class. You can decide when you feel comfortable receiving funds from the guests, but my personally recommendation is to have the guests send you a check or pay you via Paypal before the weekend. That way no one forgets to hand over their share and you have one less thing to worry about and can enjoy the weekend without thinking about collecting dues from your friends.
Two months before the party
Select shower theme or dress code: Now is a good time to let guests know if there will be shower, if they should buy the bride a specific type of gift, or if they need to bring certain attire (black dresses, crazy hats, bathing suits, etc).
Choose invitations: As the host of this weekend, the invitations are your financial responsibility. These should not be included in the cost of the weekend for the guests. You can opt for an evite or printed invitation. Evites have the benefit of being free and also serve as an easy way for you to keep track of the guest list and send updates to all the guests as details are finalized. But there’s just something so special about getting that printed invite in the mail. They can serve as a nice keepsake for the weekend. I admit that I’m a sucker for great printed invitations and always like to receive them myself. I love being able to save and scrapbook the invites from my friends’ events. You may choose to send a formal printed invitation as a courtesy, but then also start an email chain or set up an evite in order to seamlessly share details.
One Month Before the Party
Mail printed invitations.
Figure out the food: Your weekend will undoubtedly include a good bit of eating and drinking. You basically have three options when it comes to food: home cooking, catering or restaurants. Home cooking is the most low maintenance and perfect if you’re renting a house or staying with a friend. It brings the whole group together and lowers the cost considerably. Restaurants are best for smaller groups as guests can pay separately without much trouble, but this gets complicated if you have a large group. For lots of tips on making this go as easily as possible, read my guide to booking restaurants for big groups here. Catering is a good option if you want to have a party at the house or at a location (park, beach, etc), but don’t have the time or skill to pull off the meal on your own.
Don’t let yourself plan every single meal in detail (again with the going insane). It’s fine to leave lunches up in the air while you’re exploring the city so that you could choose to stop in any quirky little place that suits your fancy or to keep breakfast casual with a stop at a coffee shop or a bag of bagels and some fruit from the store.
Transportation: How are you planning to get around the city? Are you in a place that’s easily walkable? Will one or more of the guests volunteer to be designated drivers? Will you be able to hail cabs or call a car service? Or do you want to hire a limo or party bus for the night? Decide what works best for your destination and group.
Favors and decorations: These fall in the category of your financial responsibility, but you’re also in control of how far you go. You can provide the guests with a small favor to remember the weekend (check out bachelorette party CDs and other favor ideas here and here) and provide the bride with a few things to wear on her night out (a veil, crown, sash, or something more subtle like this bachelorette bangle).
Plan party games: You can have as few or as many party games as you like, but you might as well throw in one or two. It’s tradition (isn’t it?)! The easiest (and my go-to standby) is the fiance quiz, but if you want to be more ambitious, you can throw in a bar scavenger hunt, play Most Likely To or just pull out some good old-fashioned drinking games. You can even bust out old-school slumber party favorites like Truth or Dare, or update it with Never Have I Ever.
- If you are planning the party for a holiday weekend or want to book a hot hotel suite or special service, move this timeline up by at least a month.
- Think about designating one of the guests as group photographer. If you want to hire a pro, that’s going to have to come out of your pocket, so if one of the girls is good with a camera, see if you can recruit her to catch some nice moments. You’ll be happy to have some pictures that aren’t all blurry and sideways.
- Remember to relax. At least you aren’t planning the wedding, right?
Questions or planning dilemmas? Ideas or photo evidence (the non-incriminating kind)? Email me at email@example.com.