Skip to main content

12 retirement party ideas for a great celebration

minute read

    A special but distinct occasion, retirement is a rare opportunity to celebrate a person's achievements, qualities, and the excitement of their unique future. We've assembled 12 retirement party ideas that span everything an exceptional celebration requires: food, decorations, gift ideas and more.

    Whether you're planning the party yourself or researching for a friend, we're going to throw a lot of choices out there. However, our main guideline is to put the guest of honor first. Regularly ask what will make this person's experience the most personal and memorable.

    Sing Karaoke

    Karaoke is always good for a laugh unless you have a party full of shy people. If you're nervous that could be the case, you could incentivize guests by adding a competitive element.

    Although karaoke machines are available to buy and to rent, most come stocked with hits and the ability to add songs. You're bound to get the retiree singing if you curate a playlist full of their favorites, especially generational favorites (from when retirees were in their teens and twenties). Keep that in mind when shopping and setting up for this fun-loving group activity.

    Play a trivia game

    We're not suggesting you huddle party guests around a game board. Trivia is a game that translates well to large groups. As long as you designate a host or two, you can run a great game of trivia for the whole party. Depending on how large it is, you could let everyone choose teams or assign teams by table.

    If you choose to test your guests' wit, we suggest the categories or questions span information that players of every generation can answer. This can keep everyone involved and stir conversation.

    Create a wall of memories/accomplishments

    A retirement party is definitely a time to get sentimental. You can do this by setting a space or portion of the party to present highlights of the retiree's personal life and work life. Both are important to display at this occasion.

    Highlight specific achievements or details whenever you can. Besides that, unique events like special vacations or items crossed off the retiree's bucket list are great inclusions.

    If you'd rather dedicate time in the party to highlight memories or accomplishments, consider a slideshow or a roast. Family and friends of the retiree will probably be glad to supply pictures or even prepare some jokes about the guest of honor. When they have a good sense of humor, a roast can be particularly fun and memorable.

    Make a fun retirement playlist

    A party playlist isn't always easy to choose. Choices can depend a great deal on the theme and type of event. For a retirement playlist, a good guideline for your curation is to add hits that span the decades. We say this because most retirees have worked longer than one decade by the time they stop working.

    Besides the timeless songs, a retirement party playlist should have tunes that are nostalgic or special to the retiree. Ask loved ones and coworkers about songs that remind them of an event or time with your guest of honor. Finally, a few songs about freedom or relief can be very amusing.

    Throw a potluck

    It would take all day to summarize the many catering options available for an event like this. So instead of a long list we have a single suggestion: potluck. It's a novel idea for both small and large parties alike.

    Guest lists are typically filled with loved ones and coworkers. The people who are close to the retiree may be more than happy to offer family favorites or staples. Asking coworkers to do the same could set up the retiree to try something new, which is usually a memory in itself.

    Of course, a potluck can also keep costs down and be a good route for the retiree who “doesn't want to make a fuss."

    Get a photo booth with fun props

    Retirement doesn't have to harp on past achievements and memories alone. Like any party, there's opportunity to make more memories.

    Photo booths can also encourage guests to relax or get silly, which could make for awesome photo ops the retiree can treasure during their retirement.

    The last thing about a photo booth to consider is that it could be a good place to build on your party's theme, which we'll talk about next.

    Throw a themed party

    A themed party is not an original concept, so we'll rattle off some ideas:

    • Nostalgic: You could set the stage in a certain year or decade that's meaningful to the retiree.
    • Costume: This promotes a silly and light vibe, conversation and easy memories. Guests might clamor for years about the costume party they went to one February.
    • Food-centric: We all have to eat, and we usually look forward to party food. Certain cuisines can make good party themes, but so can buffets. This once-in-a-lifetime occasion might inspire a once-in-a-lifetime feast.

    One more idea, in keeping with our endless focus on the guest of honor, is to theme a party around their favorite hobby or activity. Without a day job anymore, the retiree can devote more time to what they love to do the most. This consideration could spark unique and memorable party themes galore.

    Play games

    The key in deciding on any good party activity is producing a shared experience among guests. We talked about trivia, but another great game for small and large groups is bingo. It's so simple and common that you can find prebuilt cards online or easily make your own.

    If you're comfortable with bingo and fancy yourself crafty, you could customize one major aspect: the squares. Instead of using numbers on the bingo cards, choose fun details or pictures related to the retiree.

    We don't want to keep card games or board games off the party tables. Both can be great fits for small parties. To play cards or board games at a big party, however, make sure you have enough decks or copies of the game for every table. Then, you could set up a tournament or let everyone play at their leisure.

    Sign up for a team-building experience

    Even though the retiree is saying goodbye to coworkers, a team-building activity that most workplaces use could be fun for all guests at a retirement party. Any shared experience can be a great centerpiece to your event.

    You could even go offsite somewhere that specializes in group activities, such as an arcade or escape room. There are many ways to share an experience and make a memory the retiree can enjoy for some time to come.

    Serve a retirement cake

    Cutting cake is ceremonial at most parties. You can do whatever you think your guest of honor would enjoy, but cakes make great desserts. They can go with a theme or be unique and personalized.

    Is there a big trip planned following retirement? Pick a dessert and decorations for it from the destination. Really pressed for ideas? Put an upside-down bucket on the cake as a nod to the fabled bucket list.

    Give out unique party favors

    Consider putting aside themes and gimmicks for this party staple. Favors should show appreciation for the attendees and could be personal, useful or a combination of both.

    Here's a specific idea: lottery tickets. They can be topical and low-cost. Maybe one of your guests will be able to retire, too. Of course, party favors are optional, and that's partly why we put them toward the end of our list of retirement party ideas.

    Get dancing

    Dancing isn't for everyone, but it can be. As we pointed out before, a good playlist might have popular hits from different decades and songs that the guest of honor is sure to enjoy. Your party venue will need a dance floor to realize this idea, though.

    Consider live entertainment like a band or DJ. As professionals, they can have an easy time getting guests out of their seats. Even if you don't choose one of those options, you can get guests engaged with some of these hallmark dances:

    • The retiree and their partner
    • The retiree and a parent
    • Siblings or close friends of the retiree
    • Line dances—they get everyone involved

    What is a good theme for a retirement party?

    We offered some ideas above that can take your party in several directions: nostalgia, costume and food. The ideal choice depends mostly on the retiree, though. For example, you could center a theme around travel if the retiree plans to traverse the country in an RV for the next several years. Another way to hone your choice of theme is to leverage the size of the party. Small guest lists may be great for off-site excursions.

    Whichever them you choose, you can accomplish it with decorations, food and specific activities.

    How do I plan a small retirement party?

    You can still apply many of the tips above to planning a small retirement party. To start, make a list of insider knowledge about the guest of honor. What's their main hobby? Which quality are they most known for? Start forming ideas about what this person would enjoy the most and what could make a retirement party feel unique. Finally, invite people closest to them and one or two surprise guests.

    What is the etiquette for a retirement party?

    Some of the traditional party etiquette applies to retirement parties. Find a party invitation that will demonstrate the importance of the event and set the stage. If you've already decided on a theme, you can design an invitation around that. Otherwise, you can't go wrong with a traditional or sophisticated design.

    Even though they are most common at weddings, guest books can be wonderful tokens for a retiree. It will surely receive plenty of thoughtful, heartwarming notes from friends, family and coworkers.

    All in all, a retirement party should have strong notes of respect, acknowledgement and plenty of personal touches or details. Whatever you can do to promote these sentiments throughout the party are sure to create lasting memories everyone can reflect on, especially the retiree.

    What to read next