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Etiquette on bringing cake to restaurant [moved from Manhattan board]

We are planning on celebrating my husband's 50th birthday at Malatesta Trattoria in Manhattan. I'd like to get a decorated cake from Billy's Bakery and do the whole candle thing. What is the etiquette -- are restaurants cool with this? Any special tipping guidelines or whatnot? I'd appreciate input.

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  1. You'd have to ask the restaurant ahead of time, but you can't just show up with the cake.
    They will usually charge a plating fee, but it's worth it as they can bring the pieces out already plated and possibly with a little extra decoration like coulis swirls, probably they can provide the candles too.

    1. Should be fine, provided that you call ahead.

      1. lucky hubby, very nice

        jfood has never had a problem with bringing a b'day cake to a resto. as other have and will tell you call ahead to the resto and ask if its OK and whether they will cut and plate. you can also ask the charge as well.

        please remember that there should be an increase in the tip (not as a percentage of the plating charge but somethng above this amount) as the server et. al. are performing additional services. jfod rule of thumb on this is see what an average dessert is and give the percentage based on that amount.

        1. As other hounds mentioned, you definitely need to call ahead and tell them about the cake. Also, many restaurants charge the per plate fee which I found to be very expensive. I was charged $3 per plate and $5 per plate in the past, and since the cake was quite big (sliced into 12 pieces), I was charged an additional $36 to $60 just for cutting the cakes (and using their plates and cutlery in a sense). While it was probably standard practice and may be even cheap compared to other restaurants, I still found that very expensive considered that I paid for the cakes myself.

          well, I guess sometimes this is the kind of money you will have to spend when it comes to special occasions

          1 Reply
          1. re: kobetobiko

            a $3-$5 plating charge is probably a third of what you'd spend per person on dessert in the restaurant. if you consider the labor and resources, and the fact they're doing you a favor, i think it's appropriate.

            now when you ask to bring your own entree and have the kitchen plate it and maybe add some sauce, well.....

          2. Yes case by case. If you can have the cake delivered to them earlier in the day, they will make room for your request.Cake cutting fees are also case by case, expect a charge and I agree with jfood's suggestion, do tip seperately as a show of appreciation for helping you with the dessert. If you are going to have candles, give them early so there is no last minute application along with a long lighter, makes it all go faster.

            1. i am always baffled by people bringing their own cake. do you bring your own steak? in fact, it's against health codes to serve food from outside the restaurant. it is done strictly as a courtesy. i have worked for chefs who forbid it.

              most places will accomodate and charge a plating fee, as others have mentioned. however, with 24 hours notice, most places will make you a special occasion cake too.

              3 Replies
              1. re: hotoynoodle

                I was going to say the same thing. A restaurant is taking a risk allowing outside food of any sort, and is just crossing their fingers that the health inspector isn't there when your cake comes out. If you absolutely must do it, realize that it is a huge courtesy, pay whatever feees they charge and tip very well.

                1. re: mojoeater

                  Bringing a cake from outside is pretty standard practice for all the Chinese restaurants I've ever been to. Of course Chinese restaurants don't have baking on site. But still, I'e never had any problems just bringing the cake, and no extra plating charge either. Plating is only charged for wedding receptions in my experience.

                2. re: hotoynoodle

                  As a pastry chef, I really don't like to make special request cakes. Cake is not on the menu and therefore is an entirely extra few hours of production that's a big PIA. What we really want is for you to order desserts off the menu - that's why we have a full time pastry chef who works hard to create a dessert menu that we really think is pretty darn good. But yes, if you must have birthday cake for a birthday, call ahead and we'll plate it for you for a small fee. We'll even add a scoop of ice cream for an extra buck or two. Just make sure to bring GOOD cake - even though I don't want to make you a birthday cake, I would rather do it than have to plate up some Safeway frosting-from-a-bucket nightmare.

                3. as other have said, call ahead. A good way to approach it is to get a smallish cake such that you can have the ceremony and everyone can have a small piece of cake, but then order up an array of desserts from the restaurant.

                  16 Replies
                  1. re: ccbweb

                    I personally think it is cheeky to bring a cake from outside to a restaurant. If they make desserts then it is insulting them. Why not buy a cake or some slices from them? Secondly there is a health factor here - what if someone gets food poisoning? Whose fault is it - the restaurant or the cake maker?

                    1. re: smartie

                      Restaurants that make dessert don't make specialty cakes. I don't know how it would be insulting. Who is the customer again? You can't buy slices of cake for a birthday.

                      1. re: PeterL

                        It's insulting because it says 'we want your apps and entrees but your desserts aren't good enough'. Sure, cake is traditional for birthdays, but if you want to go and celebrate in a restaurant, go for the whole experience, including dessert, and have your cake another night at home.

                        1. re: babette feasts

                          Its this exact point where I think it needn't be insulting because the customer should ask ahead of time. If the restaurant has any issue whatsoever they can decline to have the customer bring the cake. If the restauant is people with folks who don't find it insulting that someone wants to celebrate a birthday with a traditional dessert that the restaurant itself does not or does not want to provide, but rather sees it as an honor that someone wants to celebrate in their establishment...then they can allow the customer to bring the cake.

                          Either way, both the customer and restaurant should know ahead of time and feel free to make the choice they're most comfortable with.

                          Lastly, "your apps and entrees, but your desserts aren't good enough" is exactly what I say tacitly to many restaurants that don't pay a lick of attention to desserts. In such a case, their desserts simply aren't good enough.

                          1. re: babette feasts


                            take a step back and think of it as a compliment that the custo wants to celebrate the big day at your resto. birthday cake and birthdays go hand in hand and if your resto does not want the celebratory event because the custo wants a traditional dessert then that's fine and can be conveyed when they call.

                            from the other point of view, the custo may think it's insulting that you want them to (a) have something different than what they want and (b) just have the cake another day.

                            1. re: jfood

                              I guess that's just not my approach to food or birthdays.

                              1. re: babette feasts

                                Its that superior "how lame" judgement that I think is rubbing people the wrong way. In my family, birthdays used to be very much as you describe. Now my grandmother is in her late 80s with arthritis and can't cook as she used to or wishes she could. My mother can, maybe, find time apart from taking care of her parents to bake a cake late at night, but not to cook a fresh dinner for the whole family. They all still like to be a part of the celebreation and they like for that celebration to be something like what they remember. We've talked about and tried having, for example, me cook dinner, but on my birthday, my grandmother won't hear of it. They would much prefer to go out to a restaurant and treat everyone. They'd love to have my mother's cake for dessert. Its got absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the restaurant and has everything to do with trying to approximate that family tradition as closely as possible given the current constraints.

                                Most of the time, my wife and I enjoy being adventurous in our dining outings, we share dishes, order many things, try several desserts, and so on. But on those traditional occasions, and on those occasions where our families are involved...well, we'd prefer to make them feel a part of it and feel welcome. Thankfully, every restaurant I've ever contacted about it felt the same way.

                            2. re: babette feasts

                              I disagree. Most restaurants don't make special b'day cakes. I want to go and celebrate in a restaurant and have a b'day cake (yeah I want my cake and eat it too!!). I don't want a cake at home. So can your restaurant accommodate that? No? I'll go to another place. There is nothing insulting in that at all. In fact it's done all the time.

                            3. re: PeterL

                              peter l: please see my post above. of course they make specialty cakes. i have never worked in a restaurant that doesn't.

                              smartie: it has nothing to do with "insult". although very few places sell slices of cake, they will bake cakes in varying sizes with advance notice. as someone else mentioned, it's "cheeky." however, most places want the business so allow it. doesn't mean they like it. and if the cake is ugly everybody in the kitchen gets to laugh at it.

                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                Lots of restaurants don't make specialty cakes. In fact none of the ones I frequent makes any cake at all. I strongly disagree that it's cheeky or insulting in any way shape or form. If the owner thinks it's insulting, then tell the customers so. I'll just take my business to a place that welcomes me.

                                1. re: PeterL

                                  The main issue is whether bringing a cake is allowed by the health department. Most of the time the answer is no, but restaurants try to accomodate in order to give good customer service. If they won't allow an outside cake, don't assume they are being unwelcoming. They are just concerned about getting caught breaking health rules.

                                  1. re: mojoeater

                                    Yet again, the important thing is communication. If you call the restaurant and ask if you can bring a cake and the response is that such a practice is disallowed by the health department...then that's that. No need to be upset and no need to pursue it any further. Simply decide whether you still want to go to the restaurant, or eat at home. Problem done.

                                  2. re: PeterL

                                    peter l: "none"? that's a very categorical denial. with notice, i dare say any place with a pastry department would prefer the revenue, rather than plate an out-of-house-cake. if they do not have a pastry chef, that's entirely different.

                                    it has nothing to do with insult. it's business.

                                    i missed the epoch when people began to consider restaurants an extension of their living rooms.

                                    then again, lol, i don't like cake, so maybe i miss the big whoop.

                                    1. re: PeterL

                                      What if the owner feels insulted, keeps quiet about it, allows you to bring your cake and cuts it for you? Then will you feel unwelcome? Your post suggests that you will feel unwelcome because of his feelings and not his actions. Isn't it the right of the owner to feel however he wants?

                                2. re: smartie


                                  jfood agrees that if the resto makes a cake than bringing one from the outside is a little "cheeky" (love the word). but jfood struggles with remembering the last time he could order a nice slice of chocolate layer cake at a nice resto.

                                  And if the custo calls ahead, this is the perfect opportunity for the owner/chef to say that they would make one for the special occasion but will not allow an outside cake into the resto. if there is full disclosure and discussion before the fact then everyting should be cool.

                                  just showing up with a cake and handing it to the host(ess) is not the proper etiquette.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    If indeed that's the policy of the resto, i.e. no outside cakes, then by all means. I just have never encountered such a situation, esp. if one says no cake from the outside, well we'll just try another resto then. Do restos turn down b'day party of 10 or more? Don't think so.

                              2. I would bring my own cake, especially if a restaurant doesn't have a full sheet to put candles on. At the restaurants I worked at, they charged fees depending on the size of the cakes.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: yehfromthebay

                                  Another consideration is the cake itself - whether it's a frosted cake, or a special "whipped cream" type cake that needs to be refrigerated - the restaurant may not have room in their fridge for it. Another reason to call ahead.

                                2. I once made a beautiful cake to serve at a birthday party at a bar/restaurant that doesn't have a dessert menu. I called a week in advance and got it okay'ed, but the day of the party I was turned away with it because they'd changed their policy. Someone else had brought a cake recently and the party DID get food poisoning! They were nice enough to keep it in the fridge for me, and we ended up going back to my apartment to eat it. It was disappointing, but I can understand their concern. My advice is to just be prepared to go with the flow when you arrive at the restaurant the night of the party.

                                  1. it totally depends on the place. they may be offended if they already do it in house, and you bring it from another place. i recently made cupcakes for a friend's birthday dinner in park slope, and not only was the staff more than accomodating, but they also were really excited to get the 6 extra cupcakes that were left...

                                    usually no one wants to spoil a good birthday, so if you give them a heads up, most places are cool about it.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: elenab

                                      I didn't even think that the OP was suggesting that they'd bring a cake to a place that made cakes or that had a cake as an option. In this case, go with the cake at the restaurant.

                                      overall, its still a service industry and there isn't any reason not to make a request to have the evening you want to have. The restaurant can say "no", they can as several have pointed out, offer to make a special cake, they can charge a plating fee, they can do just about whatever they like. The point is, if the customer is up front about what they're looking for, the restaurant can respond as they will and all parties can make informed choices.

                                      From the restaurant perspective, having someone bring their own cake can actually increase sales. If the diners were told they could not bring a cake there are a few possible respones. One is good for the restaurant: they decide to just buy dessert and don't change their plans. The others, though, are bad: they dediced to dine elsewhere entirely and the restaurant loses the whole table; they decide to dine there but leave right after eating the main course and the restaurant loses whatever additional drinks, after dinner drinks, coffee, additional desserts, etc that they would have sold. So, especially factoring in a plating fee (which should absolutely be expected and charged) its a good business and a good customer service decision to allow a party to bring a cake with advance notice.

                                      1. re: ccbweb

                                        At the risk of analogizing to another topic that's been beaten to death on this board, isn't it kind of like a restaurant charging a corkage fee for bringing your own wine? Most places don't feel insulted if you bring in a special bottle of wine that they don't offer on their wine list, but they do charge you corkage for the service, glasses, etc. So if you want a traditional whole birthday cake for your birthday celebration and the restaurant doesn't offer such a thing, then you can bring one in and pay the appropriate plating fee, no insult involved. of course, some restaurants choose not to allow corkage at all, and that's their right, just as they can choose not to allow outside cakes.

                                        1. re: cookie monster

                                          I agree entirely and think that its a perfectly apt analogy.

                                          1. re: cookie monster

                                            Hear hear, a concise and excellent summary!

                                            Also: I have been to birthday parties in restos where someone brought a (crappy) cake. Instead of ordering a dessert that I very much wanted, I had to push a piece of crisco-rich, baking soda flavored "cake" around on a plate. I felt ordering my own dessert would be an insult to the person who brought the cake. Needless to say, no one lingered over dessert.

                                      2. Definitely call ahead of time, to see if they have any issues with it, or policies. It's the proper and polite thing to do.

                                        For my gradmother's 70th birthday, we went to a small Mexican resto (seated about 35-40ppl) in southern Delaware. My mom called ahead and arranged with the owner to bring a cake for the entire place. There were probably ten of us. My mom ordered enough cake to feed 50, and passed out cake to all of the patrons and staff in the resto at the time, after they had all sung "Happy Birthday" to my grandma. It was a wonderful and memorable experience, and everyone was able to feel a part of the celebration. It amazed me how many people thanked my mom for making them a part of the party, and many of them personally wished my grandma a happy birthday. I'm not saying that you would be able to do this, but it is a thought if the place is small enough.
                                        Definitely add extra tip.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: QueenB

                                          That's great QueenB. We had a similar experience, on the receiving end. We were at a small Indian restaurant. A family of 5 was there celebrating a college graduation. Out came the cake they had brought in for the graduate...a GIANT cake. Mom and their server cut pieces for the entire restaurant. Everyone in the place was in a great mood, and I think we all stopped by the table to congratulate the graduate and thank the family on the way out. It was one of those wonderful "Gosh, people can be so pleasant" experiences.

                                        2. In NYC it is a liability issue. Restaurants must conform to the NYC Health Code and not serve food not prepared by, or bought by the restaurant.

                                          Most restaurants would not be willing to risk it.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Fleur

                                            It's a liability issue in NJ also. Restaurants wont even permit you to bring in bottled water.

                                            1. re: tom porc

                                              Not sure why some are baffled by this practice of wanting to bring in a birthday cake. Sure the restaurant has desserts, but a birthday cake is birthday cake and for many people a creme brule or some other dessert just can't take the place of that. Sure the restaurant might lose out on selling some desserts, but also look at the crowd they just got to feed by letting the group bring in a cake.

                                              All that being said, there was a family that we knew that brought a birthday cake to a restaurant for a party of about 30. This was at a lower end chain steak house with a salad bar. 10 people got sick the next day and the health department got involved. The brought in cake certainly didn't help issues.

                                          2. Its important to remember that the restaurant business is very different from most business because there are only a few hours each day where the restaurant generates revenue and yet many hours a date that the restaurants has costs. So when a cake is brought in, it not only takes away the restaurants opportunity to generate revenue in their limited time they have, but possibly even more importantly, the resaturant can't turn the table until the party leaves - and parties that have cake stay at the table longer. So when someone brings in a cake, the restaurant does not have any dessert sales, the wait staff must continue to wait on the table and the party does not leave and thus is taking up very precious space that is using resources and not generating revenue. Add onto this that a dinner involving a cake is usually a large party and usually a Friday or Saturday night probably between 7PM and 10PM which is the restaurants most valuable time. Cake cutting fees are necessary and justified.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: jjhughes

                                              Wow, luckily I've never had a problem with a restaurant accepting a cake from a bakery or another restaurant even. A restaurant local to me makes an amazing tira misu cake but their food is just average red sauce. If I wanted to wow someone with their cake, yes I'd call ahead to the restaurant, show up early enough so they can refrigerate the cake and prepare for plating, and expect to pay accordingly.

                                              But unless I've had the cake from the restaurant where I'm having a party and it was as 'good' as the tira misu cake (or an amazing napoleon cake from a local bakery), I surely don't see a problem with it. Not at all.

                                              1. re: jjhughes

                                                While it is true that any large party will be taking over an extra seating (time wise), it as also usually the case that there may be an open bar situation, people tend to be drinking more than if it was a simple 2-4 top for dinner, which is obviously a money maker for the restaurant and as you admit, there is a charge for plating a brought in dessert. So let's see, a 25 person party, dessert brought in, at $2 pp to plate, the restaurant is making $50 on about 20 min. of labor. Which, as we all know, restaurants pay there employees horribly, let's be super generous and say you pay waitstaff $9/hour...or $3 for 20 min....you just made $47 for doing/providing nothing, except plating a desert.

                                              2. Wow, never thought there would this much drama regarding such a seemingly benign question!
                                                As I mentioned in a post regarding large party reservations, I have held numerous events at restaurants ranging from showers to corporate events. Most of these have been in CT and NY. Bringing in a cake should be fine. I have never been told I could not bring a cake into a restaurant and most will charge a plating charge of anywhere from (about) $1-3/person. I agree calling ahead would be a great idea.

                                                1. I see this through a couple of perspectives. If called ahead and asked, I have no problem with it, and am indeed flattered that they chose my place to have their party at, as long as they are having dinner before cake is served.
                                                  On the one hand, I'm losing money by not selling desserts, but on the other, I fed a table that otherwise might not have dined with us.
                                                  I won't charge a plating fee, but I do expect a little extra gratuity.

                                                  Another perspective would be this, you choose to dine at a restaurant, they don't serve lobster, would it be ok to bring your own? Definitely not.

                                                  As far as health codes in Arizona, and probably just about everywhere else, it is against the rules to serve anyone anything that was brought in from outside. The reason is the restaurant has no control over how the food was handled, stored or prepared upon it's arrival, and it is a great financial and business risk should someone fall ill from it.

                                                  1. If you're getting it from another commercial establishment and they'll deliver to the restaurant the liability issue should be OK, it's just a matter of what the charges are, you'll have to check with the restaurant on it. Tipping would be dependent on what the server does - cut, plate, serve to the diners, or just plunk it on the table.

                                                    I'd expect most knowledgeable restaurateurs wouldn't allow you to just walk in with own cake because they wouldn't know (for example) whether you'd picked it up at lunchtime and left it in your car all day to allow the cream cheese icing to develop infectious levels of pathogenic organisms, for which they'd be liable if everyone in your party got sick.

                                                    It really depends on the establishment - whether they can provide a house-baked cake,whether they have links with bakeries to provide specially decorated cakes, or whether they just don't care and you can bring our own. Calling ahead is absolutely necessary, it's not really all that much different than expecting that the restaurant will be fine with having you bring your own steak.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: hsk

                                                      "whether they can provide a house-baked cake,whether they have links with bakeries to provide specially decorated cakes," Exactly. I work for a wholesale/retail bakery in an area with many resorts & camps, along with restaurants. A good many of my wholesale customers at the resorts & camps will have their guests call me (at the bakery) directly to order special occasion cakes. I have the cake made & decorated, sell it to the resort directly, and the resort serves/sells it to the guest. We're all happy, the guests especially, and we all share the profit. No health code violations here!

                                                    2. cake should be discussed well in advance, at the same time as making the reservation. you shouldn't expect to be able to bring in your own cake (liability)-- but the op wants to bring in one from the commercial bakery, which should be okay unless against restaurant policy.

                                                      if cake is okay, logistics of cake should be discussed (when it will be delivered, or when it will be brought in by the op on the day of the event). candles and long lighter should be provided by the op. the restaurant can charge a per person plating fee or a flat event catering fee ("cakeage") which would cover the dishes and service of several members of staff, & these charges should be discussed and verbally agreed to over the phone. the restaurant is doing the customer a special favor which will require some special behind the scenes work by mgmt and possibly having an extra staff member working (depending on the size of the party), so some sincere thank yous and nice tips are in order.

                                                      1. Thanks for your replies. I ended up too busy with the trip and arrangements etc. to even think about a cake, so we ordered desserts there. In retrospect, I would have liked to have had a cake but c'est la vie! I did order a banner I created quickly and emailed to Kinko's to enlarge, who delivered it for free to the restaurant, where it was put up -- super cheap and nice effect, everyone signed it. The restaurant was excellent, with two sides open to the street it was kind of al fresco (lots of sidewalk dining which was adorable but we had a big table inside for our group) I recommend the gnocchi and especially the pear/cheese salad, thin slices of crisp Asian pear with thin slices of a dry yellow cheese I can't remember, and fresh herbs sprinkled.

                                                        And Phantom was great, a memorable day for everyone.

                                                        1. Where I am from, it is against health codes to bring in a birthday cake, or any other product, if it was made at home. If it was purchased at a licensed bakery, and they can bring in a receipt to prove it, then it can be allowed, and is up to the establishment to decide if they want to allow it.

                                                          The reason is liability. If someone were to bring in a cake from the outside, and they were to get sick, it is MY responsibility. I can be held responsible for their hospital bills. The insurance carriers don't like it, and so the health departments don't like it.

                                                          The same laws apply to "corking fees" and bringing in your own bottle of wine. It is illegal in this state to do so, as any alcohol consumed has to have a paper trail as to how it was acquired.

                                                          1. I would call and confirm all aspects of this first. I'd also tip liberally, probided that the staff was good and also served the cake properly. How mich? Well it would probably be to the tune of what we'd have spent on desserts.

                                                            Happy 50th to your hubby,


                                                            1. Glad things worked out for you even without a cake!!! Every year for about 5 years we would be in Marco Island for DH's b-day. We always went to the same resto and a guest always provided the cake (same guest each year) but we DID ask EACH year. Lo and behold on year 6 resto told us that they could not accept the cake for health reasons. The health inspector or maybe their insurance? said it was too big a liability.