Stock photo by Melissa Askew

Hen & Stag

How to plan the perfect hen party, by a bridesmaid who's seen it all

I may or may not be turning into Katherine Heigl’s character in the rom-com 27 Dresses. I’ve been a bridesmaid six times, standing beside close friends and family as they say ‘I do’. It’s a special experience - a true honour.

But beyond the dresses, event planning and DIY projects, it can be… a lot. Especially if you’re a newbie. Your job after all is to make sure everything leading up to the big day goes swimmingly (no pressure).

Before the wedding bells ring, every bride needs a ‘last sail before the veil’ or ‘last fling before the ring’ with the ‘Bride Tribe’. That’s where you come in - and it's easier said than done.

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These are the essential things I wish someone told me about how to plan an unforgettable hen party:

The bride’s dos and don’ts

First things first: you need to get a few things straight with the bride. There are crucial details you cannot afford to get wrong. And if you do, you could have a bridezilla on your hands…

- Is she looking for a one-night hen party or a trip over multiple days?

- What are her top locations? Does she want to go abroad? If so, what destinations make her travel bucket list?

Related: Four places to have a fabulous farmhouse style hen in Ireland (just like Meghan Markle!)

- Does she have definite 'no nos'? Does she want to avoid a rowdy nightclub scene? Are dare devil activities like bungee jumping or skydiving her idea of a nightmare? Avoid, I repeat, avoid her 'no nos' at all costs.

- What are potential dates for the festivities? It’s not a hen party without the bride!

- What’s important for her to have at her hen? Does she prefer a relaxed weekend in the country or a city break jam packed with activities and parties?

This should get you started. Listen out for little hints she may drop (even without realising it). Your mobile phone’s trusty notepad feature will come in handy.

Related: Revealed: 60% of Irish women say they'd hate this one thing to happen at a hen party they'd attended

Oh, one more thing. The guests…

Rounding up the hens 

Clearing the guest list with the bride-to-be is crucial. It can make or break the dynamic of the night or weekend.

Does the bride only want bridesmaids or 30 of her closest friends? What about her work wife or gap year buddies? Will the MOB and mother-in-law be in attendance? Perhaps Nan too?

Make sure you finalise the invite list with the bride before making any arrangements. You won't want to miss anyone, plus you’ll need exact numbers to make bookings anyway.

Related: From vintage tea tours to finding Father Ted: 10 hen party activity ideas everyone will love

The price is right

The bride isn’t going to care about a swanky cocktail bar if she doesn’t have her girlfriends there.

And according to a study by THEVOW.ie of 1.2K people, a staggering 91% said they believe that the cost of hen and stag parties has got out of hand, so when looking for accommodation, travel and activities, keep price at the forefront because this can be a real deal breaker.

Related: It's official: Everyone agrees the cost of hen and stag parties has got out of hand

Only once you have two or three options should you send them to the wider group. Opening up hen do planning from the beginning to 20+ guests can be a recipe for disaster (I’ve learned the hard way).

Oh, and the keyword here is ‘notice’. Give as much as you can. Expenses are much easier to manage when you give people enough time to plan for them.

Shop ‘til you drop 

Make sure you shop around. Before you begin, do a quick search for places that cater to hen parties specifically.

Last summer, my fellow bridesmaids and I rented a house for our bride and 12 other women in Oxfordshire through Acacia Cottages. Think relaxed weekend in the English countryside (with bubbles). The company offered a list of hen party activities we could purchase - including an at-home spa treatment, a three-course meal and cocktail making.

One booking, one payment, one contact. Prices are usually subsidised too.

Trust me, it will be a huge weight lifted off your shoulders.

Girl talk

I know what you’re thinking… “Another group text?!” Yes. As cliche as it sounds communication is key. There needs to be a common forum for Team Bride. Whether that’s a WhatsApp group or Facebook event page, that’s up to you. Think of it as your one-stop shop for all hen ideas and contributions.

Take advantage of websites like Survey Monkey or Doodle to compile each guest’s preferences for location, activities and dates. It can be hard to come to a unanimous decision, but websites like this make life easier.

Spreadsheets are you best friend

Accommodation, payments, transportation, bridal games… the list goes on.

If you’re in charge of collecting payments from the other girls, track each transaction in a Google spreadsheet with dates, amounts and descriptions. I promise you’ll have to come back to it at some point. You will thank yourself.

Now that the main planning is done…

Send out an itinerary 

Once you know where you’re going and what you’ll be doing, make an itinerary for the hens. Do this as far in advance as possible. 

Not only will this give the guests time to think about transportation, they’ll be able to gauge how pricey the festivities may be. You can never have too much time to save.

Related: From the glamorous to the adventurous: A hen for every bride's style

Guests will also know what to pack. No one wants to show up to a lavish dinner setting in denim shorts and a T-shirt when everyone else is dressed to impress. If you plan to surprise your bride, make sure you give her a heads up as to what to bring.

Get crafty on the cheap

A chic and sophisticated hen do doesn’t need to come with a hefty price tag. Instagram and Pinterest are the go-to destinations for all things wedding DIY.

Print out personalised signs or punny phrases complete with frames you already have at home. Incorporate fun memories or the bride's favourite hobbies. It’s the little details that show how much thought has gone into the celebration.

Related: Where to buy cheap and cheerful hen party accessories in Ireland

You can find decorations on Amazon, Etsy, eBay and even Gumtree for low prices. Hanging photos of the bride and her guests is a nice touch - and only costs a few pounds to print out. But don't forget the groom. Photos of the future newlyweds through the years is absolutely brilliant. Who doesn't love a trip down memory lane?

Confetti sprinkles are always a good idea.

Delegate tasks

The struggle of “too many cooks in the kitchen” can be all too real. To make for efficient planning, delegate tasks among the bridesmaids and/or hens.

Have one manage food and refreshments and another set up games and decorations. Put one bridesmaid’s music taste to the test and ask her to create a personalised playlist. It’s a great way to make everyone feel involved.

Thank your guests and treat your bride

The bride and hens may have travelled far and wide to be there, and that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Whether it’s a simple ‘thank you’ card or little gift, the acknowledgement goes a long way.

‘Hen Do Survival’ goodie bags are always a hit and are fun to put together. They include all of those little items one needs on a weekend away, including water, tissues, chapstick, mints, hair grips, tea bags, silly photo props (funny glasses, moustaches, lips, etc), Ibuprofen (for those with sore heads!) and a cheeky mini bottle of booze.

A ‘bridal trivia quiz’ or 'advice for the happy couple' notepad is a fabulous addition - and something you can make at home.  A little gift for the bride - whether handmade or store bought - is always welcome. It's her time to be pampered!

Game time

Whatever your location and budget, games can always make an appearance.  From ‘Mr and Mrs’ to ‘The secret to a happy marriage is…’, we have you covered with a full list of brilliant hen games here.

Related: Is the male stripper a thing of the past for Irish hen parties?

What not to do…

Plan your perfect hen party

Is this your wedding? No. Make sure you’re not being blinded by your own party preferences. Always put the bride first.

Stress!

It’s easy to get caught up in it all, but at the end of the day, the hen do is a celebration! Get the planning done, but don’t let it get you overly stressed.

Over book

Activities are fun, but there is such a thing as too much organised fun. Make sure the bride and hens have time to relax and chill throughout the party. The last thing you want is bridal burnout. 

Happy hen!