In the old days, many restaurants, especially those in the "been there forever, family owned, family oriented, neighborhood institution" genre, had some sort of special "loss leader" for one's birthday - a comped deseert, a special dish, or in some cases, even a free meal, with proof that it is the celebrant's birthday.
Other than Vacarro's "free dessert on your birthday" promo at their Little Italy location (not sure if they do it elsewhere), does anybody else do any such "special deals for the birthday boy/girl" anymore?
Brasserie Beck comped the BF's sis' dessert on her birthday a few months back, we did notify them when we made the reservation it was her birthday.
Most places that I've been for birthday meals, if someone notifies them in advance (I usually make note of it in the Special Requests section on OpenTable reservations), most places will give you a dessert at least. I think it just helps to let them know in advance that it's for a special occasion.
I've heard places like Hard Rock Cafe, TGIFridays, and Outback give free deserts on your bday, although thats prob not what your looking for. Most places have limited these specials to kids 10 and under. Alot of places also require you register first online before taking advantage of any birthday special they offer
When my boyfriend and I went to Restaurant Eve (the bistro, not tasting room) for our anniversary they gave us a free scone mixture as a present. I believe they did the same for a man across the room celebrating his 50th birthday. They also wrote Happy Anniversary on our cake. Not neccassarily free dessert or wine but a nice little take home gift which was completly unexpected. We of course told them it was going to be our anniversary when we made the reservation.
Also if you register with Maggie Moo's email list you get a free ice cream on your birthday. :)