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Tips for an Amazing Super Sweet 16 Party

Amazing Super Sweet Sixteen: Plan, Prepare & Party

Planning a Sweet 16 that your daughter will never forget

Is it every girl's dream? Fantasy? Do our teens have higher expectations for what a Sweet 16 Birthday Party should be? Has the media and especially the hit MTV show given them unrealistic expectations?

To keep this from being way too long, I'm breaking this up into a three post series.

  1. Part 1 - How to Plan a Super Sweet 16 Party
  2. Part 2 - Themes, Invitations, Venues, Music, Other Entertainment, Food, Beverages, Cake, Decorations, Other Necessities. 
  3. Part 3 - Do's and Don't's (Learn from our mistakes), How to host your own DIY Sweet 16 Party, Candle Celebration (or not) -- Other Rituals and Traditions, Shopping Ideas, Song Lists, and Links
Cake ... did I say cake? Yummy

And ... how to do it and still be able to save up for wedding in another 10 + years

My parents and I hosted my daughter's sweet 16 two years ago (hard to believe it's now time for her 18th b-day (but, the drinking age is 21, so nothing special about this one sweetie ... not after the Super Sweet 16 ... not if you ever want a wedding)

You can learn from all of my mistakes
Save money where I saved money
Learn from where I wish I would have saved money
Because I didn't have a blog post telling me how to do it.

Mistake #1:

We did not plan our party early enough.

Depending on where you live will determine how early you should begin planning. Venues book early and you don't want to get stuck with a bad choice or settle for a place that will not properly accommodate your type of event. We live in the south and everything ... I mean everything revolves around SEC football in the fall. So, we were competing against football games, travel, football parties, and other party planners ... not to mention, homecoming games and dances for all the major high schools.

My daughter Blake, well her name is Katherine Blake Carby, turned 16 and she had talked of little else, except her sweet 16, since she was nine or ten.

She envisioned this Fairy Princess meets Sixteen in The City -- Dance Club Party Theme

We used minimal decoration for the social media theme

Invitation had to match name on the guest list or the person was not admitted

Guest had to wear the lanyard

We managed to pull it off and it was quite an event, but I bet with better prep work, I would've cut the cost of this shindig in half and cut my stress level down below a category 5 hurricane alert. I was not fun to be around for the weeks leading up to that party. Nope! Ask Anyone ... anyone still talking to me.

It all worked out. 

As you can see in this photo
we've stopped arguing over the hoochie-mama dress I did not want my baby girl wearing. Okay, maybe a little unfair of me. It's not anything like a hoochie-mama dress, but is seemed light years too old for her and (Oh god, I can't even bare to say these next words in the same sentence with my little girl's name) a tad bit sexy ... provocative ... revealing. It's hard enough the first time you see your baby girl all dressed up and looking gorgeous, but when her midriff (her bare tummy is showing) it's heart wrenching and frightening.  But when even over-protective step-dad, and long time family friend, Dr. Jake Majors and my best friend, a fashion icon from Charleston, Caryn Smith, all gave the dress their thumbs up approval, mom realized ... I'd been vetoed ... outvoted. Everyone said the dress was perfect. 

"Thank you." I managed to spit out through my clenched jaw.

It still brought me to tears, watching my sweet, special, little girl strut into that party looking like a million dollars, looking all grown up like she'd have no problem getting into a dance club in Chicago or South Beach. I had a mini breakdown, but no one noticed and the party carried on.

I want to share with you what worked best, what didn't go over so well, what ended in disaster, what we could have improved on and what we could have cut out/completely ... eliminated from the party without one teenage guest even noticing.

Obviously the DJ with a fantastic lights and sound show was the hit of the party, but I will cover entertainment in the next segment.

There's much more to pulling off a successful sweet 16 party than you think

What's the first thing you need to do?

These Top Three-Tier Tasks Are absolutely required as soon as you know you're hosting a Sweet 16

You mess up on any of the Task from the Top Three Tier and your party will suffer


Top 3 Tier:

  • Decide early on whether or not you are going to spring for a professional event planner or if this will be a DIY Party (I will give you my pros & cons on both later in the post)

  • Decide on a budget and do not allow yourself to go over budget

  • Choose the date, time & venue for your party. Everyone from caterers, D.J., Bands, bakeries, security ... and the list goes on and on ... they all book early. Avoid getting shut out and shut down by the best musicians, best locations, and trying to pull it all together in one night by reserving locations and vendors early. I cannot stress this enough.

Sign out front of the club

Once You Figure out your Top Three Tier:

It's time to allocate your budget

This will vary with each individual family. Every 16 year old girl has her own vision of her special night. Something like an interactive photo booth may be the number one, "Daddy, I've gotta have it," on one girl's list while having the most amazing cake could be on another girl's list. I think we can all agree on this: Music is a must. Today's D.J.'s are about more than music. They are all about producing a spectacular lights and sound show. Having the right D.J., can make or break a Sweet 16. You want those kids out there dancing. At my daughter's party, the adults were going crazy and acting just as wild. The D.J. is a showman and the show he produces is worth the money. Do your homework. Vet the DJ. Get recommendations from others who've had similar parties. Make sure they play the music you want. I will cover this in Part 2 when I go into entertainment.

Mom's Tips, Suggestions & Ideas:

Mom & Dad: Make a list

Your soon to be sixteen year old can share in some of the responsibilities. 

 She can begin right now by making a list of what's most important to her. So, when you must show Tammy Teen that you've nearly reached your budget limit, she'll have prioritized and will be better equipped to let go of those really cute, adorable, individual shrimp cocktail dishes for a midnight snack. Heck, her friends will love her even more when the midnight snack is served and much to their delight they find mini bowls of mac-n-cheese and mini grilled cheese sandwiches poking out of (or beside) a miniature cup of tomato soup. Comfort food. We all love it. Make sure you include your teen in most of the planning and decisions. She's not a toddler and unless you're a magician and think you can pull off a surprise party for a sixteen year old without any of her friends spilling the beans (yea, like that's gonna happen) include her in many of the decisions.

It's her big night ... not yours.

Sure, you're footing the bill and that means you get the final veto power, but it's her magical night. So, let her share her dream night with you and see what you magic you can bring alive. You'll be surprised, with a little imagination and help from friends and family ... you can pull off some spectacular  attractions, decorations and more ... and at a fraction of the cost the professionals will charge you.

Get an Agenda

You need an agenda or planner book to stay on top on things. I like having a hard copy. Something I can touch, feel, smell, (kind of like how I feel about books). I need to actually hold my planner or agenda in my hand so I can whip it out to check dates, conflicts, confirmations, numbers, budget etc. You can use this in addition to the countless phone apps that are designed strictly for party planning. Don't get me wrong, they are fabulous and you can't go wrong with an app that's never further away that your phone or tablet ... which we all know is closer to us than our first love. 

At least the kids were dancing

Big Feather Centerpieces

Next: You Break Your Top Three Tier Task Down & Get Working

If you decide to use an event planner you will eliminate much of the work and headache. They are professionals. They are also costly. I will go on record and admit that we would not have pulled our event together without our wonderful event planner. She was over the top ... amazing. She coordinated everything so that the food, D.J. table tops, cake, beverages and decorations were all in sync and it was nice not to have to worry about every little detail. But, don't get lulled into a false sense of security. Don't be fooled. You must still do a lot of the work.

Professional event planners don't come cheap. In our case we had a lot of extra (I won't say hidden cost), but being handed a bill at the end of the night that makes you feel like you've been kicked in the gut, is not the best ending to a perfect night. In her defense, my mom was paying the bill, but my daughter and I were both answering the event planner's questions about whether we needed this or that, so we blame ourselves. We had too many people calling the shots. If you decide to use an event coordinator I highly recommend that your contract stipulates The Event Coordinator deal with only one person. This avoids confusion and added cost. I also recommend that you give an actual bottom line figure and stand firm. Emphatically state and demand that it be in writing that you do not/will not  agree to pay any amount over this fee. There are going to be some fees that can't be determined up front, but you still need a very detailed, specific contract. Fees that cannot be determine up front

  • Open bar (we had this upstairs for adults only)
  • Interactive Photo Booth
  • #Hashtag Your Personal Instagram and Twitter Pages -- if the fee is determined by the number of photos uploaded to the page

Or #CarbySweet16

If guest used #ClubCarby 

The Interactive Photo Booth was a big hit

Every Photo taken was displayed on Giant Screens

We kept adding extra goodies at the last minute and the bill reflected it. Oh did it.

My daughter's sweet 16 party was, of course, for teens. However, since she chose the Dance - Club - Party Theme and our venue was a two story building downtown, that used to be a private restaurant/supper club and we planned on inviting many of the parents, we split the levels. Downstairs for the teens and upstairs for the adults. We had food and an open bar upstairs (remember those extra costs I mentioned, well I can't blame them all on my teen). Also, at the last minute we recognized that my daughter's party was taking place on the night of, one of ...  if not the biggest SEC rivalry football games in the south. How the hell I missed that, I'll never know. Just overwhelmed with finding an open date for the venue of choice that coincided with an open date for the DJ of choice etc.
 I ... me ... Ms. Ole Miss Rebels married to Mr. LSU Tigers, who attends every single game, planned Blake's Sweet 16 on the night LSU played Ole Miss. This was 2014 and if you are familiar with SEC football you know that Ole Miss was a real contender that year for the SEC championship. They beat Bama that year and again in 2015.

Two hours before the party I'm on the phone with the event planner telling her we have to ... have the game on upstairs. No big deal, right. Wrong.

It was quite an expensive ordeal getting the cable lines running into the building and the big flat screen on each wall so the adults could watch the game. I knew that without the game, more than 75% of the adults would be a no show. That shouldn't have been a problem for my teen daughter, but it was. Now we had teens who intended to ride with their parents scrambling for rides to the party. But it all worked out. All except Ole Miss losing the game in the final seconds of the game. But, it was a close game and I'm glad the adults were every bit as entertained as the kids.

Glow in the dark Dance Floor

Signature Mocktail for the Teens

Major Choices you need to make for your Sweet 16 Party

Guest List
Sign in Board -- we opted for social media screen on a giant computer screen rather than a cardboard board or a sign in sheet. More on that later. It was one of our better ideas.
Music - D.J. or Band or an iPod with a sound system 
Lights and a Light show
Table and chair rentals
Table setups
Front door - Some to man the front door and check the invites against the guest list
Valet Parking
Other Entertainment
Song List
Will your sweet 16 party follow the traditions of changing clothes/shoes/
The elaborate Candle Lighting Ceremony - Yes, it is a tradition. Do you have to do it? No. I will give you the pros and cons of it later in this series. I highly recommend a mini version of this ceremony, if you go with the candle lighting ceremony (at all) and the whole Sweet 16 Court (her chosen and honored friends)
Half the cake ... the top toppled over

I'll share my thoughts on the candle ceremony in part 3

Our Theme was a Dance Club Theme:

We chose social media as the added theme and decorated the venue with all white, glow in the dark, black lights and neon. My daughter's invitations were adorable. They were lanyards that each guest had to present at the door or they did not get in and they had to have them on all night ... along with their wrist band that identified them as too young to go upstairs. Too young for the booze.

Online Places & Sites to check out:

Remember I said that out interactive photo booth was the biggest hit (besides the music of course) of our Sweet 16 party. She got the idea from a wedding magazine and apparently it's the huge craze for all parties and events. I've already put several photos on here from the booth, but the magical part of this is the #Hashstag, as we all know in this social media world we live in. If ya wanna be in ... if ya wanna trend ... you need your own #Hashtag.

So, any photos taken by the photographer, in the photo booth or by any guest with their own camera or phone (if they used the hashtag) were automatically uploaded to Blake's Sweet 16 Party Instagram and Twitter pages. This was all new to me, but my sixteen year old mentioned it to the party planner and she was right on it. Apparently it's all the gabble for any major event, but two years ago in my "small town-city," I'd never even heard of it.

You can start with the official site: EVENTSTAGRAM-EventsTag
The Social Wall Shows you how it all works and in my opinion it's better than those cardboard sign in boards that so many people use at the entrance to the Sweet 16 Party.

The site is officially called InstaTag now and they've come along way in just two years. Now you can even rent you own Portable Polaroid Printer

TagSnaps Offers Live Instagram Printers for Hire

Where can you get ideas for this amazing party?Sweet 16 Themes

We used a company called Tap Snap and I highly recommend you view their products and events.

It was a fabulous idea because at most Sweet Sixteen Parties there is a giant sign in board which is really just a blown up photo of the birthday girl. Guests sign the board and the birthday girl has a permanent memorabilia to keep forever. I never really cared for them. I know I don't sound like a conventional mom for this time honored traditional Sweet 16 party

But really, it's an oversized foam or cardboard photo of herself. What would she do with it in a year or two? We live in a social media world. Plus, it reminded me too much of those wedding receptions when the guests assemble for the:

Bonnie Bride ... This is your life. Puhleaze! My daughter was turning sixteen, not getting married, for Christ's sake.

I loved the social media #hashtag idea! Out with the cardboard photo of Blake. Guests signed an electronic book and their cute messages and witty comments popped up on the oversized Facebook and Twitter screens displayed on huge monitors all over the party. Next, they popped over to the photo booth and I must say with the exception of the DJ who rocked that party like it was 1999 (Oh wait that' my era) the photo booth was the biggest hit of the party. It's the one item, if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't do without. I would find ways to cut cost ... oh that's a given, but not here. Not the amazing, interactive photo booth. 
They generated personal #Hashtags for the party. All the cute comments, photos, selfies ... anything that was accompanied by the appropriate hashtags showed up on the professional looking Instagram and Twitter Party pages the company created.


Color Me Impressed!

My daughter was obsessed with My Super Sweet Sixteen - Television Show, only I didn't know it was a show to make mom's like me cry and wonder who really does this. I thought it was just the website that I found with all the cool themes & ideas. Nope, mom, wrong AGAIN! This show is over the top, outlandish and not at all what the average family can or will spend on a party for a teen. It's still useful for ideas you can tweak and incorporate into your own budget.

Pinterest has some fun ideas to browse through. Pinterest Sweet 16 If you're like me, you could spend a week or two alone checking out Super Sweet 16 Pinterest Boards

An online Instagram Web Browser of Party Planning Created by Treasured Moments.

Have you planned or attended a Super Sweet 16 Party?
Do you think the parties have gone overboard?
Do you have any ideas to share?
Stay Tuned for Parts 2 & 3 of My Super Sweet 16 Party Planning Tips
Check back on Tuesday for Part 2 for themes, invitations, venues, music, entertainment, food and much more.


Elephant's Child said...

Here in Australia 18th birthdays are bigger (and drinking is legal then too).
My childless self is awed at the effort you put in to this. And blown away.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Melissa - you ask a question at the end ... I'd say 'Yes' they are over the top! But then I don't have a daughter ... my god-daughters (twin birthdays - but separate parents ... so one honorary and one real!) ... had simple parties (relatively!) ... practical and down to earth parents and friends ...

I've no idea whether there are 16th or 18th ... in my day it was 21sts ...

Still all I can say you and your Ma must have really made your daughter so happy - it sounds just stunning ... and why wasn't I invited?! Incredible amount of work went in to it ... loved the comments of your hubby, doctor friend and your classy best friend re her dress ... so glad your daughter was able to wear what she wanted ... and I bet you both looked stunning.

Lovely photos ... and story line ... great to read - now I want a party!! Cheers Hilary

TexWisGirl said...

wow... quite the extravaganza. rather like the 15 y.o.s' quinceneras. yeah, too much for me. :)

thanks for finding my spot and leaving a comment. hoping your 18 yr old is doing great. :)

Melissa Sugar said...

The Sweet 16 is very much like the traditional 15 year old's Quinceneras. You are absolutely right. The quinceneras follow more of a tradition and don't break from it at all. We didn't follow all of the traditions. Regardless, I feel that Sweet 16 parties have become far too commercialized.

Melissa Sugar said...

Oh Hilary, if I thought you would be here, I would have sent you an invitation. I'm going to start sending you invites to all our parties and hope that one day you surprise me and show up. I would love to meet you in person.
So let me see if I understand this. You are the official godmother to one of the twins and then sort of a quasi or honorary godmother to the other twin? Do I have it right? It's like my sister's godmother. She isn't my official godmother, but always acted like one and treated me like her goddaughter. I always referred to her as my godmother.
I agree that the parties have become way too much and are over the top. I don't think I realized it until I actually put one together. Having said that, I should have known, because of all the Sweet 16's and Quinceneras she had been invited to and all the dresses she needed. Back in my day, the 18th was big, but then the drinking age was 18. This is more social than it should be for that age because they have so many social obligations coming up with sorority recruitment and coming out parties if they are debutantes. It's all a bit much, I have to agree. Ever since I did the Scavenger hunt post and then I guess some people saw photos on Twitter, several people asked me to write the post. I'm sure they are people who won't even comment, but that's okay. If our experience, the good, bad and the mistakes can help other parents when planning their party, I'm glad to help.

Melissa Sugar said...

Thank you. I was blown away myself. Still recovering - two year later, LOL. 18 was big for me as well. That's when I was legally old enough to drink. Thanks for stopping by.

mackyton said...

Glad to know about this information on planning a sweet 16 party. It is my daughter’s birthday and I want to arrange a grand birthday party for her. Booked one of excellent event venues Chicago and planning a surprise party for her. Hope she will like it.

Melissa Sugar said...

I hope she has a fantastic Sweet 16. I feel terrible that I never posted parts 2 and 3 of this series, but sometimes life gets in the way. Hopefully I will be able to soon. I really wish your daughter the best birthday ever. As a parent it is a lot of work and preparation, but so worth it when it all comes off without a hitch. Event Venues Chicago seems amazing

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