Making it through a ten-hour car ride to a theme park with three kids may be a snap compared to surviving a family reunion - while they always seem like a good idea in theory, the reality is that planning and executing a successful family get-together can be stressful and time-consuming. Avoid all the usual family reunion pitfalls by following our step-by-step survival guide below. With a little help, some effective organizing and a lot of creativity, your next family reunion will be so easy you might make it an annual event!
Step One - The Guest List: Often, determining the guest list is the hardest part of reunion planning unless you are a pro at organizing your address book. Start by sitting down to make a list of all the guests. Cross reference that list with the addresses and emails you have on file and determine what information you don't have. Rely on other family members to fill in missing information and compile a final list in Word or Excel. Make a note of how many adults and children there are, as well as any elderly family members that may need special attention or accommodations.
Step Two - The Venue: Oh, the venue...what to choose? Indoors or outdoors, rent a space or throw it at a family home? There are so many questions and undoubtably tons of opinions. Ultimately, you want to choose a party venue that is accessible, will accommodate all the guests and won't break the bank. Compile a shortlist of all the options along with pros and cons for each. Find a venue with Punchbowl before you send the save-the-date or invitation or ask family members to volunteer their house or vacation home if they have the space. Feeling uninspired? Check out this list and start the search!
- Rent a mansion or estate
- Book a pavillion at a local park or beach
- Pitch an event tent in your backyard
- Reserve an event space at a museum or aquarium
- Book a room at a restaurant or inn
- Get away to an exotic location that most family members haven't been to
Step Three - The Invitation: This may seem like a no-brainer, but you want to make sure you give all the invited guests as much information as possible so they can plan ahead. For example, if a lot of people are travelling from out of town, they'll need to make accommodation arrangements, so you'll want to include that information on the invite. Pick a digital invitation from Punchbowl and use the event planning features to poll guests on what date or location works best for them. Punchbowl offers a wide variety of designs - display a montage of family pictures, make it a theme reunion or go for less-is-more and pick a classic design.
Gather some favorite family photos and upload them to your Punchbowl design for a sentimental touch.
Give your reunion a theme - meet at a strawberry patch or local organic farm and plan an outdoor activity.
Choose a classical design if the event is at a country club or upscale restaurant.
Step Four - Decorations: You've picked a venue, the guest list has been finalized, the save-the-dates and invitations are done...now it's time to plan the decorations! Decorating for a family reunion is often the best part because you can integrate family heirlooms, pictures and use your imagination to make the space warm, inviting and festive. Step back, analyze the party space and ask yourself the following questions:
- How big is the space and how many tables (both for seating and food) will you need?
- What is the lighting like and will you need additional lighting?
- What color scheme will fit best in the space?
- Will you need to supply linens, utensils, plates, etc?
- What type of floral arrangements or centerpieces will look best?
The answers to these questions will help guide you through the rest of the decor planning. Try to think outside the box and integrate as many personal touches as possible. Here are some decor ideas that will make all the guests smile and will provide tons of photo opps!
Elegant DIY Floral Bouquets:
- Medium glass vase (round or square)
- Bag of glass beads (found at most craft stores)
- Variety of flat, green leaves (florist)
- Bunch of twigs or branches of various lengths
- Paper ribbon, thick width (found at most craft stores)
- Assortment of ferns, wildflowers and greenery (florist)
Put the entire bag of glass beads on the bottom of the vase. Wrap the flat green leaves (three at most) around the inside perimeter of the vase and fill with water, mid-way. Assemble flowers and branches (cut at various lengths). Tie tiny bows out of the paper ribbon on a few of the branches at various lengths.
Rustic Photo Montage:
- Photos of family members (past and current)
- Large piece of plywood (preferably 3' x 5', found at hardware stores)
- Paint, paintbrush and painter's tape
- Letter stencils (found at most craft stores)
- Push pins or thumbtacks
Lay the plywood on the floor so it's flat. Tape linear lines across the length of the board and paint in between. When you peel the tape off, you should have various lines across the entire board. Use the letter stencils to paint the name of the reunion at the top (in between lines). Pin the family photos all over the board and set on an easel for display.
- Bag of multi-colored balloons
- Clear, acrylic string (found at most craft stores)
Blow up an assortment of balloons and attach (with differing amounts of space in between) to the string with clothespins. Hang over a buffet table or along the ceiling.
Step Five - Food and Drinks: Often, a get-together is determined a success if there's good food and a stocked, open bar. Sounds easy, right? Go above and beyond and wow guests with a unique menu and some tasty signature cocktails. If the reunion has a theme, use it as a base for determining what kind of food to serve. For instance, if the family reunion will be a summer picnic, then add some Southern flair and serve fried chicken, cheddar bisquits, creamy potato salad, grilled flank steak, apple tarts and peach cobbler. There are a few stand-bys that always make a good impression - integrate them into your reunion menu and keep guests going back for seconds:
Classic Caesar Salad
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tbsp. anchovy paste
- 2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp. mustard powder
- 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 stick salted butter, melted
- 1 loaf of day-old french bread
- Romaine lettuce, washed and cubed
Combine garlic, mayonnaise, anchovy paste, 1/2 cup of cheese, Worcestershire sauce, mustard powder and lemon juice. Place in refridgerator until ready to use on salad. Cut bread into small cubes and place in bowl. Pour butter over bread and toss. Add a few dashes of salt and pepper and stir. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Toss lettuce, croutons and dressing with remaining cheese and serve immediately.
Chicken and Eggplant Skewers
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/3 cup dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 8 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cubed
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 4 large red onions, largely diced
- 2 eggplants, peeled and cubed
Combine oil, mustard, soy sauce and pepper in a large bowl. Take out a small amount for grilling. Add chicken, garlic, onions and eggplant and marinate for a few hours. Heat the grill and lightly brush with olive oil. Take out chicken and vegetables from marinade and skewer, alternating meat and veggies. Cook on high heat for 15 minutes, turning frequently and brush on the remaining marinade every couple of minutes. Serve hot!
Creamy Roasted Tomato Mac and Cheese
- 1 box elbow macaroni, uncooked
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 bag cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 cup cottage cheese
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 large tomatoes
Cook macaroni in boiling water for 8 minutes and drain. Return to the pan and add sour cream, cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, salt and pepper, stir well (until lumps have melted) on low heat. Dish into a shallow glass baking casserole. Slice tomatoes and place on a baking sheet with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and olive oil and broil or roast for 10 minutes. When crispy and carmelized, add to the top of macaroni, top with bread crumbs and butter and bake at 370 degrees for 25 minutes until bubbly and hot.
Quench thirsty guests with some refreshing cocktails (and mocktails) like sangria, fruity lemonades, flavored beer, old-fashioned root beer floats and champagne spritzers. A dessert table is also a fun idea - arrange a variety of cupcakes, mini tartlets, cookies and penny candy for everyone to snack on after dinner.
Just Peachy Sangria
- 1/2 cup peach schnapps
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 bottles of dry white or rosé wine
- 1/2 cup triple sec
- 9 peaches, ripened, pitted and cubed
- 2 limes, sliced
- 1/8 cup sugar
Mix brandy, lemon juice, wine, triple sec and sugar together in a pitcher or punch bowl. Add peaches and limes and refridgerate overnight. Serve chilled.
Step Six - Activites: Chances are, everyone will be mingling and catching up for the majority of the family reunion. It doesn't hurt, however, to plan a few activites to keep kids busy and adults laughing. If the family hasn't been together in a long time, it's also a good idea to have some activites that serve as icebreakers and get everyone loosened up and comfortable.
Tip: Designate someone (a budding teenage artist, perhaps?) to be the "photographer" and have them snap away so you can send photos to the family afterward.
- Play a variety of classic outdoor games like tug-of-war, flag football, whiffle ball, "Simon Says", "Marco Polo", musical chairs, telephone or have a relay race.
- Design your own family trivia with questions made up ahead of time.
- Set up a game table with a variety of board games like Scrabble, Yahtzee, dominoes and playing cards.
- Arrange a craft table and have guests make their own 'remember when' scrapbook page. Assemble all the pages afterward and share with the family in an online photo album.
Step Seven - Relax: All the hard work is FINALLY done! Now it's time to sit back and relax with family. Enjoy the time you have with everyone together and focus on reflecting on memories and building new ones. It won't hurt to taste-test the sangria and help yourself to an extra cobbler, either!
More Tips: Still feeling overwhelmed or out of ideas? Check out some more fantastic things to do to make your family reunion memorable.
- Rent a portable photo booth so guests can stop in and take silly, vintage-style pics
- Schedule the reunion around a town-specific event like a firework show, town fair, summer festival or farmer's market.
- Arrange for the reunion to take place at an amusement park and meet up together at the end of the day in a rental pavillion.
- Plan to have the reunion on the same weekend as a family member's birthday or a graduation to increase the attendance odds.