Why birthday party outsourcing is worth celebrating

Children being entertained at a Star Wars-themed party for a five year old at Fairyfields party shop, Fairfield, Melbourne.
Children being entertained at a Star Wars-themed party for a five year old at Fairyfields party shop, Fairfield, Melbourne.  Photo: Paul Jeffers

If you have a school-aged child, chances are it will be invited to a dozen birthday parties a year. If you have more than one school aged child, double it. At some point, you may be attending a children's birthday party every weekend and hosting several yourself.

If the thought of a dozen kids running through the house demanding entertainment – plus their parents looking bored while drinking and eating the food you supplied - is overwhelming, join the growing number of families outsourcing parties entirely

Children enjoying themselves at a Star Wars-themed kids' party at Fairyfields party shop, Fairfield, Melbourne.
Children enjoying themselves at a Star Wars-themed kids' party at Fairyfields party shop, Fairfield, Melbourne.  Photo: Paul Jeffers

And if you have it at home, beware: parties have become a lot more competitive than they used to be. 

Founder of Gourmet Kids, Susan Yarrow, said out-sourcing has become "bigger than Ben Hur" since she started her business in 2000. 

She doesn't believe parties were getting bigger or more extravagant, but thinks a lot of parents have decided to outsource the event to keep it contained. Particularly time-poor professional parents. 

"People go out because they don't want to have the mess at home and they don't want to have a three hour party plus setting up and cleaning up," Yarrow said. She hosts baking parties with prices starting at $350 for 12 kids and hosts up to 18 parties on weekends. 

Using a party venue could work out cheaper, Yarrow says. Her friend recently spent $750 on a party at home, including catering for the children and adults, games, toy and prizes, cleaners, shampooing the carpet, and getting someone in to tidy up the garden.

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Outsourced parties are now available at the zoo, indoor playgrounds, Melbourne Museum, ice skating, cinemas, fairy shops, bakeries and cooking schools. Parents just book and pay online, then turn up on the day and handball the entertainment to a professional. 

Indoor trampolining venue Bounce charges a minimum of $300 for a ten-child party. This includes jumping for an hour and food (served after jumping). It caters for up to 350 parties every weekend across the country and is booked out six weeks in advance. The business has grown from one venue in Glen Iris two years ago to eight across Australia, with plans to open up in the Middle East, South Africa, Portugal, Sweden and Hong Kong soon.

"A large part of [the business] is the popularity of the birthday parties," founder Ant Morell says, "that is the mainstay of the business."

He says some children request an outsourced party as their birthday present from their parents.

"It seems like a lot of money, but it is once a year and [the parents] are paying for a service and they are paying for not cleaning the house or destruction of their property."

The number of parties held at Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre [MSAC] has jumped from 375 in 2013 to 500 this year, as more parents choose the anywhere-but-home option. Melbourne Zoo hosts up to 14 parties per month and recently reduced prices to be more competitive. 

Brett Saraghi's son, John, celebrated his fifth birthday with a Star Wars themed party at Fairyfields on Tuesday. Saraghi said there was "no difference at all" to the cost of hosting an event at home. "It is probably not more expensive and it is just so easy," he says of outsourced parties.   

Fairyfields in Melbourne's north hosts about 60 parties every month, usually for children aged up to seven years. The Fairy also travels, but this was less popular than parties held inside the heavily decorated shop, a spokeswoman said. Parents usually spend about $300 including coffees for adults and souvenirs. 

Choosing to host the party at home has become an expensive – and competitive – affair. Just setting the table can cost $100 if you decide to have top of the range matching lunch plates, cake plates, cups, napkins, goodie bags and table cloth.

Parents, particularly mothers, were under a lot of pressure these days to create the perfect party, according to Karen Moraitis, who has been running Party Squad in Forrest Hill for seven years. She hires out child-sized tables, chairs, games and catering supplies, and sells themed decorations. Business is good.

She says parents are ultimately responsible for parties and often compete against each other with the children oblivious to the fuss. Parents will "take note of what that parent has organised or planned and be judgemental about how much things cost," she says. 

She has seen pony rides, face painters, Spiderman and Batman, teddy-bear machines, photo booths, science shows, magic shows, lolly buffets and jumping castles. But despite their parent's efforts, Moraitis says children still love games like pass-the-parcel, limbo, and musical statues.

Party Arts owner Gabriella Delutis packs and delivers party bags and party supplies around Melbourne. Her customers were mostly working mothers who found it easier to outsource online while at work than run around in their spare time buying toys, bags and lollies. 

"It is a reality, because most of my clientele are professional women or people that are working full time and they feel guilty. They want to compensate by doing stuff like that for their kids and giving them the best party," Delutis says. 

And another modern problem is gifts. Twenty guests means your darling child is likely to receive 20 gifts of questionable quality.

Alternative suggestions include having a wrapped book swap (bring one and leave with one), requesting drawings for a scrapbook, asking for plants, or collecting toys for charity. If the invite says "no presents" - believe it.

While gift registries were common for first birthday parties, baptisms or baby showers when children had no input, some stores do offer gift registries for all ages. There were also horror stories of parents asking for cash.

One anonymous source said he was encouraged to bring money to a recent birthday party rather than a gift so the one-year old child could then choose its own toys. 

Executive director of the Raising Children Network – an academic and government-based parenting website – said birthdays are important family rituals that "are great for giving children a sense of belonging and identity".

 "While birthday parties can be a wonderful and memorable experience, the size and scale of these festivities is a decision for individual families and other demands on family budgets," Dr Julie Green said. 

The real purpose of parties are to grow and strengthen friendships, build self-esteem, create a sense of belonging and develop important social skills, Dr Green added. They were also an opportunity for parents to find out who was important in their child's life.

Ultimately it is up to parents to decide what kind of party, how big and how much effort. But if everyone is outsourcing, perhaps the unique parties will soon be the old-fashioned ones.  Morell says it is "unusual to go to a party where you are just playing around in the house or doing a sack race in the park" these days.

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