How to Plan a Retirement Party – 10 Easy Steps for a Memorable Retirement Celebration

by Sarah De Winne

Retirement is one of the major life milestones to celebrate with family, friends and colleagues.  Knowing how to plan a retirement party will make sure retirement celebrations hit the right note.  No-one likes the thought of aging, but a retirement party is the perfect way to celebrate past achievements and look forward to exciting future plans and projects. 

How to Plan a Retirement Party


Step 1. Decide on a Realistic Retirement Party Budget

The first step in planning a retirement party is to set a realistic budget.  If you are organising the retirement party on behalf of a company, check the allocated budget before you take any decisions.

Once you have decided on a budget for the retirement party, you can start to take decisions about:

  • the venue of the party;
  • how many people to invite/cater for;
  • all the extra touches which make a party memorable.

To help you keep to budget, it’s a good idea to use a spreadsheet.  Allocate how much money you want to spend on each area and then keep track of actual costs spent.

Step 2. Choose and Book a Date and Retirement Party Venue


The date of the retirement party will probably be dictated by the retiree’s date of retirement.  Unless you want to make the party a surprise, make sure the retiree is available on the date chosen!  If you are planning a surprise retirement party, you may need the help of a close family member in reserving the date.


Think about the best time of day to hold the retirement party.  If people are travelling long distances, a later start may be preferable.  You can hold retirement parties at lunch, during the afternoon or in the evening.

Of course, there are limitless choices of retirement party venues from restaurants and bars to museums.  There are no wrongs and rights about choosing a retirement party venue.  Anything goes!  The important things to consider are whether the choice of venue suits the retiree’s personality, its location and cost!

There are venues for every size of budget.  However, if you are arranging a retirement party on a budget, the most cost-effective venue is your workplace or your home (or a willing friend’s house).  It’s easy to transform any office or home into a more appealing venue with some decorations and a little creativity.

Another possibility is putting a marquee up in your garden (or that of a friend!).  We did this for our wedding, and it worked really well.  The company supplied tables, chairs and a wooden dance floor!

Step 3. Consider the Retirement Party Theme and Dress Code


It is worth considering a theme for the retirement party.  Choosing a theme for any party gives the celebration a clear sense of direction which makes planning the event easier.  A well-selected theme can add an extra edge to the festivities.  They can be great fun and allow the organiser and party guests to get involved and be creative.

When picking a retirement party theme, think about the retiree’s personality, their interests and hobbies.  Basically, ask yourself two questions: What are they like? What do they like?  If you are planning a retirement party for a work colleague, ask their family and friends for help.

There are many possible retirement party themes including:

  • Relocation – If the retiree is relocating after retirement, you could theme the party around their new choice of state, city or country.
  • Travel – Similarly, many people decide to travel after retiring, so you could theme the party around world travel and food.
  • Favourite Films or Books – If people have a favourite film, book or character, these can make a great theme for a party.  How about James Bond?
  • Favourite Hobbies – Lots of people have a favourite hobby and this can also provide the perfect theme for a retirement party.  The retiree will have more time to enjoy it!
  • Year of Hiring –The date the retiree was hired is another great theme!  You can research what happened around the globe in that year.  News events and music may provide you with some ideas.
  • Retiree’s Profession – The profession of the retiree is also another good way of theming a retirement party.  Perhaps they are a teacher?

Once you’ve decided on your theme you can source decorations online and look at centrepiece ideas for the retirement party.  You may even want to get young children involved in creating a retirement banner. 

Once you’ve chosen a theme, you will have a clear focus and planning gets a lot easier!  You can also use the theme to give you ideas for retirement party favors and even how to dress for the retirement party!  A theme will give your retirement party a strong sense of identity and make it a unique and memorable event.

Step 4. Write the Retirement Party Guest List


Writing the perfect retirement party guest list will require some thought.  It’s important to get the right balance of guests at this celebratory event.

Unusually, retirement parties are the one time when you mix family, friends and work colleagues.  It’s a nice touch to include past and present work colleagues.

To do this, you may need to enlist the help of fellow colleagues at work or close family members.  They will be able to help you create the perfect retirement party guest list to reflect the retiree’s personal and professional life. 

Having a limit on numbers makes writing a retirement party guest list tricky.  It’s good to share this task with someone else so that you can take joint decisions about which guests to include and which to leave out.

Also, think carefully about who you invite and make sure there are no big personality clashes.  This can easily ruin a good party!

Once you’ve got your list, make sure you have all the correct contact details for each guest.  Using an Excel spreadsheet is a handy way of keeping a record.

You can also use the information from the spreadsheet to print labels directly in Word.  This is a great time-saver when it comes to sending out invitations for the retirement party!  You can also keep a record of who accepts and declines the invitation to help you keep track of numbers.

You can download our free retirement party guest list spreadsheet template here.

Step 5. Choose and Send Retirement Party Invitations


Another big decision to make is about which type of retirement party invitations to send.  The choices include:

  • ordering or buying professional retirement party invitations;
  • hand-making retirement party invitations yourself using those crafty skills;
  • designing retirement party invitations on your computer;
  • sending e-cards as retirement party invitations.

Professional Retirement Party Invitations

Ordering professional invitations is the most expensive option but it’s less time-consuming and extremely helpful if you are holding a large party.  You can also buy packs of invitations in high-street stationery shops and card shops.

Hand-Making Retirement Party Invitations

Alternatively, you can get creative and make your own retirement party invitations.  Craft and card-making materials are relatively inexpensive.  Plus, there are many retirement party invitation ideas on Pinterest and the internet.  Have a look and get inspired!

Designing Retirement Party Invitations on Your Computer

If you want to use your computer design skills, there are many free templates for retirement party invitations on websites.  We like using Canva as it’s easy to use and gives a professional finish.  You can either print and send your invitations by post or email them as an attachment.

If you are sending your invitations out by email, you should respect the privacy of other people’s data.  Send the email and attachment to yourself, then blind carbon copy (bcc) other recipients in.  They won’t see the email addresses of other guests.

Invitation Wording for Retirement Party Invitations

Think carefully about the invitation wording for the retirement party.  You need to tell your guests the following information:

  • Who is the party for?
  • What is the occasion?
  • Where is the party being held?
  • When is the party being held?
  • What time is the party being held?
  • What is the theme of the party?
  • What is the dress code of the party?
  • What food allergies/preferences do guests have?
  • Who to RSVP to?

If you want more help with wording your invitation, read our useful post How to Write the Best Wording for Retirement Invite.


If you want guests to volunteer to speak about the retiree at the party, you could also add a message inviting them to contact you if they are willing to help out.  Make sure you include an RSVP address, phone number or email so that guests can also tell you whether they can attend the party or not.

It is also really important that guests alert you to any food allergies or preferences.  This will ensure that everyone stays safe at the party.  You will also be able to know how many special diets to cater for.

If you want to add a quote to your retirement party invitation to make it stand out, our helpful post on Best Quotes for Retirement Party will give you 67 ideas!

Sample Program for Retirement Party

It is also helpful to design a sample program for the retirement party.  When guests arrive at the party, it’s useful to have a running order on display.  Guests can see the rough timings of the event; details of the food being served and information about any entertainment.

Once you are happy with your retirement party invitations, send them out and sit back and wait for the replies!

Step 6. Choose Retirement Party Food and Retirement Cake


The choice of retirement party food will probably be dictated by your budget.  The cheapest option is to self-cater.  Other more expensive options include catering companies, restaurants and other venues.

Self-Catering a Retirement Party

If you self-cater, the main decision is whether you want to offer hot food or a cold finger buffet.  This decision will be closely linked to your choice of venue, the facilities available and numbers.  Check these things out before you make a decision!

There are so many different types of food you could serve at a retirement party.  If you have chosen a theme for the party, this part of your retirement party planning will be much easier!  Don’t forget the retirement cake!  If you need some inspiration, check out our post about the Best Retirement Party Food Ideas.

However, when planning what food to include, it is vital that you cater for special diets and food allergies.  It is good to plan vegetarian dishes as part of any retirement party food.  Once you’ve got the invitation replies, you will know whether there are any other special food requirements.  Some guests could be vegan, gluten-free or dairy-free.  Others may have serious nut allergies!  It’s good to be aware so that you don’t get caught out on the day!

Using a Catering Company for a Retirement Party

There are many different companies offering a variety of catering packages which suit most budgets.  In addition, many popular high-street food supermarkets also offer a party food ordering service at reasonable prices.

There are also pop-up catering companies which can provide mobile street food vans at various venues including your home.  These specialise in many different types of food including hog roasts, pizzas, BBQs and fish and chips!  They can be a unique talking point and fun addition to your retirement party.

Booking a Restaurant or Venue for a Retirement Party

Another option is to book a restaurant or venue and let take care of all of the catering.  If you choose this route, make sure you book in advance to avoid disappointment.  You may have a choice of set menu options provided by the restaurant depending on your budget.  These will need to be sent to guests in addition to the retirement party invitation.

If you want to save money, some restaurants and venues may allow to provide your own choice of drinks.  Others may charge a corkage fee.  Ask when you make your booking.

Step 7. Write a Retirement Speech


The first thing to think about is who is going to give the retirement speech.  It is always best if the person giving the speech knows the retiree personally.  The speech will be more genuine.

If it’s a retirement party hosted by the company, it is usual for the retiree’s Line Manager to give the retirement speech.  Line Managers are a good choice as they have a professional relationship with the retiree.  They are in a position to give a heartfelt retirement speech which reflects on career achievements and personal qualities.

If you are holding your own retirement party or someone else is hosting it within your circle of family and friends, think carefully about who to choose.  Choose someone who is close to the retiree but confident about making a speech.

The content of retirement speeches should celebrate:

  • past career achievements (including previous and early jobs);
  • personal attributes;
  • family support;
  • future plans.

Before writing the retirement speech, spend time gathering this information from work colleagues, family members and close friends.  Don’t forget that you can also ask other guests in advance to prepare some anecdotes about the retiree.  These contributions can form part of your speech.

It is always good to include some light humour in the retirement speech.  Humour instantly relaxes guests and unites people if they don’t know each other.  Quotes are an effective and easy way to accomplish this.  Check out our post about different quotes for retirement party.

If you would like some visual prompts when giving the retirement speech, consider making a PowerPoint.  The slides can be embedded with photos to entertain the guests and a few words as aide-memoires for you!

For more detailed information about writing a retirement speech, read our post The Best Welcome Speech for Retirement Party.

Step 8. Arrange a Retirement Book of Memories


Another way of involving guests in the retirement party is to create a retirement book of memories.  There are many different types of guest books for a retirement party.  These can be created by contributions from guests during the retirement party or before the event.

On the day, guests can record their favourite anecdotes about the retiree during the party.  They can sign the book and share memories.  Of course, this is a lovely keepsake for the retiree after the party.  However, it also serves as a talking point for guests throughout the party as they remember shared work experiences.

If you want a unique way of guests recording their memories, deep box frames are another fun idea.  You can buy a range of blank wooden shapes which guests write on.  They are then slotted into the frame and can be displayed as a lasting memory of the retirement party.

Alternatively, you could collect photographs of the retiree from work colleagues, close friends and family.  You can collate these into a photo book in advance of the party.  Alongside the photographs, you can add memories and anecdotes.

If you are good with technology, you could also ask the guests to make short video clips of their work memories of the employee and their contributions.  You can then play the video during the party.

Even if you don’t make a photograph album for the retiree.  Why not consider displaying large photos of them at their retirement party?  A visual display of the retiree’s professional and personal life is a good way of celebrating the retiree.  Guests will have fun guessing the age the retiree was in each photo or to add a silly caption.  Give prizes for the best answers!

Step 9. Create a Retirement Music Playlist


No party is complete without music.  Nothing is worse than a quiet party!  So, it’s a good idea to put a retirement music playlist together even if it ends up just being background noise.

If you’ve themed your party, this will give you ideas for the music playlist.  Alternatively, find music tracks which were released in the year the retiree was hired.  Make sure you also find out what music the retiree enjoys and include some of his/her favourites.

In addition, there are many songs which lend themselves to a retirement music playlist.  Here are a few to get you started:

  • Ready for the Weekend by Calvin Harris
  • 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton
  • I Want to Break Free by Queen
  • Manic Monday by The Bangles
  • A Hard Day’s Night by The Beatles
  • My Way by Frank Sinatra
  • The Best is Yet to Come by Frank Sinatra

After the party, it’s a nice touch to present the playlist to the retiree as an extra retirement gift by burning it onto a CD or sending it to them as an MP3 file.

Step 10. Choose the Best Gift for Retirement Party


What you choose to buy as a gift for the retirement party will probably depend on how you know the retiree (personally or professionally), how well you know the retiree and your budget.

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For inspiration about gift ideas, firstly think about the retiree and what he/she likes.  Do they have a hobby? Do they enjoy wine?  Do they travel?  Brainstorm what you know about the person and then start your research.

Personalised gifts are a popular choice for retirement party presents as they are at other events.  We really appreciated our wedding gift of a personalised bottle of pink champagne.  We’ve kept the bottle and put bottle lights inside as a permanent keepsake.

If you want to know all the legal advice to plan your retirement you can check the US government website here.

For UK citizens, you can check this government website.

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