January the third. The date I'll always remember as my hen-do planning meltdown. It was five whole months before my sister’s hen party was meant to take place. I say “meant to” as I’d just spent an unsuccessful day scouring the internet for available self-catering houses for hen parties to sleep 21. Apparently the first weekend in June is when everyone goes away in groups of 21.
I knew I’d hit rock bottom when I started trying to bribe an owner into accepting my booking, even though someone had beaten me to it an hour earlier. At that point, I didn’t even know how many beds I needed, which wasn’t helping matters. In between ringing holiday rentals and chasing that last pesky hen who hadn’t replied, I was attempting to solve this brain-teaser: if 14 hens are staying on the Friday night and seven more hens are joining on Saturday morning, but one is leaving on Saturday afternoon and three more hens are coming for the day only, how many clean beds does one maid of honour need to book? Who knew you needed a degree in applied mathematics to plan a hen party?
And that was just for starters. By the time I had waved off the last hungover hen on the Sunday afternoon, having eventually found a place to host it, I was an expert in everything from party planning and event catering to accounting and DJing, and I was exhausted! So, whatever kind of hen party you’re planning, whether it’s abroad, at home, one day or a whole week, and whether you’re the maid of honour, a bridesmaid or the bride, this is everything I want you to know to ensure the planning is as stress-free as the event itself.
1. Start planning early
I started thinking about my sister’s hen nine months before the big day. My reasoning was that if you can create another person in this time frame, you can organise one little party. How deluded I was! It took me an entire month to even nail down a date, with at least four hens rejecting my first suggested dates.
When it comes to planning, the early hen gets the worm, so as soon as you know the date of the wedding get a list of potential names together. Apart from booking things before the proposal has even taken place, there’s no such thing as being too proactive. When you’re picking a date, remember you can’t please everyone – choose a shortlist of just two or three dates and go with the one the majority can make. That said, as brutal as it sounds, it’s helpful to put the hens in order of importance. Ask the b2b to do it unless you’re 100% confident in choosing between the date the bride’s work colleague can make and the one that her gym friend can. Top tip: burn this list straight after reading.
To make life easier for yourself, consider an off-peak date. According to Chillisauce, June, July and August are the most popular months for hen dos, so if you are able to get ahead of the game with you booking and plan outside these times, then do so.
2. Communicate smartly
Unless you love spending your spare time emailing, avoid sending individual messages to each hen. The 250 emails in my inbox prove it’s not the most efficient method. Instead, embrace social media and set up a private Facebook or WhatsApp group, where you can impart the essential information to all hens in one fell swoop. This also makes it easier to cross check everyone’s dates and requests when it comes to booking activities later on. Plus, no naughty hens can pretend they haven’t seen the all-important payment schedule or on-the-day itinerary, because these nifty apps tell you who’s seen each message you send.
Keep your communications short and direct. Think “Please reply by Wednesday at 5pm confirming you are free on 5 May,” rather than “Can you let me know any weekends you’re free in May or June – no rush!”
3. Know your audience
Once you’ve secured the date, it’s time to choose the party style. You may think that a week in Ibiza is the only way to say goodbye to singledom, but it’s crucial to remember who’s coming and what they can afford, and to find a compromise between the bride’s preferences and those of the other hens.
If you’re all in your twenties with tight budgets but love an all-nighter, then make it a short but sweet night out in a cool city. In your thirties with more responsibilities, but bigger budgets? Think local house-party weekend away with spa treatments. And if you have a complete range of ages with mums and cousins in attendance, provide options like an afternoon tea followed by a karaoke night, so hens can dip in and out.
My biggest fear was that people would get bored if there was downtime. But there’s no need to provide an expensive, jam-packed schedule – that’ll just result in everyone running from one activity to the next like headless chickens. As long as the hens have somewhere to chill out, chat and quaff champagne, they’ll be happy.
4. Learn to let go
This one is for all you control freaks. When planning a hen do, you need to share the mental and physical load. Having an entire group’s expectations on your conscience can be an emotional drain, and organising everything single-handedly is a recipe for making things more stressful than necessary.
Once you’ve got the key details in place, think about other time-consuming aspects and farm them out. Identify the party hen – she’s the one you need to ask to put together the dancing play list or book the, ahem, exotic entertainment. Ask someone who’s a natural leader to pull together the games. There’ll be a tech-savvy member lurking somewhere in your hen house, too. Give her the role of filming the ultimate ice-breaker, the Mr & Mrs quiz. We've even made that an easy task with our Mr & Mrs quiz questions for hen dos. Finally, the crafty hen is perfectly placed to put together a photo and memories book for the bride or to bake celebratory cupcakes.
5. Be a smart budgeter
Just because you’re chief organiser doesn’t mean you have to pay more than your fair share. Before you even consider booking anything or buying the cheapest of novelty items, work out the costs across the board. At my sister’s do I heard, “I can’t believe you managed to get all this for such a cheap price!” from several girls. Confession time: I didn’t. I was just too embarrassed to ask for more money when I realised that I’d miscalculated how much everyone owed.
All the little extras like sashes and T-shirts might seem cheap at the time, but they add up. Enlist the help of a hen with a head for numbers if budgeting isn’t your forte and cost up everything before revealing the final price. It’s also worth building in a small buffer, say £2 per hen, for those small amounts like tips or taxis that crop up on the night. If you don’t use it you can always give it back.
Try to keep hen money separate from your everyday bank account for ease of comparing incoming and outgoing amounts. If you have an old account from your student days with nothing in it, this is the time to whip it back into action. And if a deposit is due on anything, it’s OK to tell a white lie and bring forward the payment date – there’s always one who’ll push the deadline to the max! Finally, if you’re self-catering, don’t underestimate how much food and drink a gaggle of girls can get through in one sitting, so save space in the budget.
Now it’s time to get those dancing shoes out and enjoy the fruits of your labours. Here’s to a happy and successful hen do!
What your guests wish you knew
"I barely knew the bride – she was a uni friend of my boyfriend – so when the MoH asked us to talk about our memories of her. I had nothing to say. Nothing. Mortifying." Georgia
The lesson: Avoid unnecessary awkwardness
"At afternoon tea in a posh London hotel, a bridesmaid whipped out willy-shaped items – including a large inflatable. I thought the bride’s mum was going to kill her." Steph
The lesson: Read the crowd
"The MoH organised a scavenger hunt based around the bride’s time at uni. It was so difficult that it took hours, and everyone was hot and irritable.The mood at dinner wasn’t great, and we all left straight after pudding." Deborah
The lesson: Don’t overdo it
"My best friend’s sister was obsessed with all the hens turning up in wedding dresses as a surprise. I’d do a lot of things for my bestie, but wearing a wedding dress out isn’t one of them." Ellie
The lesson: Seriously… just no
If you’re still feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the planning, why not read our edit of the most hilarious hen party stories – these will definitely take your mind off it!