Here’s how to throw the best Halloween party on the block

Before spooky season comes to an end, we spoke to two NoVA-based party planners about what it takes to host a haunted affair this Halloween.

devil and vampire taking selfie
© Gorodenkoff /

Halloween is right around the corner, and that means community celebrations are popping up across Northern Virginia. But sometimes, whether it be for the kids or for you and fellow adults in need of a break, you really just want the party to come to you.  

That’s why we chatted with two local experts—Tabitha Roberts of Centreville-based Roberts and Co. Event Planning and Tara Melvin of Perfect Planning Events—about creating a worthwhile affair on your own this Halloween. Highlights from our conversations below.

For more advice on a variety of topics from local experts in NoVA, subscribe to our newsletters.  

With party planning in general, what are the three essential components of having a successful event?

Roberts: The very first thing is to ensure you have the guidelines of a plan in place: Knowing what you want to achieve and setting those parameters, which usually starts with planning a budget and understanding what’s realistic. Second thing is knowing your limitations. It’s great to have concepts and ideas, but you need to know what will cause too much stress. Third, if you’re having a larger party, then hiring good support from vendors is key. Hiring those with good reputations will definitely take the stress off any party planning.

Melvin: First, have a theme! Themes aid in the support of defining your event so it does not seem like you are having a party just to have a party. Second, be creative with your cuisine. If there is one thing that is the top of conversation with guests at events, it’s the food. Spend time creating your menu and think outside the box and don’t create the norm … if budget allows, think about hiring a sommelier or mixologist to heighten the level of experience. Lastly, provide entertainment to keep guests engaged. As a host, you want your party to be the talk of the town and you do this by keeping your guests engaged through the night with various activities. Photo booths, caricature artists, oversized nostalgic games, tarot card readers and cigar rollers are just some of the entertainment we’ve had success with in the past. 

Walk me through how you would help a client plan a Halloween party.

Roberts: We’ve done corporate and private Halloween parties and it’s actually my favorite holiday. Halloween is fun because there are so many elements and has so many layers, so I think the key is to start broad. Secondly, decide what type of Halloween party you want to have by creating a concept and from there run that theme throughout the entirety of the event. For example, you can have a mad scientist theme and serve cocktails out of brain cups and things like that. Also, plan accordingly for what your guests need by including interactive moments that embody the theme. 

Melvin: When working with clients to plan an event like a Halloween party, we ask them six main questions to start the planning process relating to these factors: main reason for the event, what experiences to include, what impression they want guests to get, where the party will be, what they don’t want at the party and budget limitations. 

After we have discussed our top six questions, I proceed with creating their expenditure list to reflect their desired investment for the festivities. Next, I would create a design board so that the clients have a visual of what their event is going to look and feel like. Then begins my work to create magic while my clients continue with their life as they trust me to carry out their vision.

Are you working on anything right now?

Roberts: We are actually doing a family based party right now. It’s kids and adults so we are walking that fine line between the two age groups. We have a specialty cocktail bar that’ll have a witches brew with a cauldron, as well as a whiskey bar held within a skull ice mold. For the kids, we have a tarot card reader coming. We also always do a big entrance to all our parties because I think the first impression is the best impression. There will be flashing lights, boarded windows and cobwebs, as well as a fog machine taking over the front entryway, all of which really set the tone for the night.

For an extra little touch, I always make sure we put things in the bathroom. Like stickers and spooky decor for the windows, a red light in the stalls, all things that make it feel weirder than normal. I’m a big food person, so we make sure we plan our parties not around big meals but with snacks that are hearty and provide substance. For this one specifically, we are doing a big doughnut-focused bar that will be black, white and orange colors, and also a kettle corn corner. 

red liquid in skull glass
© happy_lark /

What are the most challenging aspects of planning intimate gatherings and how can you overcome those?

Roberts: If it’s more intimate, it is all in the details. If you’re going to have a bar, focus on that and make a few special cocktails that are unique. If you’re going to have table settings, layer those up with plateware that look like spider webs, a black place mat as a base, or maybe something else you have in your cabinets so you don’t have to break the bank. Small parties are really fun if you add personal notes. One time we hosted a mad scientist-themed party and put welcome drinks inside vials that had each guest’s name on them, which served as a nice souvenir for them to take home. It wasn’t extensive or expensive because they got everything from the dollar store.  

Melvin: When hosting at home, the challenge is not going overboard. Keep it simple. Start with your theme and focus on three main staples of your event that will tie it all together. Stay organized with your thoughts by outlining your details, creating a to-do list and, most importantly, creating a budget. If you have these things in place, you will be sure to have a successful intimate celebration at home. I recommend Evernotes, an app you can download for your iPhone, enabling you to store all your ideas, inspiration photos and details of your planning process.

What interactive elements do you suggest hosts include in the occasion, especially if they’re trying to take the event to the next level?

Roberts: For interactive, you want to include anything that creates a sensory experience. Touch, smell, sound and sight are huge. So, make sure to take the time to do things like make a playlist with eerie music or get an inexpensive fog machine. You can often get character actors from online for a decent price to do something fun too, like Frankenstein. 

Melvin: The first encounter for your party will be your invitation! Make your invitation interesting in design, and maybe even think about creating a video invitation (that will be emailed) instead of the traditional invitation. Besides the entertainment items previously mentioned, have costumed greeters at the door serving a cocktail upon arrival, possibly giving them their first clue to a game they will engage in during the night of the party.

Loading cart ...