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12 Retirement Party Ideas and Tips

Retirement parties are getting a much-needed facelift and none too soon. Try these creative ideas to make your next soiree a retirement affair to remember.

The workplace retirement party is getting a makeover and it's about time.

Gone are the days of a slab of cake and the awkward exchange of a gold watch from a senior executive to the departing employee.

Credit, for lack of a better term, the baby boomers, many of whom have already started their journey into retirement, but in ways, their grandparents and parents wouldn't recognize.

The changes are myriad and we'll get into them in a moment, but the chief agent of change in the new era of workplace retirement parties is that the baby boomers, 77 million strong, are taking their retirement parties over and leaving nothing to chance.

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What does the new era of the company retirement party look like and what kinds of novel themes and ideas are making the final cut for today's retiring worker?

Let's take a look and see what's popping in retirement parties, and what ideas make sense for you, - if you're planning one - for yourself or a valued co-worker.

What Makes a Memorable Retirement Party?

In any era, the goal with a workplace retirement party is to honor and respect an employee's valued years of service to the company and his or her family and community.

That alone demands a certain amount of dignity to the proceedings and immediately crosses out groan-inducing ideas like hiring strippers or over-indulging in adult beverages.

Instead, the goal of any worthwhile retirement party is to find a balance between honoring the departing employee and having fun with the memories and contributions that employee made to the company, and to the people that worked alongside the newly-minted retiree.

Remember, it's all about the retiree, and any events that veer off to the offensive or inappropriate side of the fence will ruin the moment and, more importantly, take the spotlight off the departing employee and his or her years of diligent work for the company.

To find that retirement party sweet-spot, try these event themes and ideas, and see if they hit a home run for your next retiree sendoff.

Get a grip on what you're trying to accomplish first. Know to go in the broad parameters of the retirement party.

  • Is it a small intimate affair or a bigger, more robust gathering?
  • Should you do a theme party or keep it simple and direct?
  • Should you have it at work or off-premises, like at a bar, restaurant, or catered banquet room?
  • Will the dress be formal or casual?
  • What kinds of gifts, if any, will be involved?
  • Who do you invite? Current employees alone? Or should you add retired employees? Also, are children invited or should you keep it "adult-only"?

When you get the party parameters right, you're on the right track to a great retirement party. Answer the questions above to get that process started.

Retirement Party Ideas

Now that you've framed out your retirement party, it's time to start planning your party theme. Here are some retirement party ideas to help you do just that.

1. Go Local 

Depending on the guest of honor's personal preferences, take the party out of the office and to local dining and drink establishment. That sends a message to party-goers and the recipient that it's okay to have fun and let your hair down for a while, and should pave the way for a relaxing vibe for the party.

2. Emphasize Speeches

Go ahead and get a microphone and a stand and let the guests have at it. Story-telling should be the focus of any worthwhile retirement party, so encourage managers, co-workers customers, vendors, and even family members to take a minute at the mike and tell their favorite tales on the job (or off it) for the guest of honor. Just make sure the guests know ahead of time so they can prepare some "on the cuff" remarks.

3. Get Creative With Your Retirement Party

In the spirit of honoring the soon-to-be-retiree, get creative with the ways you want to celebrate the guest of honor. For example, provide an autograph book where guests can jot down their messages and/or favorite stories. Or, plan and record video interviews where respondents can offer their favorite stories and play them at the event. Whatever you can do to commemorate the retiree in a tasteful but fun manner, should be a green light at any retirement party.

4. Have a "Celebrity Roast"

Hey, if it worked for Dean Martin and Rodney Dangerfield, it can work for a retirement party. Again, the key is finding a balance with a roast that's playful but not offensive - you don't want anyone insulting your guest of honor. Keep it tasteful and let guests know that up front, but also encourage them to have fun. Oh, and make sure the guest of honor gets a turn at the mike at the end of the roast.

5. Have a Costume Party 

You can add another big layer of fun by making your retirement part a costume party. It can be any theme the guest favors - seasonal (like a Halloween-themed retirement party) or hobby-oriented (if your guest of honor is a film buff, come as your favorite movie star). You get the idea. Run the idea by your retiree and his or her family, and see how creative you can get with a costume-themes retirement party.

6. Build Your Party Around Your Guest of Honor's Favorite Hobbies

Using the hobby angle again, build the party around the retiree's favorite passions. If he or she is an avid golfer, create a golf tournament for the day at a local club and then retire to the bar and grill for drinks and food. Or, if the guest of honor is a foodie, build the party around a pot luck theme or have a chili cook-off to get the guest of honor - and the guests - truly engaged.

7. Get Outside and Make It a Picnic 

Everyone loves a picnic - you're outside with Mother Nature, you can plan games and crafts, and all you need is some green grass and picnic tables to layout the goods. If your guest of honor is a nature lover, the picnic idea is a no-brainer.

8. Make It a "Geography" Party 

If your guest of honor is retiring and moving to a new locale, match the retirement party with that new locale. For example, if the retiree is moving to Hawaii or other warm-weather destinations, why not a pig roast, tropical shirts, and luau theme? Or, if the retiree is heading to Europe for an extended vacation have another costume-themed party wherever everyone can dress up as their favorite Euro-centric citizen - tweeds and pie for England, suspenders, and lederhosen for Germany, and Roman attire for Italy. Your guests will have a blast and your guest of honor will appreciate the gesture.

9. Revisit the "This Is Your Life" Television Show Theme 

You may or may not remember the television show, "This Is Your Life." In it, celebrities from all walks of life would be honored with meeting up with old childhood friends and family (the bigger surprise the better) and moving tributes to a life well-lived. Do the same with your retirement party and truly honor your guests with friends, family members, business associates and others who can contribute to a biography-oriented retirement party.

10. Make a Playlist That Your Guests Will Appreciate 

Music is a key to any good retirement party and that's where a good sound system and the playlist can be a game-changer. You can build the playlist around your guest of honor's favorite music (i.e., rock 'n roll, big band, country, or R&B, for example.) Or, have some fun with the playlist theme and choose work-oriented tunes like Dolly Parton's "Nine to Five", "I Don't Want to Work" by Todd Rundgren or "Hit the Road Jack" by Ray Charles.

11. Mix Up the Guest List to Bring in Friends and Family From Outside the Workplace

No matter where you have the retirement party, go ahead and invite guests from outside the workplace, especially family and close friends. It's the right thing to do, your guest of honor will appreciate the gesture, and your party will have a robust cross-section of interesting guests to liven up the proceedings, and to better honor the retiree.

12. Make It for Charity 

Bring the retiree's favorite charity into the mix and raise money for the cause, while still having a blast at the retirement party. There are several ways to go here, including making that golf tournament or 5K run for the charitable cause or causes that hit home for the guest of honor. Encourage guests not to bring gifts, but to raise money for a deserving cause. Leverage digital-based fundraising tools like Facebook


Fundraisers or Charity Miles to make giving easy - before, during and after the party.

The Takeaway on Fresh and Fun Retirement Parties

It's always good to mix things up on the party front, and that goes double for retirement events.

After all, this isn't your parents' or grandparents' era of workplace parties, and bringing some new ideas into the equation - just like the ones listed above. Do that and you'll throw a retirement party every guest, especially the guest of honor, will treasure forever.

Or at least until the next retirement soiree comes along.