Planning a family reunion is no small feat and you are totally up for the challenge!
We’ve already discussed items from Phase One: items to be determined prior to planning the actual event. Now we’ll dive into Phase Two: Planning the event itself!
NOTE: We just released such a guide to help with the planning process. Get the most out of your reunion efficiently and save the headache!
Three Main Phases of Planning a Family Reunion
We’ve already written in detail about the Get Ready phase which you can read about HERE. Now it’s time to talk about all the fun stuff…the things that actually take place AT the reunion! In addition, we’ll also have a ‘Part 3’ that discusses everything to do after the reunion.
Planning for these types of events all have three main primary phases:
- Get Ready-Decisions that complete prior to the event day
- The Event Itself-The Reunion…Itself
- Post Event Follow-up-Pretty self-explanatory
Let’s dive into Phase 2 The Event Itself!
REMEMBER: All phases require planning PRIOR to the reunion!
PHASE TWO: THE EVENT ITSELF
You’ve already done the hard part – figuring out the general where and when, set budgets, sent save the date cards/emails, and are working to make sure your family is on board. Now it’s time to plan the time your family will be together.
Planning the event itself is often the most fun part and can sometimes feel like juggling tons of balls in the air while waiting for further information.
These items are more easily broken down by what they are. Essentially, they all need to work together and they each have their own idiosyncrasies (hence the juggling balls analogy)
This section covers the following topics:
- Venue-Choosing and Booking
- The Check-in Process
- Family Reunion T-Shirt
- Plan Your Time
- Activities / Games / Crafts / Service Project / Downtime Activities
- Keepsakes / Favors / Gifts
You’ve chosen your general location now choose a venue! The venue is critical when planning your family reunion. I’m going to list a bunch of questions to consider when choosing a venue. Ask these for any venue you are considering.
- Is the venue available for the dates or timeframe we want?
- What deposits are required?
- Understand the refund policy if you cancel or change dates?
- Know what is included at this venue AND what your responsibilities are?
- Are there areas that could be a safety or liability area based on who would be attending? (Venues on a beautiful cliff setting may not be the best choice for families with lots of children. Also look for areas under repair or in poor repair.)
- What activities are available at the venue or close by?
- Do they have adequate restroom facilities, parking areas, sleeping, etc?
- So important saying it twice—Do they have adequate restroom facilities?
- Is it a long walk from the parking to the facilities? Is it accessible for those who can’t walk well or stand for very long?
- What WiFi, audio, video setup is available?
- Do they include tables, chairs, dishes, etc.?
- Does food required to be purchased from a specific location or can you bring in anything you’d like?
- Lastly, do they have adequate areas for different types of activities – group photo, outside games, inside games, etc?
Once you are settled or pretty settled on a venue BOOK IT!
TIP: If you are considering a few places and deposits consider giving deposits at a few venues while you deliberate to reserve your space – only if deposits would be fully refundable once you determine the perfect fit.
If you need to rent anything specific for your reunion make sure to do that immediately after securing your venue.
For example, if you need to rent chairs, tables, sporting equipment, outside water toys, etc. get quotes and secure the rentals quickly.
It’s always a good idea to confirm your rentals 1 month prior to the reunion to ensure the reservation is still there and it gives you some time to find alternates should you need it.
The Check-in Process
This is the first point your family will see and interact with, it sets the stage for how your family feels about the reunion. We highly recommend having a check-in for your reunion. It will help with numbers for your immediate meals, and help identify any family members who haven’t yet shown up.
Also, for those who are a little uncomfortable going to the reunion, it gives them a friendly face and someone they “know” to hang with at the reunion.
Additionally, it’s a great time to communicate any information (schedule, where to park, etc), and collect updated personal information like addresses, phone, etc. We also highly recommend having bottled water at the check-in area as people are always thirsty after a drive.
Now is the perfect time to communicate the “lay of the land”, tell kids who they can go to for help should they need it, remind them of any necessities (like don’t leave food out at night…it attracts bears), and anything specific to the reunion.
Welcome Bags could include things like reunion schedules, maps, welcome gifts, t-shirts, maybe bottled water, etc.
We are big advocates of NOT including junk in a welcome bag. Only give them what they need.
You can also have a designated family photographer at the check-in area taking photos of each family as they check-in similar to how they do it at an amusement park…just don’t charge them for the photo!
Family Reunion T-Shirt
Everyone loves them & doesn’t love them. They are sometimes a big pain but so fun to have in all the photos and a great keepsake too!
So many different ways to have a t-shirt:
- Everyone gets the same design and colored shirt
- Each major family unit gets a different color
- Make your own as part of your reunion
Planning your family reunion t-shirt is quite fun…and sometimes feels like the options are endless. If you don’t have someone in the “family” who can do the design, Etsy has many designs available. These are easily alterable and can then be uploaded into many of the online t-shirt printing companies.
I highly recommend you look locally for a t-shirt printer to support local businesses prior to going to an internet-based company. Ask questions and understand the options. Here’s what you’ll need to know in order to ask questions.
- Shirt: type of material, sleeve length etc, and color. Basic color crew neck short sleeve will be the least expensive.
- Colors: You need to have an idea of how many colors you plan to print on your shirts. If you don’t know, say 1 or 2 and stick with 1-2.
- Print Location: This absolutely impacts price. If just printing the back OR the front (1 location) that’s the most economical. Typical print locations are back, front, and sleeve.
- Print type: Screen or digital. These are discussed in detail below.
Screen & Digital Printing Explained
The world of t-shirt printing has exploded in the past 10 years. There are many online places that will digitally print your shirt or screen print your shirt. In fact, this is such a robust area with so many different considerations, it needs its own article!
Screen printing is when you make a template (screen), place it over the t-shirt, and pull paint over it using the screen like a stencil. It’s the preferred method when putting light colors on dark shirts. A different screen is required for each color and location; WARNING: multiple screens can get expensive.
Digital printing is fast and inexpensive. Essentially it sprays ink onto the shirt, kind of like an inkjet printer directly onto the shirt. Generally, you don’t get as crisp of lines & oftentimes the colors can be a bit muted depending on the ink color to shirt color difference. Amazon sells many many t-shirts that are digitally printed including some of our designs.
We’ve had great success with both. They are both relatively fast to produce. Unless you’re printing light colors on dark clothing either would work for you.
If you have any specific questions on reunion t-shirts please reach out to us as we have tons of opinions on this topic!
Want to see the difference?
Here is a great resource showing the different printing methods and how they look on different colored shirts. Jump to the 1:45 mark – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVsNOdaFiIY
Food – Food – Food
I don’t think there is any other part of planning a family reunion that can cause so much stress and concern. This can be one of the scariest parts of planning a family reunion and one that impacts the financial burden the greatest!
Will we have enough? Too much? Will most folks like this? How do we keep it cold or hot? How does everyone have something they want to eat?
Don’t fear. Food is doable!
Our biggest recommendations:
- DISPOSABLE everything you can to keep clean up easier & faster which helps empower families to clean up their own areas
- Don’t forget to accommodate for allergies (nuts, gluten, and dairy)
- Consider foods where you make your own such as taco bar, potato bar, etc. This way if someone doesn’t like tomatoes for example (just like Kelli) the rest of her food isn’t ‘contaminated’ by tomatoes!
- And be extra careful to not cross contaminate any service utensils because of allergies
There’re different ways to manage reunion food, and each one directly impacts the financial burden of the reunion as a whole.
Here’s our list:
- Hire it all out – obviously the most costly but the easiest for you
- Do it all yourself – less costly but hugely time consuming for you
- Various different ways of sharing the food expense across families–Each family unit is responsible for…
- feeding themselves the whole reunion
- providing ONE meal (prep, serve, clean)
- providing part of each meal EXCEPT for the main entrée
- ONE aspect like dessert, or side dish
- Last, any combination of number 3 above (per meal or per reunion)
There are so many aspects to consider while accounting for contingencies… the “What Ifs”.
- Backup plans if the assigned family doesn’t have enough food?
- What if the assigned family…
- “forgets” to bring or make their assigned dish?
- doesn’t get back in time to prepare the dish?
- someone cross-contaminates a serving utensil from a gluten-free food to a gluten food? Maybe set aside gluten-free food ahead of time prior to serving to help reduce this as a possibility.
Consider the “WHAT IF…” and have a backup plan.
Plan Your Time
This is often the most fun part of planning the whole reunion…and has the most moving pieces!
Start by blocking time for each activity on a calendar of sorts (see image below). Beware…your plan will shift and morph and get altered A LOT during this planning phase but once set in stone it will be a great resource for you and your family!
When your reunion is a one-day event, this is MUCH simpler but the idea is the same regardless of the length of the reunion.
Grab a sheet of paper and begin by drawing vertical columns, one for each day of the reunion. Then add any hard data that can’t be moved. (We write that in ink so we know it can’t be moved.) This could include when you can start setting up, when you have to be completely out of the venue, a specific activity that has a hard start or end time, etc.
Then with a pencil start “penciling” in blocks of time for the different activities you’re considering. Don’t forget to include mealtimes!
Here’s an example of what our plan looked like.
See our planner HERE.
Oftentimes you may not know what the actual activity will be but you know you want an ice breaker activity the first day or an outside activity on day 2 in the morning. Go ahead and block or reserve some time for them and label them “outside activity”. That’s totally fine!
We recommend also blocking time for arrival/check-in and departure/check-out.
Notice there aren’t specific times mentioned on the reunion planner image above. It’s a planner…not set-in-stone! Once you are pretty solid on the plan, you can start putting timeframes down.
Think of each activity as blocks that are movable…until they aren’t. For example, if you ask Aunt Julie to put together an outside activity that would take 1-1.5 hours on Saturday afternoon BUT she is leaving to go home after lunch and won’t be available, maybe you move that activity to Saturday morning OR you ask someone else to own planning that activity.
Other items to note:
- Not all meals need the same amount of time allotted. If there is one giant family meal, that may need more time that each family doing dinner on their own.
- If you’re doing an activity that requires travel time make sure to include that as part of the activity too.
Certainly not the most important part of the reunion but absolutely the most fun one IMHO! Decor helps bring the whole family reunion together in a beautiful “eye-candy” type of way.
Choose décor items that complement the chosen theme from Phase One – Get Ready. Consider décor for the following areas:
- Entrance outside and inside
- Check-in area
- Eating area & tables
- Stage or front area
- Different activity areas
Specific inexpensive décor items we LOVE
- Butcher paper (amazon)
- Helium balloons (dollar store)
- Oversize prints
- Yellow Caution tape where needed (home depot or amazon)
Activities / Games / Crafts / Service Project / Downtime Activities
Having the “right” kind of activities is critical to the overall enjoyment of your family reunion. Let’s use the word “activities” in this section generically to include everything (activities, games, crafts, service project, and downtime activities).
If you can relate an activity to your shared family history, it helps to teach and build family relations.
Here’s an example: This could be telling a story about an ancestor that had to do something really hard, so in keeping with that your activity could have a hard component. This could be accomplishing an action with the entire group participating (think team building activities), doing trust falls, etc.
If you had an ancestor that talked about a certain game they loved playing, play that game.
Maybe go horseback riding and show photos of your ancestors’ most favorite horses or tell stories involving horses while riding like how they rode their horse to school.
Or tie some activities to the theme. If for example, your theme is 150th wedding anniversary, maybe you can have various “tossing” activities like the way a bride & groom traditionally toss flowers & garter toward the single women & men.
Not everything has to be tied to family history or the theme, but it does help the cohesiveness of the overall reunion to have some ties.
Awards – Consider if you’d like to have awards and how those awards can also be tied into the overall theme or reunion idea.
Downtime Activities – Just a reminder to plan some downtime or on your own time if it’s a multi-day event. You can have designated board games or cards set out, a designated place where your family can spend some cousin time.
Keepsakes / Favors / Gifts
We highly recommend having a keepsake bag! This is the last memory your family will have of the reunion. Include items that relate to the family and not just free stuff you pick up along the way.
Here’s a short list of some items to consider:
- An actual print of the family photo from the reunion – framed
- Non-perishable food items related to your family heritage
- Perishable food items as they relate to your shared history (such as Christmas colored popcorn balls)
- A printed copy of a family recipe (consider one of the perishable food item included)
- A dvd copy or a printed paper with a web address link to family photos, movies, etc.
Photos help everyone remember!
Lastly, let’s look at photos. So important to help recall the feelings and the memories from your reunion. We highly recommend having lots of photos taken of your event.
Also, utilize a few different family members designating them as “the photographer” for certain areas. We had one that was the overall photographer, one that did special or key events, areas, items, etc. and a teen just sharing whatever photos they took.
Consider also having a spot for family to take candid photos is always fun or bring in a photo booth! This could be a spot decorated specifically in the theme of the reunion, near the check-in area, or any other designated space. We found that kids of all ages 4-104 love these niche spots.
Consider other ways you can include the photographers. Maybe make a teen photographer a special “Press Pass” to be worn during the reunion.
Also, ENSURE you have a solid plan of transferring photos daily as a backup.
We also recommend having these family grouping photos:
- Whole group photo
- Photos of each family unit
- Photos of each generation of cousins (generations)
- Any other groupings that make sense to you
Clearly, there is so much to consider and plan to make the actual day successful. To help manage the family reunion planning process and to provide even more ideas, tips, and charts we’ve created the Ultimate Family Reunion Planning System. It covers everything needed for all three planning phases.
It’s available as a complete system or if just a part of the system is what stands out to you, that’s available too.
Let us know what you thought and how we can help!