Your Complete Checklist to Planning a Mid-Size Family Reunion
Thanks to vaccines, many of us are able to travel to see loved ones after a very difficult year. A family reunion is a great way to gather and reconnect. It's an opportunity to celebrate your family's history, recent achievements, and new additions. Whether it’s a picnic in the park, a beach-side barbecue, a state park gathering, or an afternoon in someone's home, a properly planned reunion will attract even the most aloof family members for a day of fun in the sun.
If you're planning a family reunion for about 100 people, you'll want to start your planning about six months in advance so you can drum up interest and enlist some help to pull it off. Here's a checklist to help you and your family get started.
6 Months Before
Before any planning can begin in earnest, you need to determine who wants to attend a reunion. Send out a family poll via email to gauge interest, get an idea of how many people would attend, and find out what dates and locations would work best. You should also ask about the budget, so you know how much money people are willing to spend on the event. Try to give ranges for cost per person, so it's easy for people to understand. Use an online tool like Survey Hero to design a simple poll for free and share the link with family members. Setting up the online poll will help you organize responses as they come in.
Now's also the time to decide whether the reunion will happen at a family member's home or a different location. Reunions held at homes are often hosted by the family matriarch or patriarch, especially when Grandma's home has played a strong role in the family history. Boisterous Christmas parties, casual Labor Day barbecues, and even graduation parties can be wonderful occasions to gather far-flung relatives and long-lost family members under one roof. If your space is somewhat limited, you might consider doing a family reunion "open house," where people could come and go throughout the day. Whether you're hosting the reunion or Grandma is, make sure you have help. Enlist some reliable aunts to cook and some enthusiastic cousins to organize activities. Or, if your budget allows, hire a caterer to supplement your home-baked meals and to keep the drinks flowing.
Having a family reunion at a location other than a family member's home means no one family is responsible for all the arrangements. Tasks can be distributed across extended family groups, easing some of the planning burdens. It also may allow you to accommodate more people than any one person's home can. And, for traveling family members, a location with other recreation activities may allow them to turn the reunion into a full-fledged family vacation, making the most of travel dollars being spent.
5 Months Before
Ask for help and get your reunion planning committee together. You'll need to find dependable and enthusiastic relatives who could take charge of:
- Finding a location for the event. If you're not having the reunion at a family member's home, you'll need to start looking for a location. Your helper will need to research places that cater to a variety of interests, age levels, physical abilities, and financial resources. Ocean or lakeside family parks are ideal; there are things to do on both water and on land—activities to keep kids busy and lounging opportunities on the beach for grown-ups. Many vacation areas and state parks have a "destination manager" who can help you with your reunion details.
- Figuring out food for the event. If planning a potluck, someone will need to determine the menu, assigning dishes and other food items to each family. They may also need to arrange for extra cooking and/or grilling facilities at the location. Or, if you're not planning to handle all the food yourself, your helper will need to find a caterer.
- Decorations, invitations, and signs. Putting one person in charge of printed materials will help ensure a consistent theme for the event.
- Activities and entertainment. An athletic relative might take charge of the volleyball net, plan games for kids, and make sure music is covered. Croquet, badminton, and volleyball are all great group activities for outside. Or ask a cousin to create a game room for kids and plan to stock it with board games and other activities to keep kids busy.
- Family history. Putting together a family tree is a great way to incorporate your heritage into the event. You might also consider creating a small family newspaper to highlight recent family events, special facts, and history.
- Photography and/or video. You'll want to record this event for posterity. Consider setting up an online photo gallery where everyone can share their photos after the event or creating an account with an online photo book service where you can create photo keepsakes for attendees.
- Cleanup. Solicit several folks for this massive task!
Consider managing your volunteers with a tool like a Signup Genius, which lets you solicit volunteers and send group messages and task reminders without cluttering up your inbox.
You should also have conversations with your planning team about the budget. Based on the feedback you got from your initial survey, determine your working budget so you can keep costs in check.
4 Months Before
Hopefully, your committee has been doing their homework! Four months before your family reunion, plan to complete the following tasks:
- Finalize the date and location. Find out what amenities will be available: drinking water, swimming pool, grilling facilities, changing rooms, indoor space (in case of rain), picnic tables, and so on.
- Discuss themes and possible schedules.
- Finalize plans for reunion favors and memorabilia. Whether it's a video, a family history pamphlet, or T-shirts, family members will want something to remember this grand occasion. Ask an artistic family member to design a T-shirt, hat, sweatshirt, or other personalized clothing items. Has the committee member tasked with family history outline what's needed for a family tree display or video so you're ready to make that request of family members?
3 Months Before
With the main details of your event in place, it's time to get the word out officially and start to lock in the details of the day.
- Send invitations. You can use an online service like Evite to get invitations out or send them via email or traditional mail. In any case, you should include the following:
- Finalized times, locations, maps, driving directions, costs, and a schedule of events.
- A sign-up option for specific activities, if necessary.
- Assignments for relatives who have volunteered to bring food or other items.
- A request for photos and/or stories you would include in the family history or video.
- Include an RSVP date, along with an e-mail address, phone number, or mailing address to which they can respond. Ask family members to provide their accommodation or arrival information, if appropriate.
- Follow up with volunteers and dole out tasks as appropriate.
- Schedule events and activities. Secure professionals or locations for your activities if needed. For example, reserve a softball field or hire tour guides or yoga instructors. If the reunion is at someone's home, ask relatives or your local community center if you can borrow any outdoor sports equipment or games for the game room. Consider having a TV and VCR or DVD player in the game room, along with age-appropriate videos to keep kids entertained when everyone needs some downtime.
- Purchase items you'll need for any crafting activities.
- Schedule and plan meals.
- Create a list of all the meals you'll be eating or the food you'll need.
- Assign one food item to each relative. Be sure to take advantage of their cooking specialties, like your aunt's famous potato salad or your cousin's beloved blueberry pie.
- A casual buffet is probably the best approach for an in-home reunion simply because it allows people to eat in shifts. This is also ideal if seating is limited.
- If you plan to hire a caterer, now is the time to secure them. Some caterers will simply manage the kitchen, ensure the buffet is replenished, and keep the drink flowing, so you can enjoy the party.
- Contact restaurants to see if they'll accommodate large groups and make reservations then if necessary.
2 Months Before
Things are starting to come together, and the fun is near! Stay on top of these organizational tasks, and you’ll be in good shape.
- Track on attendee details. Start a list of those who have confirmed their attendance, where they'll be staying, and when they'll be arriving. If you used an online system like Evite to send out your invitations, it would track RSVPs. But keep a Google Sheet or Excel doc with all the other info as responses roll in.
- Reserve rental equipment such as a podium, microphone, tables, or chairs.
- Confirm restaurant reservations and provide your latest guest estimate.
- Make final purchases.
- Craft supplies
- Favors, personalized T-shirts, disposable cameras, or other items you plan to give out at the reunion.
- Order copies of family history or video.
1 Month Before
With 30 days to go before the reunion, the first tasks on your monthly to-do list are simply confirming the details of plans you already have in place.
- Confirm with relatives who are bringing food or other supplies.
- Confirm meeting places.
- Confirm activities.
- Confirm sleeping accommodations.
2 Weeks Before
Now's the time to check in with volunteers who have been assigned specific tasks to confirm times and the final guest count.
- Contact restaurants with a final guest count if necessary.
- Order cold-cut platters, cake, or other party items from your local grocery store or baker.
- Contact caterer with a final guest count if necessary.
- Confirm details with your photographer/videographer.
- Confirm details with any other service providers such as activity leaders or tour guides.
- Decorations & Signage
- Buy last-minute decorations and supplies.
- Create signs and banners.
- Confirm volunteers.
- Make arrangements to donate unused food to a local shelter or food pantry.
2 Days Before
- Review reunion minutiae with committees.
- Pick up any rental equipment, like chairs, tables, etc.
- Prepare final payments and tips for any professionals and help you've hired, as the caterer and wait staff. Put these together in separate envelopes so you can quickly hand them out as needed throughout the event. Keep in mind that you can send extra tips later if their performance was exceptional. Otherwise, a 10% to 15% tip is customary if it's not already included in their charge.
The Day Before
- Set up and decorate.
- Get some sleep!
After the event, you'll have a few more details to take care of. Within 2 weeks of the event, you'll need to:
- Write thank-you notes to special attendees, relatives who donated time and money, and any other people who helped make your event a success.
- Upload photos to an online photo service. If you take photos yourself, upload your images to a site such as Shutterfly or Snapfish. In a couple of weeks, you can share the link with attendees and also ask them to add their photos to the album you've created so other family members can purchase copies of your photos. Housing all the photos in one place would also allow you to create a photo book that others can order as well as a memento of the event.
- Donate or distribute leftover favors, decorations, family history pamphlets, and so on.
Within 4 weeks of the event, take care of the following:
- Follow up with videographer and photographer to find out when materials will be ready for distribution.
- Send an e-mail to all who attended, summarizing the festivities, thanking them for attending, and telling them where they can purchase photos, videos, or any other follow-up items from your event.