Originally published April 2015.
Updated in 2022 to reflect current pricing.
Today my daughter Katie turned seven. And it was time. Time, that is, to go to the American Girl Doll Store (or palace or emporium — “store” doesn’t seem to be quite the right word for what we actually experienced).
I was a little nervous. Would I have to dip into her college savings in order to spend just a few hours there? Would she be able to bring any friends along to enjoy the day? I wondered: Could it actually be affordable to have a birthday party anywhere, let alone at a place somewhat renowned for being downright pricey?
Our adventure began one month ago when I went online to explore my options for having a party at the store. I was pleasantly surprised. The Bistro offers several different packages ranging in price from $12 per person (for afternoon tea, what we did) all the way up to $49 per child for a “tiaras- included” super-splurge birthday bash. I knew what I wanted and called their reservations phone number to get this party on the books. 2022 update: Base price dining is $25 per person.
The lady on the phone was extremely informative and kind. When faced with a challenge — I asked for a reservation at 2pm, but she was only allowed to schedule a group of 10 for 3:30pm — she called the Dallas store and got it done. I was thrilled (but wondered if perhaps booking only one month in advance was somehow too late).
I’ve since read that you need to book at least 5 months in advance for peak days like Saturday! She emphasized that we couldn’t bring a group larger than 10 because they couldn’t fit any more. So we obliged and restricted our friend count. (And I wondered how there could possibly be that many little girls in Dallas free to have afternoon tea at 2pm on a Tuesday! Homeschooling must be even more popular than I thought!)
We loaded up a few friends and headed over to the Galleria about an hour and a half earlyt o get a little shopping and beauty salon time in before our 2pm reservation. We turned into the parking garage ramp labeled “American Girl” (the purple lot).
This was a solid strategic decision.
The elevators in that garage took us to just a few steps away from the store’s entrance, allowing us to leave our coats in the car. (So we’d have more hands free to shop!)
And free hands to hold our dolls, of course. The big part of the American Girl experience is meant to be enjoyed with one’s American Girl doll. If you don’t have one, don’t worry. They will happily remedy that “problem” for you. The store is incredible. Katie walked in and a look of awe filled her eyes. So. Much. Stuff. She was amazed and excited to shop (with birthday money from Grandma just begging to be spent on doll clothing and accessories).
But I stopped my little shopper in her tracks and reminded her that we had one order of business to take care of first: a trip to the beauty salon. Not for her, but for her doll, Bella. See, Bella’s hair had a whole lot in common with the nest that the birds built under our patio roof. It needed help that I was not qualified to give it. And, because the dolls are just a bit of an investment, I decided that another fifteen dollars to have her hair prettied was only slightly crazy.
We rushed through the store and headed up the escalators to the beauty salon on the second floor. There are no advance reservations for the salon, so I didn’t know what kind of line to expect. To my delight, there was only one person ahead of us and they were finishing up, so our wait time was minimal. 2022 update: You can now reserve salon services! Visit their site to book and check out hairstyles and pricing here.
When you take a birthday girl anywhere, you have to be prepared for the inevitable bonus requests. My daughter’s add-ons included neon-colored hair clip-in extensions (I have no idea?) and pierced ears. Honestly, if we hadn’t been there, at the store, on her birthday, I likely could have accomplished both of these tasks for about one-tenth of the price. (Ear piercing costs $16. Using a thumbtack or, hey, buying stickers, is next to free). But you only turn seven once, right?
The stylist was very professional, and the doll looked beautiful. After Bella was beautified, they asked my daughter to “sign” for her. I think she felt very special as she carefully printed her name to confirm she had taken possession of the doll again.
We were in and out of the salon in about 25 minutes total. Plenty of time left to shop!
There was not a clearance rack anywhere in sight, so I started to hyperventilate. But Katie did have that Grandma money and a Nana along to help finance the splurge as well. The cash went fast. After twenty minutes, we had laid down some serious coin and seen most every item downstairs. For the most part, every item you see in the catalog was there and displayed in a nearly identical way to the catalog. This made it easy for my catalog-memorizing daughter to find what she wanted quickly.
You know it, I know it: Their stuff isn’t cheap. So, having a strategy ahead of time of the items she wanted to buy helped us stick to her budget and not come down with a sudden case of the “I wants.”
All that shopping worked up our appetites just in time for our reservation. The Bistro welcomed us warmly and escorted our party of 10 to a lovely table by the window. The girls chose their seats, and then the hostess helped them get their dolls seated in the special doll highchair apparatus thing that attached to the table. They sat down and giggled and giggled and giggled some more. (Honestly, the moms might have giggled a bit too.)
A waitress soon came and explained to us that with the “tea” was a set menu. Each person at the table would receive one of each appetizer and treat and the beverageof our choice (though smoothies and other special beverages cost extra). The adult ladies chose from a delicious assortment of hot teas, while all four of the girls chose hot chocolate.
As we eagerly anticipated the arrival of our snacks, one of the girls noticed a box on the table filled with little pieces of paper bearing questions. Conversation sparked from questions like, “Would you rather take a long, hot shower or bath?” And guess what? The girls kept giggling.
When our food arrived, my daughter’s smile broadened. It looked so fancy on those three-tiered tea trays. The adult ladies and I worked our way from the bottom plate to the top. Whereas I noticed the girls seemed to prefer starting on the plate where the delectable desserts whispered, “Try me!”
I suggested to the birthday girl that she start with her mini hamburger. But that recommendation was shunned due to the existence of a pink cupcake.
It didn’t take us very long to devour all of that food and find ourselves, surprisingly, full! One mini appetizer reminded me of beef wellington — only with a hot dog inside. The hamburger I mentioned earlier may well have been the best one bite hamburger I’ve ever tasted. There was also a small cucumber tea sandwich, a fruit skewer, and a blueberry muffin.
And for desserts: The pink cupcake had some stiff competition for “favorite” status. In a tiny flowerpot resided chocolate mousse with cookie crumbles and a daisy sprouting from the “dirt.” Fun with a capital “F.”
There was another special touch that the girls loved: Each child received a craft. It was stickers and some cardboard to punch out, but still, because it said American Girl on it, they thought it was the best thing ever. The moms were able to enjoy free refills on their flavored hot teas while the girls meticulously stuck each sticker onto their punch-out cardboard purses.
If you are going to the Bistro to celebrate a birthday, there’s something you need to know ahead of time:
Because we didn’t get the birthday package there was no real recognition by the Bistro of her birthday. I got the impression this was because they’d prefer that the birthday celebrations happen in these special party rooms or that they, at minimum, prefer birthday celebrations include their special (and more expensive) party package. We didn’t pay for that and thus, my expectations were low. (2022 update: The base level birthday party package is the same price as basic dining, both $25.)
The staff did give her (and her doll) an “It’s My Birthday” sticker so that she could be greeted with a hearty “Happy Birthday” all over the store. But if you’re looking for a place to blow out candles and sing with staff help, this may not work for you. We made do, and my spunky little gal even pretended to blow out candles after our table belted out a hearty rendition of the birthday song.
All in all, visiting the American Girl Doll Store was a really special way for us to spend my daughter’s seventh birthday. I’m glad I waited to do it, because it will likely be her first request for a birthday location for the next several years. And I think I’d do it again. We had a peaceful, relaxing, fun time in this pink, girly paradise.
*This post is in no way affiliated with American Girl. This post is for all the moms who are first-timers like me!
I found out through our experience that, even though the reservation line accidentally books us for tea on a Saturday, they actually do not serve tea on weekends – only weekdays! So when we got there, they could not do for us what they did for you (which is what I had planned, with the craft to occupy them!). Instead, they gave us the full birthday experience which includes gift bags and a full 3 course meal. They brought her an entire mini cake and sang to her. It is really fun and a lot of food! We very much enjoyed it, but would normally have been something like $35 per child, I believe. Just to let everyone know the difference in cost and experience!
Great article, sounded so much like our experience, thankfully even the Nana money. However, we did close family friends of ours, so just both families. Not sure what we booked as it was two years ago, but we took the other family and us (10) out for lunch at the Bistro. We also ordered a fabulous cake through them and I thought they brought it out and we all sang. Think there were a few party favor items on the table as well. Food and cake were delicious and a great experience. Pre-shopping list and budget helped too! Then shop online year round through sale email 🙂
I want to surprise my granddaughtet with a trip to AG in October….where would be a good but not so exspesive place to stay the night?
Thank you for sharing your experience. My daughter is looking forward to an American Girl experience for her birthday and your information really helps.