1. Control the numbers
In the excitement of a recent engagement, it’s tempting to invite every man in your phonebook on the forthcoming stag do, but you need to keep a close eye on numbers from the outset. Inviting Jez from the gym might seem like a good idea at the time, but big stag groups complicate everything from accommodation to restaurant bookings. They also have a tendency to get cliquey, and you don’t want to be working like a sheepdog all night. The ideal number is 12-15. If you’re going abroad – as 70% do – a good option is a secondary stag night in a local pub to mop up the in-laws, cousins and colleagues who didn’t join you in Tbilisi. That’s Jez’s big chance.
2. Serve notice
Stag parties are expensive and often involve time off work (N.B. if possible, take the Monday afterwards), so give your hand-picked unit at least three months’ notice of your plans. You’ll need to be flexible on dates, particularly over the summer, so one of your first jobs is to establish an email list and settle on a weekend everyone is free. This should be at least two weeks before the wedding, to allow hangovers – both physical and metaphysical – to fully disperse. My best man Neil considerately booked my skiing stag do six weeks before the wedding, “to give any broken bones time to heal”. With two hospitalisations on the trip, it turned out to be a sensible strategy.
3. Budget carefully
To ensure as many key players as possible are able to attend, be careful not to price anybody out. Remember: you want people to come who will make the stag do fun, not just those who can afford it. Settle on a rough target budget per head, and stick to it. On the stag itself, it’s also a good idea to monitor the wealthier members of the team to stop them driving up costs for everyone else by racking up extravagant tabs.
4. Pick your destination
Now you’ve got your date and a target budget, it’s time to settle on location. If you’re staying in Britain, the most popular cities outside London – in terms of facilities and activities – are Brighton, Bristol, Nottingham and Bournemouth. Further afield, Eastern Europe still represents the best value, with Riga, Tallinn, Bratislava and Ljubljana all good bets.
5. Keep your accommodation simple
Don’t waste money on anything other than a clean, basic hotel. You won’t be spending much time there – it’s just a base to rest sore heads. Book early and book together: relying on people to make arrangements individually will inevitably end up with at least one hapless soul marooned in a dodgy B&B on the wrong side of town. Finally, get somewhere as close to the city-centre as possible, to reduce transport costs and make it easy to find when disoriented. On a recent stag trip to Belgium, one of our party somehow managed to get lost on the 50-metre walk from our final pub to the hotel. An hour later he’d found his way – on foot – out to the Brussels ring road, and had to be rescued.
6. Create a competitive vibe
Men are innately competitive creatures, so anything that necessitates splitting into teams and trying to outdo each other is always a winner. This is particularly true if it involves cold water, which has a useful sobering effect on Day Two. Don’t forget your budget (that helicopter treasure hunt won’t look quite as awesome when you get your next credit card bill) and don’t overdo it either: you don’t want everyone to be wiped out before the evening’s entertainment has even begun.
7. Appoint a banker
As the best man, you’ve got enough to handle. One task you should always delegate is the kitty. Pick somebody relatively sensible who’s known to as many of the group as possible, preferably one of the ushers. A well-run kitty not only prevents round-shirking, it also means people are less likely to break off into smaller cliques at different bars. It will also avoid those 45 minutes spent doing drunken calculations when a restaurant bill that’s the size of the Magna Carta arrives.
8. Have a concreate plan
Like a good football team, every successful stag party will have a solid spine to it. A few weeks before heading out, you should book up all your lunch and dinner destinations for the duration so everyone knows exactly where they need to be if they get separated from the group. If you’re flying abroad, it’s also wise to book transport to the airport en masse. It’s all too easy to miss an early-hours departure, particularly once the pre-stag drinks get flowing. I once ended up on a stag do in Tallinn without the groom or best man, both of whom missed the flight. They turned up, sheepishly, the next day after a slapstick dash across Europe involving a number of taxis, two planes and a ferry from Helsinki.
9. Make the introduction early
From college friends to family members, schoolmates to colleagues, it’s likely there will be a fair few people among the party who don’t know each other. A nice way to remedy this is with a simple printed pamphlet, containing a short paragraph on each person, their relation to the groom and a funny anecdote. This will immediately spark conversation, and get the group gelling. If you can, add everybody’s mobile numbers, the itinerary and a local map.
10. Be prepared to take control
A best man needs to be able to switch into army officer mode at any time. People might go missing, venues may be closed, the weather could affect your itinerary and you need to problem solve on your feet. Do your research and always have a back-up list of venues and ideas up your sleeve. Most stag party participants are happy to go along with the best man’s plans. The trouble starts when he doesn’t have any…