How to play party politics
A successful birthday bash for your child doesn't have to break the bank, writes John Cradden
WHEN the kids go back to school, the birthday party merry-go-round will swing around once again. Kids' birthday parties happen all-year round, of course, but most birthdays fall during the school year, and the chances are your child will want to invite a load of kids from their classes whom they might not see very much of during the summer months.
Susan Gilmore of Gymboree Ireland, which hosts birthday parties, says that it hosts fewer parties in July and August.
"We were at full capacity in June and we already have bookings for September and October," she adds.
But if your child gets lots of invites, or you are in line to host a birthday party yourself, the costs certainly add up.
Some parents are still splashing out on glamorous themed parties for their kids, but many others are taking a simpler approach these days.
Indeed, some of the best children's party themes are the simplest.
Tamzen Lundy, from Maynooth, Co Kildare, recently brought her son to a home-based party "where kids planted a sunflower seed as an activity and then brought it home as part of their goody bag".
Breda Hayden, from Kilcock, Co Kildare, says she went down the "commercial route" for the first time and brought her daughter Lucy to Playzone in Celbridge.
"Next year, I might have a baking party where the kids will make their own cookies and buns for her sixth (birthday)."
However, it seems firms that offer hosted parties, either in your home or at their own centres, have cut prices in recent years or are offering better value.
Children's entertainment company Silly Billy used to charge between €220 and €240 but now offers a midweek package for €140 to €160 at weekends -- for an unspecified number of children (though the average party size is between 10 and 20).
There are a number of themed parties available, and all parties have a bubble disco, puppet show and magic show, although food is not part of the package.
Ms Gilmore of Gymboree Ireland says it is now offering more value for money, with better-quality food in larger quantities and the addition of party bags.
"Our prices are the same as they were when we opened in 2000. We charge €15 per child (up to a maximum of €300) in our centres and that gets you the entertainment, Domino's Pizza for the children and a party bag to take home, or €150 for an hour's entertainment in your home or any other venue."
The firm, which also runs educational classes for young children, was doing up to 15 parties a week up to 2008.
Ms Gilmore admits that business dropped quite dramatically during and after 2008, which surprised her.
"However, I noticed that my own children were not being invited to many parties either," she said.
"It seemed that with the recession, parents either couldn't afford a children's party, or didn't want to be seen to be flaunting the fact that they could afford one.
"However, I am happy to say that since the start of 2012 our parties are back to 2008 numbers. I see this as a 'green shoot' sign for the Irish economy."
She also argues that partying at home is not cheaper in all cases.
"By the time you buy the decorations, the food and the party bag items, you can spend a small fortune.
"Also, at home, you may feel obliged to cater for the visiting adults as well as the children, which adds to the expense. Those dads can really hoover down the cocktail sausages!"
A halfway house between the bells and whistles of a professionally run party and a DIY back-to-basics approach is a complete party pack such as Party In A Box, a concept featured on 'Dragons' Den' that is designed to take the stress and strain away from organising children's parties.
Ranging in price from €108-€142, boxes usually cater for eight children but can be customised to suit your party. The box includes invitations, goody bags, balloons, birthday banner, candles, tableware and an activity.
A similar option is to buy party stuff individually from online suppliers like Partypack.ie, which offers packs of things like tableware, decorations, party bags, favours and cake accessories.
"A lot of the venues charge per child, which means budgets and restrictions on numbers, and the food is not very healthy," says Willo King of PartyPack.ie.
"You can go back to the old-fashioned rice crispy buns, fairy cakes and ham sambos, all at home with the extended family and friends.
"Yes, your home will be a mad house for about two hours, but nothing a hoover up won't fix, and your child will be happy."
Irish Independent Supplement