My son’s emoji 🥳 / pizza making 4th birthday party was in December. It’s taken me this long mainly because I’m a little traumatized by the experience. That certainly sounds dramatic and it was! The restaurant venue did me dirty and it was a really crazy situation. For the most part, the kids were oblivious and had a good time thanks to outside entertainment and me and a bunch of adult guests working our butts off as servers and bussers.
I’m going to first focus on the positive and share all the cute photos, emoji decor, centerpieces and goodies (you can click through images or links to shop).
If you’re here for the drama (which wouldn’t surprise me based on the hundreds of responses to my Instagram stories the day after the party), scroll down — I shared some the crazy, including the staff member who shouted profanities in front of the kids and endangered them.
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For my son's first and second birthday, I kept things pretty simple. For his first birthday, we had an amazing cake smash and a simple yet stive joint party for 5 babies and the parents. For his second birthday, we had a small family party and some cupcakes plus a frolic in the park on the actual date. Last year, I went all out with elaborate custom decor for our circus-themed party.
Emoji Birthday Party
This year, I wanted to do something easy and low key. I and found tons of adorable emoji paraphernalia online that I could easily mix and match.
I had the party at a restaurant that offers a kids’ birthday package that includes pizza making and ice cream sundaes. Bored kids at a party is the worst (or so I thought til I had a busser shouting profanities and endangering kids at this one), so I picked up a little craft for the kids to do on arrival and hired outside entertainers to do face painting and a magic show.
Details on Emoji Decor & Favors
This theme was so easy to work with. My only warning is that some of the items included poop emojis. I tried to avoid poop items (though my son insists they are yummy chocolate chips 🧐). So if poop emojis rub you the wrong way, be sure to look at items carefully before purchasing. I tried to specify below whenever an item includes poop.
Affordable Custom Emoji Birthday Signs
I find that custom signage really elevates a party. I ordered custom signs from the same place last year and they came out really adorable. The two signs together came out to $28 (always look at the banner at the top of the site for a discount code). I made some modifications to the signs, as detailed in the text under each image. Also see below for the light up letterboard.
Another tip is to make sure that you have painters’ tape so you don’t damage any walls (I also used it to secure the table cloths).
I was really glad to have ordered this craft (available at Target and Amazon) as the venue didn’t have the tables or chairs where the kids were to make the pizza until almost 40 minutes after the party start time (see the drama section below). They did have plenty of booths around the perimeter of the restaurant and the kids were able to color the mask there.
The restaurant provided us with crayons, which didn’t work very well on the masks (they’re a shiny cardboard). I definitely recommend trying out whatever marker or crayon you plan to use to make sure they work well and dry quickly.
other ideas for an emoji craft
These emoji bracelets are cute!
If you’re crafty, you can make a sign on banner paper for the kids to color. You can also have them decorate it with emoji stamps and stickers. Alternatively, you can get this banner (which is plastic) and have them decorate it with letters or stickers. Once complete, you can hang the banner as decor.
Kids’ Emoji-Themed Table
I kept the kids’ table pretty simple. I made easy centerpieces and found really cute tableware.
I cut four inch foam balls in half, stuck them flat side down into these metal mini buckets, poked these inexpensive emoji photobooth props into the balls, poured in some kidney beans to keep the buckets from tipping, and covered the tops with white crinkle paper.
Here’s what you need to make these crafts (other than the custom stickers, which are detailed below).
I find that tying balloons to each kids’ chair adds a lot to the decor and photos. I especially like alternating colors (I did it at last year’s circus party too).
I got a large fun emoji balloon for my son’s chair and simple latex balloons for the rest of the kids’ chairs. I went with red and blue over yellow and red to avoid looking like a McDonalds.
If you’re looking for inexpensive emoji balloons to blow up on your own, Target has a cute set.
Emoji Table Setting
Here are the rest of the items from the kids’ table.
giant emoji table cloth roll (note that they strategically hid the poop in the product images). It’s available at Amazon and Oriental Trading. Also note that this roll is huge and can cover many tables, I had plenty left over.
I secured it in a few spots with painters’ tape.
I happened to have red and white striped paper straws from another event, so I used them
Dessert & Favor Table
I ordered the cupcakes from Mini Melanie and they were delicious! I’ve been ordering desserts from Mini Melanie for years. She made the blue ombre cake for my son's first birthday cake smash and the yellow and blue truffles for our circus party last year. I also ordered custom corporate gifts from her for my husband’s glaucoma surgery practice. She is a dream to work with and her desserts are unique and delicious!
Emoji Cupcake Stand + Paper Goods
The cupcake stand was fun and added some height and dimension to the table. In case you’re curious, we easily fit 30 mini cupcakes on the stand.
Lightboxes can add a nice personalized touch for any theme and be reused endless times. I like my lightbox because it comes with black and colored letters as well as a huge assortment of emojis and other images (including a rainbow for my rainbow-obsessed son).
Emoji Party Favors
I’m a little bit of a favor snob — not that I think favors are even necessary, I just don’t like giving or receiving things that add to the clutter or cavities. My goal is to send kids home with one or two items that they will use and enjoy.
I managed to find cute emoji bags (another cute bag here), mini play-doh factories and slinky juniors all for a steal at a closeout store before I even sent out party invitations. I also threw in some emoji magnets (in hindsight, I don’t think these added anything).
I gave personalized smiley lolly pops too, but I don’t recommend them as when they arrived I noticed that they are made in China and many arrived cracked.
Closer to the party, I bumped into a representative from Mabel’s Labels and learned that they now make adorable party favor packs in tons of themes, including emoji! I love the brand and included them to help them spread the word about this new offering. The favor packs come with coordinating favor bags too. I had already purchased bags, but the Mabel’s bags would be adorable to decorate with the round thank you stickers.
Ron Zember, the author of the Emoji ABCs book is a NYC Dad. He coincidentally reached out to me on Instagram shortly before the party. I love to support small businesses and entrepreneurs so I was happy to share the books at the party and in this post. The book includes the kissy and rainbow emojis, which are our family favorites (not surprisingly, it includes poop too)! I placed a custom Mabel’s Labels thank you sticker on the cover of each book.
A lot of families went on holiday vacation the week following the party and sent me photos of their kids enjoying the favors on the plane. I’ve also seen the personalized labels on lots of backpacks, lunchboxes and thermoses at school. Mission accomplished!
When I went to collect the links for this post I came across some more cute emoji-themed items!
Emoji Shirt for the Birthday Boy
I think it’s fun to outfit the birthday kid in a custom on-theme t-shirt. You can find them for a really reasonable price and get lots of use out of them (my son still wears his monogrammed circus shirt from last year’s party).
We happened to have a big smiley sticker at home, so I stuck it on a solid shirt. You’ll notice that my son is wearing two different shirts in the photos. In the craziness I forgot to put the sticker on initially, but when he spilled a cup of water on his shirt I changed it and remembered the sticker.
I arrived in one of my favorite t-shirts at noon to set up for the 1:00 pm party and packed a cute sweater to put on close to the start time. With all the drama and not having tables and chairs til 1:30 I never changed. The necklace is from Alice & Olivia!
I still can’t believe what happened and the other day I passed the venue and got nauseous just thinking about it. Obviously people in this world deal with much bigger problems every minute of the day. My experience was just so unexpected and handled so egregiously that it kind of makes my blood boil.
When I contacted the restaurant I told them I wanted to book a late afternoon party. The manager convinced me that 1:00 would be much better as that start time is the latest that permits a kitchen tour for the kids. At one point the manager mentioned that there was another party before ours but assured me that the venue has two separate party areas and it would present no issue at all.
I went over the timeline with the manager multiple times before the event and even stopped by the week prior to discuss an exact setup of the space. During one of our conversations I mentioned the kitchen tour and he cut me off saying he can’t do a tour for a 1:00 party as it’s too late and then said something about the Department of Health not allowing it. It didn’t make much sense and I was a little annoyed as I had only agreed to that slot to allow a kitchen tour, but I let it go.
I showed the manager the blog post of last year’s party and made abundantly clear that I wanted to show up an hour early to decorate. He told me that my tables and chairs would be all set up by then but staff could help me with setting up decor and tying balloons to the chairs only if they weren’t busy with the other party (which was fine with me). The manager did mention that he wasn’t working the day of my party but that I would be in good hands.
The Day Of
The morning of the party I called to confirm that my cupcakes had been delivered. While I had them on the phone I reminded them that I’m arriving at noon and to please have the tables set up by then. The person I spoke to was oddly curt to me, but I figured the place was just busy.
I arrived at noon and my husband went with my son to park the car. My son really wanted to help set up so I figured I’d do the heavy lifting before he arrived and be ready for him to help with the smaller things like setting the plates by the time they parked.
I walked in and was surprised to find that in my part of the venue there were just a couple of chairs and four top tables (I was expecting 28 kids), and only one of my three high top tables.
I tried to find a staff member to talk to and they would barely acknowledge me. The only thing they would say is that the other party is quite large and using all the table and chairs and I would get tables and chairs after their party ended at 1:00 (my party start time). Other than that, they all turned their backs on me every time I tried to engage with them. I tried to kill them with kindness initially and focused on hanging the signs and setting up the dessert and goodies on the one high top table that I had.
It got closer to 1:00 and still no one would even talk to me (imagine being made to feel invisible). I told my husband not to bring my son yet because I didn’t want him to see what was happening and how upset I was.
I own that I eventually lost my temper. I insisted on speaking to the manager on premises. Instead they put me on the phone with the manager who had booked my event. He started rambling and apologizing. I cut him off and said that it’s not productive, my guests are arriving any minute and I need him to focus his energy on getting his staff to cooperate with me. Apparently he had enough sway to convince one staff member to work my party as that’s what I got a few minutes later
Based on what I overheard from other staff members, the manager messed up and booked two big parties back to back. The staff showed up in the morning, saw the schedule and refused to work my party. They were not unavailable, they were just unavailable to me. They were all just hanging out in the back.
In between begging staff members to set up my party, I ushered the kids over to the booths to do the craft.
At around 1:20 some tables and chairs for my party finally became available. The staff was still mainly ignoring me so my friends, family and I dragged heavy tables and chairs over (my back still hurt me days later). We still didn’t have enough tables or chairs for all the kids and I pointed that out to the staff.
I took a minute to check on my son and someone nudged me and told me that I needed to get to the other side of the long table. I looked up and saw staff members shouting at each other right in front of the kids. One of the staffers was pushing a table at an alarming speed toward the kids. I yelled for him to stop and he kept going and slammed it right into another table where kids were sitting and within inches of where other kids were standing. It’s sheer good fortune that he didn’t injure anyone. The other staff did rally at this point and tried to pull him away. They shouted at him and he shouted profanities right back (still inches from the kids). I intervened and told him that he can’t act that way in front of kids and he needs to leave the area. For some reason he listened to me and left the area really quite dramatically.
My photographer later told me that she shielded her camera during this outburst because she thought he would throw something.
Now that we finally had enough tables and chairs, a bunch of the parents helped me quickly set the tables and usher the rest of the kids over.
The rest of the party isn’t that dramatic. We had one staffer when we should have had at least three between the 26 kids and a few hundred dollars of food that I’d ordered for the adults. She definitely tried but was not proactive. I assume that she was new and that’s why she agreed to work the party when everyone else refused. I had to beg for pretty much every little thing that I needed — from putting out the pizza dough for the kids (I never did see the toppings that were promised), labeling the pizzas with the kids’ names when they were ready to go in the oven, collecting them to go in the oven, serving water for the adults and kids, serving the ordered food for the adults, clearing the tables and bringing out the dessert. I was literally running around the entire party trying to keep things under control.
There was a lot of waiting around and the kids did get a little restless and started dismantling the centerpieces and getting silly.
I laugh a little when I think back to the manager telling me that if there was any down time his staff would sing with the kids!
At the end of the day, no one got hurt and the kids had fun thanks to both so many parents working the party and the outside entertainers. I’m resentful of the amount of stress the restaurant caused me and that I didn’t get to be present for my son or the guests. I rarely have my photographer edit my face in photos but since my forehead gets shiny when I do physical labor I did ask her to “do something” about the sheen!
The aftermath / response from corporate
Once all the guests left someone shoved a bill in front of me. I asked to speak with a manager again and was instead given the cell phone number of the manager I’d booked with. I called and texted him (see below for the text) and he didn’t respond. I told the staff that I would tip my one server on the full amount and pay $100 for everything else. They didn’t argue with me at all.
Later that night the manager responded to my text that he was at a family event but will “make it right.” I didn’t respond because I was too angry and couldn’t think of anything that he could do for me.
That night I shared a bit of what happened in my Instagram stories. I tagged the brand (it’s a chain) in a way that wouldn’t be visible to the public. I also sent them my above text exchange with the manager. They responded that they take such concerns seriously and will call me. They called me a few days later and offered to redo the party, which I think is a ridiculous offer. Can you imagine inviting all those families back to relive the party??
After we hung up I emailed the brand asking that instead of redoing our party they donate catering for an event run by a local 501(c)(3) that supports families of young children living in shelters. I felt good about seeing something positive come out of the mishap. The brand didn’t respond to the request and instead refunded the $100 and tip and sent me a $75 gift card.
I would have much preferred to pay the full agreed price and have had the party I expected.
What really boggles my mind is that the restaurant knew in advance that I’m a blogger and I told them that I was going to be writing a blog post and photographing everything (in the context of being particular about the setup). I was treated so poorly and can only imagine how much worse it would have been for someone without “influence.” Not only was it a missed opportunity for free positive promotion but someone less level-headed than me could have seriously damaged their national reputation.
On my blog and social media pages, I try to keep my posts positive. If I have a bad experience with a brand you won’t find me bad mouthing them on my platform, I just won’t mention them at all and if all else is equal I will recommend their competitor. I struggled here with whether to share the name of the restaurant chain. In the end, I realized that this one location was poorly managed, and while corporate didn’t go as far as I’d have liked to make things right, I don’t want to damage the reputation of the brand. At the same time, I don’t want any NYC families to get burned the way I did. So if you are considering a pizza making party, feel free to message me and I will share the details to save you from the aggravation that I endured.
Anyway, rant over.
Whether you came here for party ideas or a dose of drama , I hope you got it and that you never have an experience like this one! Let’s see if I can motivate to throw a party next year.
If you’re looking for more party ideas (and positive experiences) check out my son’s amazing cake smash, simple yet festive joint party for 5 babies and parents, and (my personal favorite) his circus-themed third birthday party.