Bowling Party Ideas: retro & modern
These modern & retro bowling party ideas can easily be adapted to suit any age group, depending on whether you're planning a kid's, teen or adult birthday. Below are some tips and suggestions for bowling party food & drinks, bowling party invitations, decorations and party games.
A word of warning about retro bowling parties though. Although the style looks lovely—and I'm a big fan of it personally—retro bowling decorations and birthday party supplies are harder to come by. Which means you usually have to make things yourself or spend more money on vintage style items.
Regardless of whether you're going to do a modern or retro bowling party, the first thing to decide is if you're going to hold the birthday party at a bowling alley or at home. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options so you just need to weigh up what's more important to you.
Tips & Advice: Quick Links
Before jumping straight into the creative ideas, such as birthday invitations, food & drink and party decorations, take a minute to read my tips and advice section.
Click on the links below for information on the following:
A list of pro's and con's for holding your birthday party at a bowling alley.
A list of pro's and con's for holding your birthday party at home.
Advice on how many lanes to book, reserving lanes until all guests have confirmed, food restrictions etc
Harry Potter bowling? Redneck bowling? Star Wars bowling? Retro Mad Men style bowling? Read this section for information on applying a theme to these bowling party ideas.
bowling party Invitations
Bowling Pin party Invitations
For 3D birthday party invitations to tie in with these bowling party ideas, you could send a mini foam bowling pin through the mail as the invitation. You can pick these up for less than a dollar each. Then just write or print all the birthday party details onto a small tag (see Using Tags on the Create Invitations page for examples) and tie it onto the bowling pin with ribbon. Pop into a padded envelope or small box and mail them out or just hand deliver them.
If you're throwing a retro bowling party, or it's for an adult birthday and you want the party invitations to be a bit more special, use these mini wooden bowling pins for a nice vintage feel. They work out around $3.50 each. Note: Make sure you use the 5" ones - they also come in 2.5" but these will be too small.
Bowling pin Cookie Invitations
Another fun option that works well with these bowling party ideas is to go for edible birthday party invitations. Pick up a bowling pin cookie cutter and make a batch of cookies. Wrap each one up in cellophane, including all the party details on a tag as described above, then send them out in a padded envelope or box.
If you're not really one for baking cookies, you can buy these freshly baked vanilla and honey flavored bowling pin cookies (USA only) for around $4 each.
Personalized Bowling party Invitations
There are also lots of birthday invitations available online that would fit well with these bowling party ideas, such as the ones below. These include ones for younger children (below left), ones with a retro feel (below right) and some more sophisticated ones that would work well for an adult birthday party (bottom row). See here for a full range.
Alternatively, for a budget option, there are also a couple of fill-in style invitations available that you could use.
Retro Bowling party Invitations
If you want to throw a retro bowling party, there are a few designs that I think have a nice vintage / retro feel. See here for a full range.
Bowling Party Invitation Wording
If you're using one of the 3D birthday party invitations above, and need some wording to add to the tags, below are a few suggestions to go with these bowling party ideas. A word of warning though: use these sparingly, otherwise it can sound a bit cheesy.
- Strike the date on your calendar......
- Spare the time to join us.............
- Roll on over to...........
- Put on your bowling shoes for........
- Don't be a turkey, reply to.......
Bowling Postage Stamps
A great way to add some extra embellishment to your bowling party invitations is to use these themed postage stamps (more designs available), some of which can be personalized to include the host's name. There are also some retro designs, such as the one below left. This is a cute and easy way to make your birthday party invitations stand out.
Note: These stamps are only available in the USA
bowling party Drinks
There aren't any obvious themed drinks to associate with these bowling party ideas (unless you're going for a retro theme where you could serve root beer floats or milkshakes). So instead, I would suggest you focus on the presentation of the drinks.
Bowling Pin Milkshakes / cocktails
If your party is for kids, serve a white colored milkshake (such as this pineapple, banana and coconut milkshake recipe) in individual glass bottles and apply some strips of red tape to make them look like bowling pins. Then pop a bowling pin crazy straw (see below) in each bottle and arrange the bottles into a triangle shape to look more like pins.
The cheapest way to obtain these bottles is to use the supermarket version of Starbuck's Frappuccino drinks - the bottles are just the right size for kids - just soak off the labels.
You can adapt this ideas for an adult birthday party by using any white colored cocktail, such as White Russians.
Bowling Ball Punch / cocktail
Pick up some of these mini plastic fish bowls to use as glasses. Fill them with a black punch such as this recipe. Then just cut out three small circles of paper / card and stick these on the side of the bowls to look like the holes.
You can also adapt this for an adult birthday party by using any cocktail with cola, such as Black Russians.
Bowling Pin Soda / Juice
Alternatively, if you're having your party at the bowling alley just serves soda in these cute bowling pin sippers (below left) - kid's will love them and they make great party favors. Take these with you and put a sticky label on the base with each guest's name.
Alternatively, just pop these bowling pin crazy straws (below right) into regular soda / juice bottles. You can always rename regular drinks (or re-label soda bottles) with bowling themed names such as 'Lucky Strike Punch' or 'All Star Soda'.
bowling party Food
If you're holding your party at a bowling alley, bear in the mind it's mainly junk food on offer. So see if they'll let you bring in some of you own so you can add some healthy options (ie, fruit etc) to your bowling party food.
Here are some other food suggestions to go with these bowling party ideas.
- Pick up a bowling pin cookie cutter, there are so many ways you can use this to create themed bowling party food such as sandwiches, pizza, cookies, cheese and fruit slices (see some examples below).
- Use a bowling pin cookie cutter to shape white bread sandwiches (see below) into pins with red fruit leather to make the stripes. You can also use brown bread to create bowling balls with three olives as the holes (below right).
- You can also use the cookie cutters to make themed pizzas to go with your bowling party food. Either cut out shapes from a ready-made pizza (use a square / rectangular shaped pizza to minimize waste)—see below left, or make your own larger pizzas (see below right). Start by adding only the tomato puree to the base. Then use the cookie cutter as a stencil to arrange the cheese in the shape of the bowling pins (as many as you can fit onto the pizza). You can add the two red stripes to each pin by using slices of pepperoni or red pepper. Finally, add a bowling ball shape by using black olives.
- If you want to add some healthy options to your bowling party food, you can also use the cookie cutters to shape slices of fruit such as pineapple, melon or watermelon.
- For bowling party ideas for teens, you could use the cookie cutters to mold white rice into individual portions then serve with big bowls of chilli or curry (see below). Tip: Stir some melted butter into the rice to help bind it when arranging in the cookie cutter. The red stripes are just slices of red pepper.
- If you want to make bowling pin cupcakes, check out these (below left, from Berg Family 4 or below right, from Cut Out and Keep). They're made by placing a mini cupcake upside down on top of a regular one, followed by a donut hole on top of the mini cupcake—with all three components stuck together with frosting. Then let them firm up in the fridge or freezer before covering in melted frosting. The red details can be added by using fruit leather.
- Alternatively, you could make some bowling ball cupcakes like these to go with your bowling party food (below left, by 'new at this' via Cake Central or below right, by Lunch box Lane)
- These Rice Krispie football shirts (below, from Rice Krispie) could easily be adapted to make bowling shirts. Just add a wide vertical stripe down the center of the shirt (see below right).
- Similarly, for a quick alternative to cupcakes or cookies, adapt these Rice Krispie sports ball treats (below, from Rice Krispie) using black frosting to make bowling balls (don't forget to add the three holes in a lighter color frosting to add some definition). Or, make a sheet of Rice Krispies and use the bowling pin cookie cutter to cut them into bowling pin shapes, then add white and red frosting to decorate.
- There are various bowling themed candies you can buy which are and easy way to fill out a dessert table, such as these personalized chocolate lollipops and candy bars (below left), bowling suckers (below center) and personalized bowling ball lollipops (below right).
- Check out my page of Baseball party ideas, there are lots of concession stand inspired dishes such as these hot dog shaped cakes (below left) and this cheesecake that looks like nachos! (below right) which you could also use for bowling party food.
- If you want to make your own birthday cake to compliment these bowling party ideas, use this sports ball cake pan. It's a generic ball pan so can be decorated to look like all different types of balls (ex, tennis, basketball etc).
- I'd recommend rolling out fondant icing and using this to cover the ball as it will give it a smoother, more realistic appearance (such as this example by see-through-silence at deviant art). You can then add some small black fondant circles and push these in slightly to look like the holes.
- Check out this professionally made bowling cake by Cakegirls that I came across on the sweetiecakesandpies blog). This gave me some ideas for how you could enhance the presentation of your bowling ball birthday cake (see below).
- What I'd suggest is displaying the cake on a strip of this wood effect contact paper to resemble a bowling lane (you can add some red arrows using card stock for extra detail). Then arrange some of these foam bowling pin stress-balls or cheap plastic bowling pins in a triangle at one end. Alternatively, if you want the pins to look as if they've just been struck by the ball, like in the photo, just apply the contact paper to a Styrofoam block and secure the pins in place at angles with skewers.
Food & Drink Styling
Below are some tips and suggestions for how to style these bowling party ideas.
bowling dessert table
/ buffet table
- If you're holding your birthday party at a bowling alley where there is no separate party room (ie, they just set up a food table behind the lanes) definitely make sure you spend a bit of time dressing a small food / dessert table to make it a bit more special—otherwise it can seem a bit impersonal for a birthday party. You can adapt some of the bowling dessert table ideas below depending on how much space you have available to decorate.
- Below are step by step instructions for how to decorate a retro bowling dessert table / buffet table.
- I've given this bowling dessert table a retro feel, so start by creating a backdrop by hanging some fabric. There are lots of different retro style fabrics available by the yard such as "sprinkles" (below left), "argyle" (below center) and "hop dot sky" (below right) plus lots of others.
- Alternatively, there are a few bowling themed fabrics you could use, such as the ones below, including some which have a retro design.
- You can make your own retro bowling sign to hang above your bowling dessert table using some free fonts available to download. The first retro font is called Fontdinerdotcom Sparky (below, by fontdiner on fontspace). Just download, unzip (using winzip or another free unzip program) then drag the font files into your font folder on your computer. The upper case version is what I used to create the "Bradley's" part of the bowling dessert table illustration above. Just print each letter off on individual pieces of card then arrange on the wall (either use colored cardstock or just add a colored rectangle in Word, Powerpoint or whatever software you're using). The lower case version is what I used to create the "All Star Lanes" part of the bowling dessert table illustration above. The lower case version also includes the little star symbol which gives it a really retro feel.
- The second retro font, called Bowlorama (below, also by fontdiner on fontspace) is what I used for the "Bowl-a-rama" part of the bowling dessert table illustration above. The great thing about this retro font is that you can print off each letter individually and just arrange them on the wall.
- Use bunches of bowling ball shaped balloons at either end to frame the table, then hang this bowling themed garland to dress around the front and sides of the dessert table. See here for both.
- For a centerpiece, arrange some plastic bowling pins in a triangle shape and raise them up on a covered box / cake stand.
You can pick up cheap plastic kid's bowling sets for around $7 which come with 12 pins and 2 balls. They're fairly cheap quality so may not last very long if used for actual bowling but they're a great cheap option to use as a centerpiece for a bowling dessert table.
- You could also add another tier above the pins with a bowling trophy on, so that the triangle of bowling pins are arranged in such a way to hide the box / tier supporting the trophy. This way the trophy looks like its supported by the bowling pins. These plastic trophies are available individually or in packs of 12 so you can use them as prizes for bowling games (see Games section below) and just keep one back for your centerpiece.
- If you prefer a more feminine centerpiece, or you just want to include some flowers, use this bowling bag purse as a vase and fill it with a flower arrangement. Alternatively you could have a helium filled bowling ball balloon floating out of it. See here for both. Whichever centerpiece you choose for your bowling dessert table, remember to raise it up so it stands out and gives the table some height.
Alternative bowling dessert Table
Below is another option for a dessert / buffet table to go with these bowling party ideas:
- For the backdrop, I've used the signage created with the free fonts as described above. Beneath this I've used a bowling themed wall decal (below, different colors available). These are fairly cheap and look great against a plain wall. Also, they peel and re-stick easily so you can always use to it to decorate a kid's bedroom after the party.
- Either side of the buffet / dessert table I've used these bowling ball cut outs (below left) to create hanging decorations Just stick them onto strips of ribbon or colored string and hang vertically from the ceiling. This would be a great way to enclose the food / dessert table area if set up behind the bowling lanes at a bowling alley (assuming they'll let you hang things). You can also do something similar with these bowling shirt party plates (below right, which also come in bowling balls - similar to the cut outs pictured below left). See here for both the shirt and ball plates.
Alternative Bowling Dessert Table
Below is one final example of a bowling dessert table:
- The bowling ball cut outs / shirt plates can also be used to create an entire backdrop for a bowling dessert table. Use just the balls or just the plates on their own, or use a mixture of the two to create a checkerboard effect alternating a bowl with a shirt. Note: If you're mixing the two, I would suggest you use the shirt plates with the bowl plates (rather than the shirt plates with the ball cut outs) so that they look the same and are of a similar size.
- Either side of the dessert table, I've positioned two bowling pin balloon structures. See the Decorations section below for more information on these.
Here are some food presentation tips to go with these bowling party ideas:
- Print off bowling score cards from the web (below) onto colored paper and use these as labels to identify all the different foods.
- If you're serving lollies, cake pops or any other foods on sticks, you can present these sticking out of homemade bowling balls. Just pick up some Styrofoam balls (USA only) and paint them black, with 3 indents to represent the finger holes. Then secure the Styrofoam balls to a base with a nail (you could use a rectangular piece of Styrofoam or wood covered in decorative paper for the base). A row of these, say 3 or 4 balls, on one long base would look good. You could even cover the base with a beige colored / wood patterned paper to resemble the bowling lane.
- If you're having soda / water bottles on the table, re-label them (you could use the bowling score cards mentioned above) and arrange them in a triangle shape like a set of bowling pins. Alternatively, you could wrap the entire bottle in white paper and add red stripes using ribbon like in this picture I came across (below, by The Wilsons). Just don't forget to identify what's in each bottle, perhaps with a label on the reverse.
Below are some table styling tips to go with these bowling party ideas (these can be used at home or in the party room at a bowling alley).
- Decorate the dining table to resemble a bowling lane by using a roll of wood-effect contact paper (below left). Alternatively, you can pick up a pack of self-stick wood effect vinyl floor tiles (below center) for under $20 which you can lay over the top of a cheap paper table cloth to transform a rectangular table into an impressive looking bowling lane (plus you can use the tiles to create a flat surface in your basement / backyard if you're holding the birthday party at home). Then add a few arrowhead markings using red tape.
- Below is an illustration to show how this might look. The styling in the illustration below, with the use of a table runner, votives and a floral centerpiece (see below for more info), is more suited to an adult birthday party. However you can still adapt the basic idea of a bowling lane table for a kid's birthday part - just swap the floral centerpiece for the Styrofoam bowling balls suggested below. For information on the bowling ball paper lanterns in the picture, see the decorations section below.
- For a centerpiece, paint Styrofoam balls to look like bowling balls (see Food Presentation section above) and arrange 3 or 4 running down the middle of the table.
- To adapt this idea for an adult birthday party, you might want to create the bowling balls centerpieces out of flowers. Carnations are perfect for modelling into balls (see our Facebook page for photos of when I used these for a party for Sarah Jessica Parker in Cannes, France) and it's really quite simple to do. You just insert Carnation stems into a Styrofoam ball. See a full description for how to create Carnation balls like these (below left, from Delish, photo by Charles Schiller). Once you've created the ball don't forget to create 3 holes in each to make them instantly identifiable as bowling balls (below right). I'd suggest inserting 3 sewing thimbles into the Carnations to achieve this look.
- You can soften this look even more by scattering some votive candles around the centerpiece I'd suggest creating a rectangle of votive candles to contain the centerpiece as the straight lines will fit in nicely with the bowling lane effect.
- Alternatively, another quick and easy centerpiece would be to use bowling pin sippers as vases with a single stem in each. See these examples below (below left, from Intimate Weddings, and below right, from Couronne Company) for how simple, yet effective, single stem centerpieces can be.
- For tableware, I'd suggest using the bowling ball shaped plates (below left) as these will look great on the wood effect table and tie in well with the 'table as a bowling lane' approach. If you'd prefer a quick and easy alternative to using a wood effect cover on the tabletop, you can use this bowling themed table cover. See here for both the plates and table cover.
- If you're using these ideas for a kid's birthday party, you can also tie a helium filled bowling ball shaped balloon to the back of each chair, set each place with one of these bowling party hats or keep them occupied in between bowls with these personalized activity place mats. See here for all these items.
bowling party Decorations
Below are some decoration tips to complement these bowling party ideas. You can use these for bowling parties at home, or adapt them to whatever space you have available at a bowling alley.
I couldn't feature all the bowling party decorations and supplies available, so to see a full range use the quick links below. These suppliers have the best range and between them they have something for all budgets.
More Bowling Party Supplies
More Bowling Supplies
Bowling Party Decorations & Supplies
Bowling Party Decorations & Supplies
These balloon structures (below, from Cut Out and Keep) make great bowling party decorations. They're simple enough to make and would look really impressive either side of your dessert table - or use them at the entrance to your party. Just nail a tall wooden pole (something shaped like a broom handle) to a base plate to create a frame, then tie balloons around the pole working from the base up. Use larger balloons for the bottom half and slightly smaller ones on the top half to reproduce the shape of the pin, then complete with one large balloon at the very top.
- For inside, you can turn regular black paper lanterns into bowling balls by just adding 3 small circles of paper / card stock to represent the holes. These make great hanging decorations and look particularly good when hung above the table in a cluster (see the photos below for inspiration).
- You could also do something similar with solid color beach balls. Just use a sharpie to draw on 3 circles to represent the holes. Then just scatter some beach balls around the party - kid's will love to play around with them.
- You could also create your own bowling pin garlands by clipping cheap plastic bowling pins onto ribbon to hang in swags around the perimeter of the room.
- These are lots of posters you can use for bowling party decorations, including quite a few different ones for The Big Lebowski (below left) - which could be good for an adult birthday party. See here for a full range.
- There are also some really cool vintage posters if you're throwing a retro bowling party. Often these are quite small though (14" x 12")- so be sure to check the sizes as you might need to use quite a few in order to make an impression - which then might not be cost effective.
- Pick up a bowling themed stand-in (below) for guests to have their photo taken with their faces on the pins. These photos make great souvenirs and you could also incorporate them into thank you cards when you follow up after the party.
bowling Party Games / activities
For a list of games and activities, see my separate Bowling Party Games page. This page contains ideas for games that can be played either at a bowling alley or at home, such as:
- Crazy Bowling
- Truth or Dare Bowling
- Race Against the Ball
- Bingo Bowling
- Alternatively, if you're prepared to spend a bit more you can get some much more professional looking bowling shirts or some fun 'team name' shirts. These are particularly good for a retro bowling party.
Bowling Party Favors
- The easiest, and often most cost-effective, way to approach party favors is to pick up a pre-filled favor boxes which come with a selection of novelties.
Thank You Notes
- Don't forget to follow up after the party with a thank you note. There are a number of different designs available that compliment these bowling party ideas, both personalized and off the shelf 'fill-in' style.
Tips & Advice
Below are tips and advice to help you decide whether to hold your birthday party at a bowling alley or at home. If you do decide to hold it at a bowling alley, I've put together a checklist of things to remember such as how many lanes to book, reserving lanes until a certain date once guests have replied etc.
Bowling Alley: Pro's and Con's
At Home: Pro's and Con's
Bowling alley: Things to remember
Bowling Alley: Pro's and Con's
- Pro: More authentic bowling experience.
- Pro: Pins automatically re-set between bowls, automatically keeps score, plus bumpers available for younger kids.
- Pro: Less party set up / clean up required.
- Pro: Space—can accommodate larger numbers.
- Pro: A birthday party away from home might seem more 'grown up' for pre/younger teens.
- Con: Probably more expensive.
- Con: Limited to 'junk' food.
- Con: Not suited to younger kids (say, under 7).
- Con: Need to coordinate number of guests with number of lanes to reserve (might be some drop outs).
- Con: Less personal (some alleys don't have a separate party room) so you might need to make more effort to customize some of the bowing party ideas below.
At Home: Pro's and Con's
- Pro: Probably cheaper.
- Pro: You can provide better / healthier food.
- Pro: Home bowling sets more suited to younger kids (plastic balls, no gutters to worry about etc). Alternatively, you could make it a Nintendo Wii bowling party.
- Pro: More space to personalize, decorate and incorporate your own bowling party ideas.
- Con: Less authentic bowling.
- Con: Have to re-set pins after each bowl / keep score.
- Con: Space—to accommodate number of guests and also a flat surface (in backyard / basement) to bowl.
Whichever option you choose for your birthday party, you can adapt most of the bowling party ideas above to suit the venue.
Things to Remember
If you decide to hold your birthday party at a bowling alley, here are a few useful tips to go with these bowling party ideas:
- Have no more than 4 kids per lane, otherwise they'll get bored waiting for their turn.
- Talk to the bowling alley to see if you can reserve a certain number of lanes (before you plan your invitations). Then agree a cut-off date to confirm the final number of people / lanes you actually want to book and pay for.
- Ask guests to reply by a certain date (chase them up beforehand if need be) so you can confirm final numbers with the bowling alley and increase or decrease the number of lanes on hold accordingly.
- Check if there are any special bowling options available on certain days (ie black light bowling, extreme bowling, disco nights) incase you want to include these in your bowling party ideas.
- Check to see if they can add bumpers to some or all of the lanes for younger kids (if required).
- Some lanes offer a party room for food after the bowling, others just set up a table behind your lanes. Check what's on offer so you know whether you can bring your own decorations / table dressing.
- If food is included in your package, check to see if you can supplement with some of your own in order to add some healthy options and/or a birthday cake.
The bowling party ideas above are designed for a birthday where bowling is the actual theme of the party. But there's no reason why you can't add a theme on top. This can often make a party more unique (which is particularly relevant for pre/younger teens who usually want to do something different).
- For example, for a kid's birthday you could make it a Harry Potter bowling party where the guests come in costume and are sorted into teams such as Slytherin, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw. Or, a Star Wars theme where they are split into Jedi v Sith.
See my list of Kids Party Themes and Teen Party Themes for an A-Z list of themes that you could add to these bowling party ideas.
- With a themed bowling party held at home you can also decorate the bowling pins, in keeping with whatever theme you choose. Check out these Thanksgiving themed bowling pins (below left, from Makes and Takes) or these Halloween themed ones (below right by Luv2craft from Thrifty Fun) for inspiration.
- You could easily create something similar by just cutting out pictures of different characters related to your chosen theme and sticking them onto bowling pins or soda bottles. Alternatively, there are lots of themed bowling sets for kids that you can buy for between $10 - $20 such as Disney Princess (below left), Spiderman, Toy Story, Hello Kitty, Spongebob Squarepants, Monsters (below center) and Farm Friends (below right).
- For an adult birthday you could apply a vintage / retro styling to these bowling party ideas and ask guests to come in 50's / 60's costumes (think Mad Men for a sophisticated take on this era). Or have a bit of fun with it and make it a Redneck themed bowling party.
See my list of Adult Party Themes for other ideas.
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Matt James is a professional event planner and owner of event agency Left Field Productions, which has produced events for Elton John, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kevin Spacey, Stella McCartney, David LaChapelle, John Waters, and Elvis Costello & Diana Krall. Since 2004, Left Field Productions has won 30 industry awards for excellence including Production Company of the Year.