Behind the Scenes: HMNS Birthday Planning

by Karen Whitley

People always tell me that I have the best job and that I must love it. My response each time? “Absolutely!”

Planning and hosting birthday parties at such an awesome venue as the Houston Museum of Natural Science, it doesn’t get much better than that. Of course, people think all we do all day is party, and while there’s definitely some celebrating going on, a lot more happens behind the scenes to make sure each and every party runs smoothly. It’s not all cake and presents.

Dinosuar centerpiece (Bollingmo Party)

Each year, the HMNS is host to hundreds of birthday parties. In 2015 alone we hosted more than 520 parties. That’s an average of 10 parties per week! We have even hosted up to 20 parties in one weekend! Phew, that’s exhausting just to think about. As exciting as parties are, though, it all begins in the office.

Every week we field dozens of phone calls and emails from parents interested in hosting a party with us. From parents requesting date availability and more information about our parties, to parents who are already booked and want to discuss their party, we are happy to talk to you and assist in any way we can. I have once even measured every single counter, table, wall angle, and even the freezer space for a parent.

Bunch of Balloons

Once a parent is ready to book, we try to keep the process as smooth as possible for them while we deal with the various paperwork. Who wouldn’t love a little less paperwork? After a parent is sent the confirmation email, they are all set to go. We will even send a reminder email closer to the date. Yes, parents have forgotten that they have their child’s birthday coming up, but no worries, we’ve got you covered! If you’re looking to add one of the entertainment options we have, we will facilitate the whole thing for you as well. My desk is a mess so yours can stay clean. That’s the story I’m sticking with.

Booking a party is just the beginning. Since every party comes complete with tablecloths and a craft, we have to make sure we have enough supplies on hand. That involves a word most adults wish to avoid — inventory! Did you know that for our dig pit craft where kids get to dig up small plaster dinosaur teeth, we make those teeth in house? Each and every tooth is made by one of our party coordinators during the week. We can use up to 200 teeth each weekend!

Dig pit

So how many supplies does it take to run more than 500 parties a year? Here’s just a few numbers:

  1. 10,000 coloring pages. We used to print these in house too, but yay for outsourcing!
  2. Over 4,000 signs pointing guests the way to their party room. Yes, they do exist!
  3. 3,000 tablecloths. If you lay the tablecloths end to end, we use approximately 26,000 feet! That’s almost five miles, or 88 football field lengths for the football fanatics. Me, I prefer baseball. Go ‘Stros!
  4. Over 2,500 Ziploc bags, popsicle sticks, and plastic cups. Add a little glue, paint, and borax and what do you get? Slime!
  5. 1,700 plaster dinosaur teeth. Emphasis on plaster.
  6. 860 butterflies released into the Butterfly Center rainforest.
  7. 800 Pounds of sand. Did I mention the arm work-outs we get?

Birthday Card

When the day of the party arrives, we make sure we get here early. I once remember what is was like to sleep in on a Saturday. Fond memories. The signs go up, the tables are set, the crafts are prepared, and then we wait for the call from arriving parents. Once we get the call, the party coordinator will take a cart to the garage to pick them up. I think we can all agree that we enjoy the cooler months. We load up the parent’s supplies on the cart and take them to the room. Let me say to all the parents, you sure know how to pack an ice chest to *cough* maximum capacity.

After that comes the easy part. Two hours of a coordinator running the party, keeping the attention of about 20 children, giving a dinosaur tour that three-year-olds can understand, wrangling all the children and their parents through our exhibit halls and making sure we have no wanderers, and even getting to practice knife-cutting skills on uniquely shaped cakes.

Mary Tour

Do you know how many shapes a cake can come in? My personal favorite was the giant pyramid where all the kids wanted the flavor on the bottom of the pyramid. Who knew we would learn about structural engineering as well. Once the party ends and we help escort the party parents back to their car, we generally have about 15 minutes to clean and reset the room to do it all over again!

Shery Zachariah 4

In all actuality, hosting birthday parties can be a lot of work on our end, but we wouldn’t change a thing. The joy we get in being able to be a part of a child’s special day, it really is priceless. We have even had the chance to watch some children grow up in the museum, as they come back each year to have their party with us. Seeing a child light up as we walk though 100-million-year-old dinosaur fossils, a living rainforest, ancient mummies, and more… that’s what makes this job so amazing. Well, that and the cake.

Editor’s Note: Karen is Birthday Party Manager for the HMNS Marketing department.

Parties at HMNS Rock! [Pun Intended]

The runaway success of the Night at the Museum movies shows people’s fascination with what goes on around the T. rex after the Museum closes its doors. More often than not – it’s a party! And we have a department dedicated to managing events that take place here at the museum, from weddings in the Cockrell Butterfly Center to out-of-this-world events in our Planetarium.

Leslie and Nancy are starting a new series on the blog to give you insight into what makes a great party – not just here at the museum, but wherever you might choose to throw one.

To introduce you, we asked them a few questions about what it’s like to plan an event where dinosaurs are typically in attendance.

You’re the Museum’s event coordinators. What exactly does that mean?

L: We handle some of the Museum’s internal events such as Big Bite Nite and VIP nights for exhibit openings. We also work with individuals and corporations that want to rent the Museum for private events. Specifically, our tasks include site visits with clients to help determine the right space for their event, putting them in contact with our caterers and coordinating details between the client, caterers and Museum staff.

N: Basically we work with clients who want to rent out the Museum for a corporate or individual event from start to finish.  Typically that involves gathering details about the event, recommending a venue within the Museum, going over pricing and policies, leading site visits, filing contracts, collecting payments, coordinating with the caterer, and managing the event.

What kind of events do people host here at HMNS? 

L: People host all sort of events here, from corporate dinners and client appreciation events to wedding ceremonies/receptions and bar/bat mitzvahs.

What’s the neatest thing someone has done to make an event at the Museum unique?

L: The Museum is such a unique place that our clients are always coming up with creative ideas to enhance their event. I have seen some  really great themed events in the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals. For example, one client turned the Gem Hall into a swanky lounge and had a signature drink with rock candy that looked like the gem and mineral pieces. They also gave out diamond shaped paperweights engraved with the company’s name as favors.

N: Just the venue in itself is very unique.  Not everyone can say they have dined and danced with dinosaurs or had an elegant dinner next to some of the most stunning gems and minerals in the world or gotten married in a lush indoor tropical rain forest with butterflies fluttering over their heads.

Is planning events in such a large, diverse venue a challenge?

L: It is actually the diversity of the space that makes the Museum an attractive event venue. We have noticed that the one thing that unifies our clients is that they all want something different. Also, because the Museum is not a traditional space like a hotel ballroom there can be some challenges in planning an event here. It certainly helps to have experienced vendors working in the space. Our caterers and their staff do a fantastic job at setting up and working around any challenges.

N: Actually the size and diversity of the venue works to our favor.  The Museum can handle events from 20 to 2,000 guests and the variety of exhibits makes a great backdrop for any event.  

What kinds of things can readers expect from your upcoming posts?

L: You can definitely expect some info on the latest event trends and how to apply those trends to events at the Museum. Because we know that planning events can sometimes be a little overwhelming, we’ll also provide some practical tips and tools on how to organize and execute your event successfully.

N: Our upcoming posts will include event tips and trends, fresh ideas, and the benefits of hosting an event at HMNS.

Hitting this scene is a sure sign of intelligence!

mixers19Mixers & Elixirs is back and it’s my pleasure to announce the return of one of the most well-attended events in Houston.  Every Friday night from June through August an average of eleven-hundred people come to HMNS to start the weekend off right!  That’s right, the summer’s biggest parties happen at the largest educational institution in Houston. Why? HMNS wants to invite you to experience the Museum in a relaxed atmosphere. 

Let loose by taking your sweetie for a spin or meeting someone special under the dinosaurs. Try wandering our world- class Gem & Mineral Hall with a drink in your hand and good music in your ear…Check out our 2009 lineup for bands that’ sure to please every musical taste.

June 5 – Grady Gaines & the Texas Upsetters

June 12 – TropiCrew 

June 19  – The Handsomes

June 26 – Molly & the Ringwalds


mixers87July 10 – The Fab 5

July 17 – Mango Punch

July 24 – Mambo Jazz Kings

July 31 – The Chromatics

August 7 – Commercial Art

August 14 – Grupo Batacha

August 21 – Yvonne Washington & the Mix

August 28 – Grupo Ka-Che

So how do you get into this awesome party where you can have a cool drink, listen to awesome music, check out the dinosaurs, and meet someone who’s as interested in the exhibits as they are in the party? Click here! Your ticket into the biggest party in Houston goes for just $15 or you can purchase a membership and get in all summer long for only $13. See you Friday, June 5!

Little who?!?


Mango Punch performed at Mixers
last week in front of a crowd of 800 people

Did you come to last week’s Mixer? Mango Punch used their signature latin sound to bring over 800 people to their feet! And this week, the question that everybody is asking me is: Who is Little Brother Project?!?

As someone who gets to pick the tunes you listen to every week at Mixers I have the pleasure of exploring for new talent. The moment Little Brother Project starts playing you can tell the crowd is picking up what they’re laying down. Since I’ll see you at Mixers this Friday to listen live to their tunes I present to you a small chat I had with band-member Tyson Stargel that will give you a little background that tells you what these guys are really about…

Jamie: Describe your musical style.

Tyler: Funk based Rock band with a mixture of groove and improvisation.

J: Which artists have influenced LBP the most?

T: Phish, Bootsy Collins, Dennis Chambers, and Bob Marley.

J: What are your thoughts about the direction of the music industry today? What do you like about it and what do you wish you could change?

T: As with any business you must ride the wave and change your perspective to continue to be successful. It will always change. What we love about it is expression. Lighting up a room of people by hitting that one note that makes everyone focus on the music is very powerful. Almost intoxicating. We don’t really focus much on what we would change. We try to focus on what we like, not what we don’t like.

J: Where in Houston do you go to see live music when you’re not performing?

T: Meridian, Dan Electro’s, Last Concert Cafe, Warehouse Live, Continental Club, Rudyard’s, Engine Room, Fitzgerald’s… Anywhere/everywhere.

I invite you to head out to Mixers, Elixirs, & IMAX this Friday to get a real taste of the heart and soul of this band – their music. Groove to the funky jamz of Little Brother Project on June 13th from 6 – 10pm only at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.