(Disclaimer: not all of these examples are from the company I work for
or from my personal experience...I have several friends who are also
party princesses/pirates in other states who related some info.
Your mileage may vary.)
Parents are a special issue to deal with in this job. As a
princess, you're being invited into someone's home and interacting with
their child. Obviously, they want to be sure you KNOW how to
handle kids, and won't get them hurt or scared or upset. They're
placing a ton of trust on you, the princess, to make this a special
occasion. And I don't ever forget that. It may be my third
party in a row that weekend, but it's little Melissa's FIRST birthday
party with a princess, and it has to be just as special as the other
parties I've done that week. So I do my best to make it a great
day for the birthday girl, and make sure the parents are getting what
they paid for. That all-important tip at the end of the party can
as much as double what I make for the party itself, or it can be
nothing, depending on whether the parents are convinced that I showed
their kid the best birthday time of their lives EVER. And since
this isn't a five-day a week job, that tip is the difference between
going home and turning over a chunk of change for my third of the
utilities, or showing empty hands to my roommate and promising him the
next party will be better. It depends on me, but it also depends
on the mood of the parents.
Some parents are really cool. They come from modest or upper
middle-class backgrounds, they love their kids and they want a special
treat for said kids' birthday parties. They're fun, they're
involved, they take pictures and play along with the games, they offer
the princess water bottles and cake and cookies, and they tip
invariably well...between 20 and 40 dollars.
Some parents are really into getting their moneys' worth out of a
princess. Maybe they don't hire entertainment very often, or it's
their first time, and they just like to know that they got the most out
of the service. Or they're just excited about their kid's third
birthday. They demand a lot of pictures, they ask to take them
outside even though it's hot and we're not obliged to agree to
this. They want pictures of us holding the kids up, even though
this again is not required (and painful for me, as I have two herniated
discs in my spine after a car accident earlier this year). They
want one hundred photos of little Eva sitting on the princess' lap,
followed by one hundred photos of her brother doing the same thing,
then a million assorted photos of various family members in combination
with the princess as well. They have nine cameras on the table
and they have to take a picture with every single one in turn, for some
reason. They have a big store-bought cake that's elaborate and
they take forever to lay it out. But at least they ask if all
this is OK and if I'm cool with doing it. I'm cool with it.
I'll do whatever, I just want to make the client happy. These
parents usually tip 20 bucks, which is the lowest tip I generally get,
but they still tip about 80% of the time.
Then there is the Upper Class Nightmare.
There's nothing inherently wrong with having a ton of money.
Money doesn't always make you a bad person. But there is
something wrong with getting so used to the service sector that you
tend to interchange them.
I'm an entertainer. I'm not the maid, the caterer, and by god I
am NOT the babysitter. My boss can't make this clear enough to
people. Princesses do not BABYSIT. We have a routine that
we do to entertain. You can't park your kids in front of the
princess and then go have cocktails on the deck for an hour. They
must be supervised by an adult, and that adult is not me. I don't
take your kid to the bathroom, or change its diaper or do anything
other than sing, tell stories and engage the kids in games and
dancing. I will happily help pass out paper plates for the
cake. I will help get the special bibs on the kids so they don't
spoil their expensive dresses. Yes, you're paying me. No,
you're not paying me to do EVERYTHING. Just certain things.
Anything I choose to do beyond that is because I feel like going the
These people usually have a nanny on hire. Where is she?
She disappears when the princess shows up, probably to take a
well-deserved break. But I'm not the nanny, she is. I don't
know where everything is in your home, where you'll be presenting the
cake, where you want us to do the activities, what's off-limits for the
kids to play near and what isn't. I can't stop entertaining all
the kids to go haul one crying one out of the room to find whatever toy
or snack he's wailing for. That's the parent or nanny's
job. It's not the caterer's job to tell me when you guys want to
bring the cake out and it's not my job to ask her to find out.
One time I was working as the hostess for the party (if a big party
requires a separate hostess, some princesses pull hostess duty in
regular clothes, setting up the music and blowing up balloons, making
arrangements with the parents on when to bring the cake out,
etc). I was herding up a bunch of the kids off the swingset to go
have the cake. One of the adults was standing by the swings,
where a little boy was sitting in one of those little swing harnesses
for very small children. I asked her to bring the kids in for the
"Are you the nanny?" she asked. I told her no, I was the party hostess.
"There's NO nanny today," another mom said, clearly annoyed. The
first woman huffed at this.
She looked at me, then at the glass of wine she had in her hand (it was
ten in the morning). Then she looked down at the kid in the
swing, who couldn't get out of the harness by himself, then back at the
wine glass, mentally hashing out the dilemma of picking up a child
without putting her wine down. Then she looked at me again,
pointedly. I sighed and hauled the kid out of the harness and
onto the ground, at which point she took his hand to bring him in for
"I can take him inside with me," I said.
"Oh don't worry, I'll do it," she replied, "I'm his mother."
For those who don't think it's possible for parents to be so
disconnected from their kids, I used to work as a receptionist at a
music school in the richest part of the state. We're talking 4
and 8 million dollar mansions, old money, not the crappy
spit-and-stucco McMansions of the upper-middle class who screw
themselves on a mortage just to live like the people they see on TV.
We had children's violin and singing and piano lessons there.
Many a doctor's wife, hair bleached to a crunchy blonde consistency,
sporting fake breasts, a wrinkled tan and cushiony lips, would bring
her child in for lessons. But some had the help bring them
in. Once we called a women to let her know her little girl missed
a lesson and she was bewildered. She didn't know her daughter
took violin. She yelled for us to call the nanny, because that
stuff was HER job.
One woman was convinced her 15 year-old Henrietta was going to be a
star. She had the max number of singing lessons, three times a
week, and I had to hear Henrietta belt out "Let Me Entertain You" in
the most screamingly tone-deaf manner possible. What Henrietta
lacked in talent, she apparently thought she could make up for in
volume. Those booths were SUPPOSED to be sound-proof, but you
couldn't stop Henrietta's "talent" from somehow leaking out in full
force. We had to schedule her at a time when other students
wouldn't be around to complain about the racket from their own
But Henrietta's mother insisted her little girl was going places.
When she called up breathlessly announcing that Henrietta had an
audition for "Broadway" (I didn't know "Broadway" was hiring!), she was
aghast to learn that their regular singing coach was on a much-deserved
vacation for two weeks at the shore (most likely to give his poor
ear-drums a rest). No one else would do and she would not take no
for an answer. She offered double his usual pay and sent her
personal driver two hours away to pick him up at the beach and drag him
back home to prepare Henrietta's voice.
Not sure what happened to Henrietta. Her mother was positive
she'd someday entertain the world, and she probably could, provided she
did it from the moon.
Richer people tip more. It makes sense, seeing as they have more
money to spend. But they only tip more WHEN they tip. A
great tip from them is like 60 bucks, more than I'm being paid for the
party itself. A not-so-great tip from them is when they don't tip
at all, because they figure if you're getting PAID for the party, why
should they tip you? Aren't you getting enough to live on?
Tips from rich people are usually a lot or not at all, maybe 40 to 60
bucks. Tips from upper middle class people are generally always
at least 20 bucks, sometimes 40. Regular middle class, 20
bucks. Lower middle-class, whatever they can afford, or nothing.
They will try to make up for the lack of tip with snacks, cakes,
bottled water, whatever you'd like, and they're very nice. But
the party is pretty clearly already more than they can afford.
But the lower middle class still tips more consistently than the very
I always go out of my way to do more than is required of me at a party,
because I want the kids to enjoy it and I WANT THAT TIP. Fifty
bucks an hour sounds like a ton of money until you realize that each
princess averages one, maybe two parties a week. That's 50-100
bucks a week, before gas. But if we luck out and get really good
tips, we could get an additional 80 dollars from two parties. If
we get average tips, maybe we'll get an extra 40 dollars a week.
Or maybe nothing at all. Now some seasons are better than others,
some months are better than others, but it averages out. That's
why most princesses are students, still living with their parents...no
one can live on that amount of money. I have to work a ton of
side jobs to make ends meet, and princessing is just one more thing
that helps pay the bills.
Don't put yourself in the situation where you might incur the Princess
Smiling Death Gaze. It occurs at the end of the party, when the
cake is gone and the children are playing with toys and the princess
goodbyes have been said and for some reason you still haven't handed us
any money. There is no mirth in that smile. It will fix
upon you until you suddenly "remember" that you put aside a 20 for the
princess on your dresser upstairs, or maybe in your husband's wallet.
It is rarely ever used, and only on people for whom we have gone the
extra mile and then some, and whom we know have more money than they
know what to do with. We're not blind, we see your house, we know
if you can or can't afford it, and if you think we've done a really
great job then you should reward us. We're just asking for our
(buy this as a poster here:
The reason we earn and expect these amounts of tips is because we work
so hard and are under close scrutiny. We're not making you a
sandwich or waiting on your table. We're under a microscope for a
solid hour or more, under video cams and parental supervision and we
have to constantly provide an artificial atmosphere of magical
happiness. We have to dance and sing and perform like trained
monkeys. A screaming kid to a waiter is a headache...to us it's a
bad tip, because sad children are OUR fault, no matter how awful and
temperamental they just naturally are. We wear hot, cumbersome
costumes and talk out of pitch and come up with answers to impossible
questions and obscure character trivia and we can NEVER STOP
So understand when we say that tips are very appreciated.
Dads and Uncles
The princesses have to be attractive, or at least moderately
pretty. This isn't bragging, it's a fact. No one's going to
hire a princess with acne, a unibrow and horse teeth. The
princesses have to at least superficially resemble the cartoon beauties
they represent and have the right figure to look good in a dress,
especially if that dress is only made for a certain limited range of
So mix some mild alcohol with some grownups and a pretty young woman in
a sparkly dress who has to be kind and smiling to everyone if she wants
a tip, and you get a few uncles who want a picture with the princess
themselves. Since the nature of our business is children's
parties, there are usually no overt passes made at the girls
(especially since most of them are in high school). But you'll
sometimes get the dad who compliments you a little TOO much on your job
and makes some pointlessly long small talk as he walks you to your car
(the upside usually being that he tips really well). I think I
get this more than the other girls because I'm clearly over the legal
age, so it's not as awful to do, I guess.
Some of my princess friends from other companies have told me about
drunken dads wanting to dance with the princess, old-school
grandfathers who want to call you Sugar or Missy or Honey, cousins and
young male neighbors who don't know the difference between "hired to do
your kid's party" and "hired to pretend to be your girlfriend for
photos on Facebook".
But again, because children are always present, this is not usually a
big deal. At the most, there will be a lot of "Oh, so how long
have you been doing this job? That's greaaaat, so amazing, you're so
talented! Can I ask how old you are? You're SUCH a good singer!" kind
of small talk. We put up with it because it often means a bigger
tip is on the way.
The Disconnected Wealthy
For some reason, the very wealthiest of our clients often treat their
kids' birthday parties as though they're regular social parties, that
also have children and a princess at them. The adults invited
outnumber the kids two to one. There's a caterer in the kitchen,
making food and canapes for the adults and chicken nuggets and pizza
for the kids. The children are put in another room, while the
adults mill around and talk like it's a house party. If they rent
a hotel tea room for the event, god help you. They will stand at
the back of the room and socialize, drinking wine and eating cheese
while the princess struggles to make herself heard to the children,
being drowned out by the grown-up small talk. The adults don't
notice. They don't have any idea they're ruining the birthday
party they spent so much money to organize. Apparently their own
children bore them so much that they have to bring their grown-up
friends along to have a cocktail party in the same room that kids are
eating cake and trying to listen to a story. Twenty adults having
ten conversations in a small sitting room is really hard to talk over,
without looking like a princess screaming at a bunch of kids. The
ironic thing is that this is supposed to be for the KID, for her
birthday...yet we often end up huddled in the corner reading to them,
as far away from the noise of the spread-out parent group as possible.
The sad fact is that these parties aren't for the kids. They're to show
off what the parents can afford to buy for the kids. Look at
me, I bought four princesses for Amelia's birthday and rented a
tea-room, while the Luntz family only got one and had the party at
, is what they're saying. This is for the
It's not for the kids.
What strikes me as sad is that in many these parties, the parents
aren't present. They're in the other room catching up with
friends, or talking with relatives. Other families have all the
grown-ups in the same room as the princess, watching the action,
playing the games and videotaping everything. The very wealthy
parents often have to be called inside from the patio or gazebo,
because their precious baby angel is about to blow out the four candles
on her birthday cake without them. People like this love their
children just as much as anyone else, I don't doubt it. But
they're so used to getting their way in life, thinking money can save
any bad situation, that they don't understand how much they're missing
in their kid's life that they will never get back. Maybe they
think time passing is for regular people and the rich have
time-machines available, so they can go back and see their child's 3rd
birthday if they miss it the first time. Or, since they have
nannies and tutors, maybe they just don't know how to entertain their
own children. Maybe entertainment is something you can only buy
from professionals, not make for yourself. It must be horrible,
feeling awkward around your own child.
The worst moment I've ever had at a party, bar none, was a party for
just such a family, where the parents were out in another room with the
other adults. They didn't watch any of the princess performance,
didn't take any pictures of their little girl with the princess and
they basically just checked in to see the candle-lighting bit for the
cake. Then they had a few words with the caterer and left again
to go sit on the patio and have drinks with friends.
When I left the party soon after that, I hugged the little girl goodbye
as I usually do for all children. She gave me a really tight hug
around the neck and said, "I love you, Cinderella. I really do."
It was clear she didn't get a chance to say that to her parents very
often...or maybe she didn't hear it from them enough. I never
felt so bad in my entire life.