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Birthday - what should a restaurant do?

I'm wondering what people think a restaurant could/should do when you go there for your birthday (and let them know beforehand that you're coming on that day, or as you arrive at the latest). A restaurant here which shall remain unnamed recently did exactly diddly squat for myself and our party of four on my birthday... okay, yes, I am whinging a little bit. No cocktail, no Kir or Kir Royale, no even acknowledgement that there was a b-day. BTW, there was no opportunity for any kind of affirmation once dessert rolled around, since we had other plans at home for that part of the evening... but the restaurant also knew that beforehand.

fire away!

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  1. A restaurant with a good host will be sure to pass of all the important information to the server....In my opinion it is the server's reposibility to acknowledge the event, with at the very least, a 'happy birthday'. A good host/server will also go the extra mile to inform a manager of the special occasion...A good manager will stop by your table midway through dinner/dessert and kindly wish you a happy one, as well as show appreciation for spending the evening and $ in their restaurant...Of course it comes down to policy if a b-day dessert should be 'bought' for the guest...or simply garnished with a candle and a smile. As for drinks...perhaps a glass of bubbly...but food costs are more easily absorbed. Then again depending on your loyalty to the restaurant...you might get a bottle outta the deal.

    1. When I go out for someone's birthday, I discreetly make sure that the host and/or waiter definitely know that we have a birthday at our table. Not just when making the reservation, but also when I'm at the restaurant. There's a lot of possible breaks in the line of communication, and I like to make sure I have all of my bases covered.

      A kir or kir royale for a birthday offering? Around here, it's highly doubtful that you would get a comp drink. Just about every place I have been to will do a complimentary dessert of some sort, usually a sundae or slice of cake.

      1. A restaurant has no obligations for a birthday except as the group's host(s) (or person acting in that capacity) arrange(s) and and pays for it . Quite simple. Anything else is gravy. Restaurants are not Farrell's Ice Cream or Cold Stone Creamery, mercifully.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Karl S

          I couldn't agree more! I find it quite tacky when restaurants do the "birthday thing", I mean they can't possibly genuinely care that it is your birthday so why bother?

          1. re: hrhboo

            Thank you! There is nothing worse than a restaurant making a bigger deal out of your birthday than you and your friends.

          1. Honestly? I think one of your dining companions needed to make a fuss and not you. You know, make a faux trip to the restroom, grab the waiter/manager, etc. and let them know and even offer to put it on the bill. The birthday at the restaurant thing varies greatly person to person -- people usually love it or hate it. Given this, I'm guessing nicer places hestitate doing anything unless instructed specifically and you absolutely can not rely on info being passed along.

            2 Replies
            1. re: ML8000

              Yes, the responsibility falls entirely on the party, not the restaurant. This is where the modern predeliction for not having a proper host and/or hostess in the party goes awry; it would be the role of such a person to make these arrangements with the restaurant and to make sure the restaurant and staff were compensated accordingly. Ah, civilisation. What we miss.

              1. More than a lack of hosting, it strikes me as s sub-species of "comp-mania."

                1. I fail to see why anyone should inflict their birthday on a restaurant, as well as the other patrons.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: beevod

                    Amen beevod! I fail to understand why people require public recognition on their birthday.

                    Heck, if you're going to celebrate, celebrate each day you're alive and able to enjoy good food and great friends. Life's too freaking short.

                      1. re: beevod

                        I'm not sure the OP meant to "inflict" anything on anyone. He (she?) didn't say anything about a big loud acknowledgement and round of "Happy Birthday to You." Just perhaps a comped drink or dessert. But I agree with other posters that it was the responsibility of the hosts, not the restaurant, to arrange the drink or dessert in question, and that the restaurant is under no obligation to comp anything.

                      2. I would think it would be up to your party...so many people are weird about their birthday, people are afraid of offending by saying anything without permission.


                        1. I would never expect a restaurant to comp anything for a birthday/anniversary/etc. A celebration is my issue, not that of a restaurant, anymore than I would expect a salon to give me a complimentary shampoo because it is my birthday.

                          Besides, I would rather go out to dinner and then have cake and drinks at my home afterward so that everyone gets to share in the birthday treat, since most restaurants only comp one dessert (although I do laugh when they bring out 10 spoons for the one dessert for sharing).

                          1. i agree with all those who said it's not the restaurant's place or responsibility to do anything. unless you're spending your birthday at a TGI Friday's, it seems odd to expect it.

                            1. A restaurant should not do or give anything to acknowlege a customer's birthday. Of course the restaurant can choose to do that for a great customer or a large party (not 4!) but they are not at all obligated to do so.

                              1. I wouldn't *expect* anything. If you're a true regular,
                                they might comp something (relatively modest) as an
                                acknowledgment of your loyal patronage - a round of drinks
                                or a dessert - something like that. But I wouldn't expect

                                1. I completely agree. I think sometimes people expect comps too frequently from restaurants. I have no expectation if I eat out on my birthday other than good food. It is a nice bonus to get a birthday greeting, but I never expect it. That said, on my last birthday, we went to one of my favorite restaurants in town, and our maitre'd, upon discovering it was my birthday, came back to our table with a handful of that glittery party confetti and sprinkled it on our table, and they did actually bring me a small cake with a candle, compliments of the chef, to share with our party of four. It was quite lovely, and much appreciated, but definitely I did not expect anything at all.

                                  1. If the servers were all wearing the requisite amount of 'flash', then you should have expected a free dessert and all the cheery waitstaff to crowd around the table to serenade you, each in his or her own key, and thereby announce to the entire restaurant that there's a birthday celebrant at the table. OTOH, telling a restaurant where the servers do NOT wear any 'flash' that you're there to celebrate a birthday and then EXPECTING them to give you something...well, that is special.

                                    3 Replies
                                      1. re: C70

                                        Aw, crap, you're right...screwed up again! I thought it sounded kinda funny, but "flair" just didn't come to mind.

                                        Thanks for the correction!

                                        1. re: ricepad

                                          :) I laughed at the reference anyway

                                    1. I would not dream of expecting anything - unless I was at some abominable chain where they bring some sparkler-laden dessert out and sing in chorus while I (would, if I ever went to such a place) crawl under the table and vow never to return or dine with this bunch of "friends" again.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: wayne keyser

                                        Indeed. Hubby has made it VERY CLEAR to me that the D word would come into consideration if I ever put him through this. ;-) So, if I take him out for birthday, I will generally tell the restaurant that we are celebrating a 'very special occaison' and leave it at that. The reason for telling them is *not* because I want a comp, btw, but to add a little oomph to my ususal request for a quiet, well-spaced table (hubby and I both dislike being crowded along a wall with neighbors listening in our dinner conversation....)

                                      2. The thing I notice is in the OP it is stated that the guests had other plans for dessert. This is when a restaurant might acknowledge a birthday, after the dessert is ordered. So I don't understand the problem if there were other plans for dessert.

                                        1. I always wondered who the people were who enjoyed having the entire staff come through the restaurant singing and clapping, "Happy birthday to you..." while everyone looked on. I was just at a restaurant where the owner had everyone sing to the birthday boy--he was ready to crawl under the table.

                                          1. lots of nicer places will put a candle on the plate, or write happy birthday in chocolate on the rim of the dessert plate. provided you order dessert. someone in the party could have discreetly arranged to have single sweet sent for you all to share, as well.

                                            as far as comping stuff... have you any idea how many patrons each night celebrate b'days and anniversaries at nicer places? sometimes we'll have 10 or 15 parties doing just that. multiply that across 360 nights x free kir royales, ok? i'm sorry, but i think expecting free stuff is childish.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                                              Agreed. If the birthday was noted when the reservation was made, a candle in your dessert and writing on the plate are what we will do for you. If we have your name in advance, you may even get a personalized 'happy birthday' plate.

                                              Sometimes people will call ahead and pre-order a dessert, or a bottle of champagne (more often if it is a gift in lieu of their presence).

                                              And I have to add, the pastry chef does not want to make you a cake that will take her 3 extra hours to make because cake is not on the menu, the pastry chef wants you to order desserts from the menu. If you want to bring a cake, please bring something good because even though you're paying the cake cutting fee, it's kind of insulting when people bring in Safeway cakes instead of ordering the housemade desserts.

                                              And to the OP: happy birthday!

                                            2. If you use Open Table for your restaurant bookings and note that the reservation is for a special occassion, the restaurant is notified, and management/server normally acknowledges the occassion verbally. I normally call ahead if I want to arrange to have flowers delivered for the table centerpiece, or to request something special, for which I expect to pay.

                                              I recently took my niece to the Fifth Floor in San Francisco for her 13th birthday. While we ordered desserts off the menu, the rim of her plate was beautifully scribed with "Happy Birthday" and her first name in chocolate. It was a thoughtful, personal touch. The rest of the celebration was for her other aunty and I to provide. That gesture from the pastry chef was just the right touch, and was well received.

                                              1. lol....a timely post. Today we had breakfast with a colleague/friend from out of state who was driving through town on his way home from visiting nearby family. It came out during the conversation that today happened to be his 60th birthday....I toyed with the idea of embarrassing him by saying something to the waitress, but what can a chain coffee shop do for a birthday anyway??? (The place was selected more for its convenience and proximity to the freeway than for the food....we just wanted a chance to have a cup of coffee and talk......). I decided that a quiet happy birthday and a clink of the coffee cup was all the fuss the guy probably wanted anyway....

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: janetofreno

                                                  If it was Denny's he could have gotten a free meal...well they use to do it any way. Dumb college trick - on your birthday you go to every freakin Denny's around to get 4-5 free meals. Okay, it was funny back in the day.

                                                  BTW, it totally amazes and surprises me who like or dislikes the birthday thing at restaurants.

                                                2. What an eye opener this thread is! We're not fond of the "group sing a long" establishments altho the occasionally pre-planned suprise birthday cake when say 80 candles are a blazin does warm my heart.

                                                  Children's parties and adult celebrations shouldn't be lumped together IMHO.

                                                  I suppose if you want a restaurant to make a fuss, you need to communicate and be clear on what their policy is...like most things, communication solves alot of query.

                                                  1. Some people want a fuss made over their birthday, and some don't. (I personally don't) We once took my 90+ grandmother out to a local casual restaurant for her b-day. Although we didn't tell anyone it was her b-day, our server caught wind of it and brought her over a piece of cake with a candle in it. Boy was my grandmother MAD! She wouldn't speak to us for the next hour even though we told her we had nothing to do with it. Irrational? Maybe, but you don't argue with a 90+ woman. The point is, unless something is requested from someone in the party, the restaurant has no way of knowing if you're one of those people that will pout if your big day isn't properly acknowledged, or if you'd rather just forget it.

                                                    1. I think it depends on the restaurant and the price--you should expect a higher level of hospitality at a more expensive restaurant. If I'm paying $170 head for a tasting menu (wine was additional)at March in NYC as I did a while back for boyfriend--now hub's--birthday, I'd expect SOMETHING. I prenotified them and they forgot--no small special dessert with tiny candle--nothing. So I did the excuse-me-while-I-go-to-the-bathroom thing and asked about it. They were mortified, came over with lots of drinks, etc., AND later mailed me a bottle of Mumm champagne. Basically to say," We're terribly sorry--I hope you choose to spend your next special occaision at March."
                                                      I think that's why you go to expensive restaurants--so that they can provide personalized service. Like a small, special birthday dessert with a tiny candle. No singing, just a little nod to mark the occasion. Glasses of champagne are fine, too--provided that no one is in AA or can't drink bubbly.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: nrxchef

                                                        I strongly disagree, unless part of your prenotification involved your pre-arranged for something specific at a specific price. In fact, the better the restaurant, the less likely I'd expect otherwise. As with many other posters, I associate the automatic fuss routine with low-rent operations.

                                                        1. re: Karl S

                                                          Funny--we often celebrate at good restaurants, and there is always some nod toward the event. Usually, it's just a small, extra dessert with "Happy Brirthday" written in chocolate on the plate--Union Square Cafe in NYC does that and it's pretty unimpeachable for excellent service. Or a special glass of wine, or a small candle--something. And we're never charged , nor should we be at that price point. That's why you go to these places.

                                                          1. re: nrxchef

                                                            But it sounds like you go all out and have a true celebratory, special-occasion meal. By which I mean, you don't leave before dessert.

                                                      2. I never "expect" any comp but, am always pleasantly pleased and grateful when one is offered. Special occasion or not.

                                                        1. If you wanted recongition for you Birthday, you should go to a chain restaurant where they'll sing to you! Otherwise I it's a nice gesture for the restaurant to give you a dessert, but by no means would I expect it. Personally when I go out on for my birthday I DON'T want the restaurant to know as I don't like the public recognition and I don't mind spending the 5 or 6 bucks for dessert.

                                                          1. Wow, I leave the table for a short while and find it loaded down with comments on my return.

                                                            I never said that I expected the restaurant to do something for me, or that I expected a comp (comp mania? Wow.). But some kind of acknowledgement would have been nice, since the restaurant was notified well beforehand. Perhaps it's also that I'm feeling a bit, well, disappointed because the food was disappointing.

                                                            But I'm humbled to see how few people want/expect any kind of acknowledgement of their birthday (or of a birthday in their party). And I disagree that acknowledging a b-day smacked of a low-rent place... there have been plenty of medium- to even close to high-end places I've been to over the years that have done things for birthdays.

                                                            5 Replies
                                                            1. re: Radiothomas

                                                              I still think the main problem with the situation is that you didn't have dessert at the restaurant. Did you expect them to bring you a dessert after you asked for the check? And if the restaurant is the type of place that doesn't comp desserts but adds a candle, is the disappointment that they didn't say "Happy Birthday"?

                                                              1. re: Radiothomas

                                                                I do think that one of your friends needed to say something during the meal. It's awkward for you to do so. I agree that's it's not low rent but there is an appropriate time and dessert does seem to be the "natural" time. It's when birthday cake is served afterall. Every nice restaurant (Top 10 included) I've gone to that did something special, did it during dessert.

                                                                1. re: Radiothomas

                                                                  So, you would have expected your group to pay for the "...cocktail, ... Kir or Kir Royale" you missed? If not, you were expecting to be comped.

                                                                  As noted before, the failure here appears to be on the part of your party, not the restaurant. Direct whining in another direction.

                                                                  1. re: Radiothomas

                                                                    I have to call BS on this. You must have felt the restaurant should have comped you something, or else why the whinging (your word) about not getting a drink?

                                                                    Perhaps the restaurant DID respond to the advance notice that there was a birthday by taking extra care that service and food went without a hitch.

                                                                    1. re: Radiothomas

                                                                      I am rather confused by your response to the responses. In your post, you make a special point of saying that the birthday person wasn't given a cocktail or a Kir or Kir Royale. If you weren't expecting it gratis, then why not order it yourself for the birthday party?

                                                                      Better yet, have dinner and then head to someone's home for cake and a bottle of champagne.

                                                                    2. I agree that at a nicer place the standard response is, at most, one free dessert. I wouldn’t think even this is necessarily common enough to be expected – perhaps equally as often the response will be a candle in the purchased dessert, a greeting on the dessert plate, or a simple “happy birthday” greeting from the staff. Staff will also generally take their cue from the table – if everyone is openly celebrating the event, you are more likely to receive some acknowledgement.

                                                                      Just recently I had, to a degree, an experience just the opposite of yours at a very nice restaurant. They actually send out cards entitling you to a free glass of champagne or dessert to people on their mailing list to be used during their birthday month (two for an anniversary.) My husband and I went for my birthday, and while I have no problem with getting older (not yet, anyway) I am not a fan of birthday fuss. So, he requested a quiet table and we had a really lovely, romantic evening. The hostess, and wife of the chef, knew it was my birthday (as she handles the mailing list) so she stopped by with their baby at one point to chat and, very, very quietly, sang me a truly lovely rendition of Happy Birthday. It was just perfect. When we asked for the check, we gave our server our coupon, and she was AGHAST. She asked, several times, why on EARTH we had not told her so she could do something special for us. It made me completely uncomfortable – I don’t know her, so I don’t see how she could truly have the slightest interest in my birthday. We got exactly the experience we wanted and already felt the restaurant had gone above and beyond with the free drink. Anyway, she was a new server and we speculated later that she must have worked in less refined place in the past. We haven’t seen her since.

                                                                      That was a long story... in summation, birthday comps are by no means universal, and a good server will take your cue in acknowledging the event. So, if you and your table were making a big fuss: “More champagne for our favorite birthday boy!!” etc., and the server failed to even so much as wish him many happy returns, then that is odd. Otherwise, not.

                                                                      1. You say you didn't want the restaurant to do anything, but in your original post you say it'd have been nice to have a Kir Royal?

                                                                        1. If you didn't stick around for dessert then what exactly were you expecting them to do for you? Dessert is pretty much the standard time for a restaurant to acknowledge a birthday.
                                                                          Even if you did wait for dessert, would having a candle stuck in it really have made that much difference to your evening?

                                                                          1. One final note: one person in my party did mention that it was a birthday, when making the reservation, when we arrived, and once during the dinner.

                                                                            But I've learned my lesson, and will watch my mouth - um, fingers - more carefully in the future. By writing Kir/Kir Royale I admitted that I'd looked for something... but acknowledge that since we left before dessert, there really wasn't much of an opportunity.

                                                                            Humble pie duly eaten. And paid for.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: Radiothomas

                                                                              So your friend specifically told the server it was your birthday, in your hearing, and yet s/he didn’t even acknowledge it by wishing you a happy one? I'm fine w/ no "comps" but that does strike me as quite odd.

                                                                            2. The resto should do as it does every other night, serve wonderful food with great service to everyone in the resto. If the b'day is important to the party, they should make arrangements for something special, the resto is under no obligation to detract from others without specific instructions.

                                                                              Thant being said I think a resto should also accomodate a special request from a party having a special day, whether bday, anniversary, etc. I love it when they sing happy birthday to someone in the resto. I clap with everyone else and it gives me a great big smile.

                                                                              Now when the waiters bring me a special, no-nut chocolate dessert with a candle and sing it to me, that's even better (extra creme anglaise please). The look on my DW's face that she pulled it off is worth more than any meal the resto could have served.

                                                                              1. I remember being an easily-humiliated teen and my friends singing the Beatles "Birthday" incredibly loudly and pounding on the table, at Farrell's. Ok, you might not think it would be possible to be embarrassed at a place specializing in pig-out ice cream specialties, but believe me, it is!

                                                                                From then on I vowed never, EVER to let anyone sing, or in any way acknowledge my birthday loudly in a restaurant ever again.

                                                                                Just thought I'd share!

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: bklynite

                                                                                  From my recent experiences, no one actually sings anymore. They screech their way through it, getting louder and louder as they approach the end.

                                                                                  Why anyone thinks that is humorous or anything other than annoying is beyond me.

                                                                                2. "Congratulations" from the server is always nice.

                                                                                  Writing Happy Birthday on a plate of an (ordered) dessert is a nice touch but not required.

                                                                                  And no, the birthday adult does not deserve a free anything.

                                                                                  1. Just going out to eat for my birthday is treat enough. And I sure don't want every dogboned waiter in the place gathered around me singing some stupid birthday song. They don't know me; why would I expect them to give a hoot that it's my birthday? And if they don't give a hoot but are just told to do it by company policy, then it's phony and obnoxious. What do I want for my birthday? For you and your stupid song to leave me alone.

                                                                                    That said, we took my mother-in-law out to a Greek restaurant once for her birthday. When we let slip that it was her birthday, the owner came out with this huge (or at least it seemed like it to me at the time) shot of ouzo. It took all three of us to drink it--she's not much of a drinker and ouzo is, well, an acquired taste. It was a nice gesture, I thought. But it was a small place. I don't know that I'd expect something like that in a big establishment where there could quite possibly be a LOT of birthday folks visiting in any given day.