The hen party is the final send-off for the bride-to-be so getting this right is a big task for the maid of honour and her fellow bridesmaids.
For American readers a hen party is our name for a bachelorette party.
As a bride I trusted my maid of honour and my two (adult) bridesmaids to plan my hen do and it was quite nice to get a break from having to make decisions and plans – there’s enough for a bride to be doing for the wedding and honeymoon!
My very own hen party was two years ago and my maid of honour, bridesmaids and friends did a fantastic job. I’ve also been involved in planning dos for friends so thought I’d share some pearls of wisdom as wedding season is upon us!
Every bride is different so it’s key you speak to her in advance to find out what she would and wouldn’t like to do and to manage expectations not only for the bridal party but for the other guests too.
I totally recommend setting up a WhatsApp group chat specifically for the hen party as there will be a lot to discuss! When it comes to finalising activity options and locations it’s worth considering setting up a free and easy Doodle Poll and get other bridesmaids/guests to vote for their preferred options – it saves a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with messages!
How to plan a hen party
The guest list
Now this can be a nightmare before you even start but this is a must to get sorted early on as it will influence the budget and activities you organise. Usually this is left to the maid of honour to sort out so if the bride give a bit of direction it would be a big help. It’s always helpful to know if you’re being expected to invite ancient Auntie Mable or the old school friend that no one but the bride can stand.
If you think people will clash, it’s worth considering splitting the day into different parts – the tranquil safe spa day is ideal for the mother-in-laws and party prudes and the wild evening is perfect for the party girls.
But if there is an extreme divide, consider having two separate hen dos altogether. There’s nothing worse than having one or two people that don’t join in with the fun, or worse, ruin it for everyone else.
I actually had two hen dos in the end.
I had my main hen party in Newcastle with friends and my mam. On the eve of Steve’s stag do I had a mini hen (a low-key meal) with Steve’s family including my (underage) bridesmaids and flowergirl and my mam also came down from Newcastle. I had the best of both worlds which was really lovely and no-one was left out and activities were all age-appropriate – everyone was happy.
Save the date
Getting a date that works for absolutely everybody on the invite list is no easy task. Try to choose a day or weekend at least a week before the wedding and do not, under any circumstances, hold the hen do the night before the big day. The bride will want to be fresh and ready for her big day not suffering from the mother of all hangovers.
The night before our big day I had fish and chips with my family and hubby-to-be before he went to the castle for the night. I then had a pamper session with my mam getting a manicure and a pedicure with some bubbly. It was very chilled and meant I felt rested before the excitement of our wedding day.
Plan the date well in advance so that you can maximise the numbers who are able to attend and remember this is the bride’s big night so make sure all her best friends can be there.
My (main) hen do was a couple of weeks before our big day and worked around friends who had to travel from overseas like my maid of honour who came over from Holland.
Set a budget and stick to it
Remember that cash is king and money can be a real deal breaker for some people. Make sure you set a realistic budget for your girlies while still retaining the feel of making a special effort for the bride.
The budget can be a difficult balance and may well effect the guest list and the location. Not everyone can afford to jet off to warmer climes for a week or spend hundreds of pounds on activities closer to home.
A word of warning do not settle for ‘I’ll pay you later’ from anyone – this can lead to resentment when you find out that a particular friend just splashed out on new clothes but still hasn’t coughed up for the hen party!
If you can pay for things in advance try to do that so guests have time to save up and stagger payments; rather than having a hefty bill on the day itself.
And don’t leave it up to the bride to collect the money – this should be a job for the maid of honour and bridesmaids too.
My friends had organised drinks at the club upon arrival (prepaid) and also all chipped in to pay for my meal which was lovely and very unexpected. It had all been agreed upon beforehand so people could budget accordingly.
Location location location
Do your research! We have seen all varieties of hen dos, from a night at someone’s house or at the local pub, to international city breaks in Europe and beyond. This is where that initial chat with the bride should help shape the location as well as the budget.
I didn’t want anything over the top for my hen do. All I asked for was it be in Newcastle (best party place in the UK) and that my mam could come too. Most of my friends live at home in the North East or have somewhere to stay for free; so it meant more money could be had enjoying ourselves than paying for accommodation and travel expenses.
Some brides want some pre-wedding sun and there are some great short break deals to be had if you shop around.
A hen do is often an excuse for some quality girl bonding time and so location can be key. Wherever you decide, make sure you check out the best places to go (and the places to avoid) before setting off. It may sound silly, but if you choose to go abroad then check that everyone has a valid passport – you don’t want any tears at the airport!
It is absolutely worth checking with venues that hen parties are welcome and whether or not you can decorate the table/area and if fancy dress/sashes etc are allowed too. The last thing you want is being refused entry on the day!
When I helped organise a hen do in York we quickly learnt via research that many bars and restaurants don’t allow large groups of hens or fancy dress at all.
Plan your activities
Most brides want their hen dos to involve a good party and probably a little (lot) of drinking. The most popular evening activities are cocktail making master classes, comedy clubs, drag cabaret, strip shows and then onto a nightclub.
But also consider some day time activities – a girly spa day, beauty treatments or afternoon tea – to make the bride feel really special.
Again think about the guest list – are activities age appropriate?
My hen do started mid-afternoon. We had some light bites and fun and games in a bar on the Quayside – lots of yummy cocktails and giggles. We then went into town for a lovely meal and then to a club where we had our own VIP area with drinks upon arrival. We were able to have a sit down and gossip between hitting the dance floor.
Time flies when you’re having fun
On paper it always seems that there’s not enough to fill the day but once you are all together catching up and gossiping, time soon flies. Try to be flexible with your plans, if the group seem to be happy, don’t rush off to the next activity just for the sake of being on time.
Remember you don’t have to be Monica from Friends with her head mic and clipboard frantically trying to organise every teeny tiny detail of the day but try to factor in catch up and gossiping time too between activities while not missing out on things you may have already paid for.
You may sometimes feel like moving the party from venue to venue is like herding sheep but it’s all worth it in the end!
Teamwork makes the dream work
Although the main role of hen do planner lies with the maid of honour she should be no means do everything herself. She should work with fellow bridesmaids and also try to involve other guests in the planning. I know this could lead to a minefield of arguments but try to avoid being vague by asking ‘what are we doing?’ as this can open the floodgates with a barrage of conflicting ideas. Instead let them know your plans and see if they can add anything to it.
You might get some useful feedback too that some activities might not be as popular as first thought with the group. #TeamWorkMakesTheDreamWork
Remember, there will always be someone who doesn’t agree, but you can never please everyone, so go with what you feel the bride will want above all and what fits with your theme, location and budget too.
Keep in touch
Communication before the hen do and during is key. How many rows do you think are caused when big groups are drunk and lost in a strange city?
Make sure everyone knows when and where to meet on the day. I ended up turning up at the wrong bar initially thanks to my mam getting confused luckily it was only a short walk to the right place!
It’s worth considering sending an itinerary out beforehand and exchange mobile numbers with the group if you don’t already have them. Once you are all there, establish a meeting point just in case anybody gets separated from the group and mobile batteries die during the evening.
When organising the details my three adult bridesmaids chatted over Facebook messenger and WhatsApp. They also spoke over Skype too. The hens had a Facebook group to share ideas within. I wasn’t privy to a lot of what was going on behind the scenes as they wanted it to be a surprise which I loved. I knew the date and time and dress code but that was it.
This is especially important if you are out for the whole day or weekend. You don’t want the bride (or anyone else) to be legless by lunch time and not be able to enjoy the evening shenanigans. So make sure you factor in some down time for eating and re-hydrating with soft drinks and water inbetween the boozy fun.
For my hen do we had two lots of food which helped soak up some of the booze!
Sort the transport
A really simple thing to do (but one that often gets forgotten) is organising transport from A to B – and making sure it’s factored into the original cost you send the hens. This cuts out any confusion on where people need to be, there’s less risk of losing guests (trust me, it happens!) and everyone will appreciate when an all-in price really means all-in.
It might be the case that everyone organises their own way to the location – but try to coordinate a time/place where people can meet.
Make sure everyone has a plan for getting home or back to the hotel too.
The little things
The hen do is the last party the bride will have as a miss so try to think of little things that will make it special for her. My friends made little bags for every guest which had sweet treats, old pictures of me with them, a different question to ask me as part of a Mr and Mrs themed game as well as little mementos and badges for us all to wear. I kept mine and it’s in my memory box.
I was really blown away by how much thought, time and effort had been put into pulling everything together. It wasn’t just my maid of honour and bridesmaids but other friends too worked so hard to add those special little touches to make everything so personalised and perfect for me.
For hen dos I’ve organised in the past I’ve created party bags for the hens to enjoy – it can be good fun stocking up on fun and silly items to add to the bags. It’s worth visiting shops like Poundland and browsing online to see if you can bulk buy items for cheaper.
It’s also worth thinking about whether the bride will want a sash or badge to wear or some fancy dress items beforehand that you can bring on the day – have this chat in your initial discussions with the bride.
Once your date, location, activities, budget, guest list etc has been finalised it’s time to think about a dress code. It needs to be appropriate for the activities you will be doing and the locations while also considering what the bride will want as well as factoring in the weather too.
For my hen do the hens all wore black and I wore purple as it’s my favourite colour and I could be identified easily as the bride.
Go with a dress code that works for your hen do whether it’s glitzy and glam or more low key – find something that sticks to your theme and let the hens know in advance.
I actually had to buy a new dress as I didn’t have anything purple that fit so make sure people have time to raid their wardrobe or get something new!
Whatever you plan remember to take lots of photos and have fun. Hen parties don’t have to be stressful if you are organised and communicate well.
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Have you got any top tips to organise a hen do? Or perhaps you want to share your favourite memories of being a hen or the bride? Let me know in the comments below.
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