How to Party with Class

Simla Akyol knows how to party. She’s been arranging children’s parties and entertainment for 10 years, most recently through her San Francisco-based business, It’s a Piece of Cake.

She also hosts Elbows off the Table, an etiquette program for children ages 5 to 12. Between the two ventures, she can certainly understand a parent’s frustration when it comes to finding yet another perfect theme for this year’s birthday or when prospective guests have neglected to RSVP.

A two-time winner of Bay Area Parent’s annual Best of the Best award, she seemed the perfect person to give advice on the practical aspects of organizing children’s birthday parties. For more information, visit


What are some general rules of party etiquette?

Guests should always RSVP, even if they can’t attend. And they should not bring other siblings to the party without a direct invitation from the host. It’s not particularly polite to even ask the host if you can bring a younger sibling. Include a gift receipt with your gift, so a host can easily return or exchange it if necessary. Nobody likes to show up to any special occasion empty handed, but if there is ever a request for "no gifts, please," then it is never appropriate to bring a gift. If an entertainer is hired, adults should keep their conversations low and away from the entertainment. Kids need to know basic table manners and be informed of behavioral expectations ahead of time. If you model polite behavior and teach good social etiquette, manners will last a lifetime.


What do you suggest parents give as party favors instead of candy?

Stop wasting money on "goody bags." We all know the contents go into the junk box or the garbage can the next day, so instead consider giving just one gift. We suggest creative props and costumes for role-playing activities, art materials, books and music as an alternative. Making a craft project at a birthday party may serve a double purpose, as an event activity and a party favor.


How are parties staying conscious of the environment?

Evite-type invitations are the greenest and most convenient way to go. Using post-consumer recycled paper for the invitations is another way to go. For decorations, use reusable banners that are beautiful during the party and great to put up in your kids’ rooms afterwards. Use live plants instead of cut flowers for centerpieces. The plants can double as parting gifts for guests. Next time you’re about to toss packing peanuts, bottle caps, twist ties or rubber bands, think twice. These humble items can be the perfect materials for creating clever assemblages. Look for plates and utensils made from bamboo, a fast-growing renewable and biodegradable resource.


What’s an appropriate amount to spend on a gift?

I think we should teach kids the real meaning behind gift-giving. It is not how much you spend on a gift but how you present it. In order to help your kids learn the joy of giving, involve them in gift shopping or making the gifts they’ll give. Teach your children how to receive a gift as well. Remind kids that time and thought went into picking out their gift. It’s important to be polite by opening the gifts with a sense of joy and then expressing thanks. If they don’t like the gift, teach them to find something positive to say and to always say thank you.


Is there a rule of thumb about how many children to invite?

Although an often-heard formula is to calculate the age of the child plus one, the reality is if your child is school-age, it’s often not appropriate to exclude any classmates. For very young kids (ages 1 to 2), parties tend to be more for the parents, so the same considerations don’t apply. In general, though, parents should ask themselves how many children they are comfortable hosting, as well as how much time, energy, space and budget they have. Also, you have to know your child. While extroverted children love the action of big bashes, these things can be devastating for an introverted child. Try to involve your child when drawing up a guest list. My biggest piece of advice is to know your child and know your own limits.



– Millicent Skiles