That 50th Birthday Party

When planning the perfect birthday surprise party, don’t forget to check this off your list

Working in the catering hospitality industry, I sometimes have things happen that I really want to share with the world… after all, stories are meant to be told.

Recently, I was asked to organize a 50th birthday party. The young Vietnamese girl was an Australian expat’s personal assistant here in Ho Chi Minh City who wanted to organize the party as a surprise. She is very young, well, young in my eyes, she would have been in her early 20s (it will make sense at the end of this article why I have mentioned this).

She wanted something that would suit her Australian boss. So, being Australian myself, I thought, let’s do something really Australian for the event. I took her around the wholesale markets in District 5, the ones around the corner from Lantern Street, Cho Lon street in District 5 as these are the ideal markets to find the perfect decorations here in Ho Chi Minh City. Yes, I knew I wasn’t going to find things such as Aussie flags or bunting, but we did find some wonderful flowers, napkins and ribbons to decorate with in green and gold. We were even able to find a huge 50th birthday card (not in green and gold sadly, but it did look great.).

The young girl was getting really excited, she really wanted this party to be the party of a lifetime for her boss. After all, it was his 50th… an important year to mark.

I then talked to her about what food she wanted to have. We decided on a canapé style affair, as there would be a mix of not only Vietnamese and foreigners, but also a mix of ‘big bosses’ all the way through to the cleaners for the business this boss ran.

I encouraged her to have a mix of foods, including some fabulous Vietnamese options and to also include some traditional Aussie style foods. We included some fantastic Australian options which included things like salt and pepper fried squid rings, pickled carrot and beetroot with goat cheese mousse, mini lamb skewers with macadamia crust, seared Australian beef with horseradish cream, warm shots of pea soup with crispy ham and, of course, some mini lamingtons (makes me hungry just thinking about this event).

The party was to be held at their office, so on the day of the event, I arrived early at the office to help her decorate. About an hour later my team of staff and all the fabulous food arrived. I helped the team finish setting up and we were ready to go. The decorations looked fantastic, the food looked and smelt wonderful, now we just need the guest of honor to arrive. He had been in Hanoi on business and was due to arrive back any minute.

You could feel the excitement from his team. I was hovering near my team thinking this is going to be a really heart-warming event. This boss is obviously loved and respected by his team.

Then, he arrived.

He looked quite shocked (more than surprise!). Everyone sang happy birthday to him and then started mingling, eating the food and generally it was a great atmosphere. Then, the guest of honor came over to thank me for my help organizing the party.

Turns out though, although, yes—his personal assistant got it right, it was his birthday on that day—she had the year wrong.

He was only turning 42… Ooops! My tip for the day: Planning a wonderful 50th birthday party is one thing but always, always check dates of birth!

BIO: Rachel Sinanan has been in the hospitality industry for over 30 years in Australia, the UK, Indonesia and is now working with KOTO Catering in HCMC. KOTO Catering is a complete solution for all catering and food production needs. This pioneer social venture, in partnership between KOTO and Lotus Impact, hires talented KOTO alumni for further professional and leadership development.