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November 17, 2021Best In Tents

How to Plan a Sweet 16 Birthday Party

Sweet sixteen is a milestone birthday. Long gone are the days when a basic cake and a small gathering of friends is an acceptable way to celebrate a sweet 16 birthday. With flashy parties splashed all over reality TV shows and on social media, your soon-to-be 16 year old may expect something that looks more like a celebrity fete than a simple backyard bash.

No one is saying that you have to rent a helicopter and fly your sweet 16 year old in for a grand entrance or host their entire high school for a five-course gourmet meal. But you might need to step up your party game with fresh sweet 16 party ideas and plan for more than a homemade meal and a few colorful candles. Before making any decisions, take a look at our tips for planning a sweet 16 party.

#1 Ask Your Teen About Her Expectations

Keep in mind that this is not your party. And, unlike a six or seven year old, your soon to be 16 year old probably has a very clear vision of what she wants for her sweet sixteen party.

Start the party planning by gathering family members and having a family discussion. Ask your teen what she wants for her big birthday bash. You might be surprised to find out that she doesn’t want to invite hundreds of her friends or that she doesn’t expect you to rent a huge event space or an entire ballroom. But if your teen’s sweet sixteen party is over-the-top, ridiculously out of your price range or not doable at all (no, Justin Bieber is not going to show up to serenade her), you need to help her understand the difference between fantasy and reality and how she can still have an amazing sweet 16 backyard birthday party without a professional party planner and still stay on budget.

Ask your teen to prioritize what is most important for the party. Does she want a DJ or live music? Or is a great caterer her top priority? By creating a wish list in order of priority, it will become much easier to manage expectations for her sweet 16 outdoor birthday party.

#2 Set the Date

Birthday Party Tips for Planning

Naturally, you want to celebrate your teen’s sweet 16 birthday on or as close as possible to her actual birthday. But when thinking about how to plan a sweet 16 birthday party, if her birthday falls on a weekday or around a major holiday, you may have to be flexible with the date. It’s always a good idea to send out “save the date” so that your guest will have the date on their calendars. You may also want to ask your guests to RSVP so you have an idea of how many people to expect.

#3 Decide on a Budget

Once you decide on a reasonable budget for the sweet 16 birthday party, use your teen’s wish list as a template to help allocate dollars. Start with party must-haves, like the food menu (including snacks and birthday cake), accessories, entertainment, decorations, venue, party favors, invitations, and thank you notes. Then see what’s leftover for wish-list items, like a DJ or live entertainment. This will further help your teen to prioritize and also teach her a good lesson in budget planning!

Keep in mind that you don’t have to choose an outside venue when planning a sweet 16 party. Your home may be the perfect party spot for a sweet 16 backyard party. If this is the case, you can use the money you’re saving on renting a space for a fabulous outdoor tent, chairs, and tables.

Keep Track of Guests

It may seem obvious, but make sure you know how many people to expect at the party. It is very easy for a guest list to spiral out of control quickly. It’s not uncommon for invitees to ask if they can bring a guest, so make sure to keep track of your guest list.

Comparison Shop

Two very important words for party planning: shop around. If you are hiring entertainment or looking at event venues get multiple bids. You can do the same for caterers. While it may seem easier to just pay and move on, you may regret it when the bills come due.

Budget Wisely

A sweet 16 birthday party budget can be a slippery slope. After all, you want to make sure the big day is perfect. But, remember a car, car insurance, and college all are right around the corner. If your teen complains about the scale of the party, you are absolutely justified to remind them of those expenses.

#4 Choose a Venue

Sweet 16 Birthday Tips

When party planning, you will likely have many sweet 16 venues to choose from. If budget is an issue, a backyard sweet 16 party tent might be the best plan. It is cost-effective and also gives you control over the times and dates of your party. Consider the following when choosing a tent for your party: 

  • How many guests will attend?
  • How much room do you have in your yard?
  • What will the weather be like? Will you need sidewalls?
  • How many tables and chairs will you need to fit in the tent?

#5 Pick a Theme

When picking sweet 16 themes for the party, use your teen for inspiration. Think about your teens hobbies, dream vacation, or favorite tv shows or books. Travel-based sweet sixteen themes, such as Paris or London, can be exciting for teen parties. Or, if your teen has culinary interests, sweet sixteen themes can also be menu-based and feature foods from their favorite cultural cuisine, such as nachos and tacos or Spanish style tapas. If your teen loves music, a karaoke themed sweet 16 party will be a big hit!

Sweet 16 Party Theme Ideas

If your sweet 16 guest of honor expects a party that is a little more out of the box, here are some additional ideas:

  • Jungle themed sweet 16 with wild animal decors, such as zebra striped tablecloths and table settings and birthday cake with lions and tigers.
  • For a girly girl, plan a pretty pink party. Pick up all pink decorations and balloons. You can even get a custom pink party tent!
  • If pink is too sweet, you can plan something more sophisticated, such as a chic black and white soiree. Choose a black and white color palette and ask guests to come dressed to the nines in their best black and white ensembles. 
  • If the beach is your teen’s happy place, give them a tropical luau sweet 16 party. Tell your guests to grab some grass skirts and leis and get down to Hulu dancing! 

#6 Book Your Vendors

Tips for Planning Birthday Party

Unless you’re planning a DIY party (which is not advisable), you’ll need to hire various vendors. Create a sweet 16 birthday party planning checklist for your vendors, which may include caterers, entertainment (DJ or band), a tent company, and/or clean-up crew.

Don’t wait until the last minute to book your vendors. These companies are often booked out months or even years in advance. Reserve your vendors sooner than later, especially if your sweet 16 party will take place during the holidays or summer graduation, or wedding season.

Pros of hiring a pro Cons of hiring a pro
Saves time Saves money
No clean-up No creativity
No guesswork Limited calendar options


 #7 Photo Session

16 Birthday Party Tips

What do teenagers love more than social media? For most, not much. Make your teens' party extra shareable on social media platforms by renting a photo booth. If your budget doesn’t allow photo booth rental, set up a backdrop for photo ops. Add fun accessories, like party hats, sunglasses, and boas for guests to glam up for their photo shoot. And don’t forget the video! If you can’t afford a professional videographer, ask your teen’s besties to take turns recording. Most teenagers today have professional skills!

#8 Choose the Party Dress

This is almost always a big decision for a sweet 16 party: what to wear. Remind your teen that they should be themselves and be comfortable on their big day. If your teen is a jeans and t-shirt type of gal, then that is just fine! If your birthday girl loves glam, then she should be able to go all out! While a new outfit is always exciting, sometimes shopping second hand is even more fun because of the thrill of the hunt. Hand-me-downs are also an environmentally friendly choice.

#9 Choose a Menu

When it comes to teenagers, you better be prepared to feel them. A buffet style spread is easy and economical. Choose foods that will stand the test of time (and potentially temperatures). Fresh fruit, crudites, and charcuterie trays are perfect for a teen smorgasbord. Don’t forget beverages as well. Keep it simple with coolers of soda and bottled water and put out a punch bowl so they can serve themselves. Of course, you will need a birthday cake or cupcakes! Just don’t forget to ask guests about food allergies and dietary preferences.

#10 Plan Fun Activities

Tips for Planning Backyard Birthday

You’ll need to plan for lots of things to do at a sweet 16 party. You can easily set up a viewing screen for movies. Choose classics like Sixteen Candles or more current teen favorites. If your teen likes movie series, such as Harry Potter, plan for a movie marathon complete with popcorn and other movie snacks. Sweet 16 party games also will keep guests busy and happy. If you are wondering what to do.

Some ideas for games for a sweet 16 party include:

  • Karaoke contest
  • How well do you know the birthday girl contest
  • Dance-off
  • Trivia
  • Pinata
  • Apple bobbing

For other sweet 16 party games, you could set up a net for volleyball or badminton. Or, guests can play traditional outdoor games, such as croquet or bocce ball.

#11 Send Invitations

Professional party planners to recommend sending out party invitations three to five weeks in advance. If you’re planning a classic sweet 16 backyard party, it’s a longstanding tradition to hand-deliver each sweet 16 invitation, so make sure they are printed out in time for the birthday girl to hand them out.


Host an unforgettable sweet 16 birthday party for your special teen. We can’t wait to help you plan the party of your dreams! Give us a call or contact us on the website and we’ll find the right tent for you.

Tony Ehrbar's headshot

Tony Ehrbar

Owner & CEO

Tony's entrepreneurial spirit is woven into the fabric of American Tent (an Inc 5000 company), shaped by his experience running a successful event venue & tent rental service. His recognition as the Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2019 is a testament to his impact & dedication to his community. As the Co-founder and CEO of Renegade Plastics, Tony is leading initiatives in the tent industry to integrate eco-friendly, recyclable materials. Contributing as a board member for the Advanced Textiles Association (ATA) & the Green Bay Area Public Schools Foundation and being featured by Entrepreneur, Oracle, & Modern Weddings, Tony plays a pivotal role in enhancing the growth and success of the textile industry.

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