HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


does the gesture outweigh choice?

Does the 'nice gesture' of being given a complimentary item outweigh not having a choice in what you eat?

For example, are you still happy if a restaurant sends you the decadent chocolate dessert on your birthday even though, if presented with the dessert menu, you would have ordered anything except chocolate? Or (shudder) soggy tiramisu when you would have preferred ANYTHING else? Would you prefer they not try to guess at what you might want, or is it the thought that counts, no matter what your taste buds say??

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The thought on the part of the restaurant is lovely.

    I think you should also always order anything else you'd like in addition to what they bring.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ccbweb

      Excellent advice ccbweb! You can always fob the offending dessert off on your dining companion, or take it home and bring it to work. As a former resto owner, I'd often over-hear that there was a birthday and we'd just take our chances and send out one of our faves. (or even better, let them order what they want, and then send out a little something extra as a lagniappe). NEVER turn down a freebie! Adam

    2. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth? :)

      1. This happened to me when I turned 17- but it was the hands of my mom! She had secretly pre-ordered a mini birthday cake at Tavern on the Green when I had wanted creme brulee. (My dad didn't want to pay more for another desert so I had to eat the cake) Of course I was young and immature- nowadays I'd suck it up because it really is the thought that counts, Recently I gave a gift to a loved one and the look on the receiver's face was so horrendous- that really hurt. Obviously restaurant staff are not close loved ones, but they still did something human and gracious. Be gracious back. Thank them genuinely. Then if you still want the dessert you had originally wanted, order it.

        1. In my family, I am usually the one that arranges for the dessert to be brought, and I select it, and then after the presentation, everyone orders what they want including the birthday person. I also tell the restaurant that I want it added to the bill - I don't think we've ever had a free birthday dessert. However, we've been given dessert many times though "just because" and whatever it is, we love it. Gotta love the thoughtful gesture!!

          1. The gesture ALWAYS outweighs the choice.

            1. If you really want something else, order it as well... it's very rude to turn your nose up at a gift, no matter whether it was something you really wanted or not. The only exception is if it's something you're actually allergic to or that is against your religion or would threaten your health severely (like giving a cheeseburger to an Orthodox Jew, or triple chocolate cake to a diabetic.) In which case, offer sincere thanks for the thought anyway.

              1. Like everyone else, I believe the gesture out weighs the choice.

                I tend to look at it slightly differently than the OP in the fact that I'd like the fact of trying something that I'd otherwise not have ordered. Food allergies/aversions not withstanding of course.


                1. Interesting. I guess I'm not wowed by something I don't want even if its free. Nice gestures are nice and all, but I would not feel right ordering a second thing if I didn't like the gift. Maybe as a pastry chef I'm just harder to impress with free dessert, heck I had chocolate mousse for breakfast (recipe testing, its a dirty job).

                  I prefer the candle in whatever, happy birthday written on the plate. In my current job, I'm asked to make birthday cakes for people as a hotel guest amenity, but I rarely have any idea of what their preference is. I wish I were clairvoyant and could create everyone's perfect cake, but since I know I can't, I guess I want an excuse to not even bother. Oh well, not going to find it here : )

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: babette feasts

                    I feel the same, babette (and have worked as a pastry chef, so maybe that's why I agree). I would prefer that they decorate the dessert I want (as I have had happen at several fantastic restaurants), not send me something I don't want. I am very picky about my desserts.

                    I also don't see it necessarily as a kind gesture. Most times I just see it as trying to make money by ensuring I come back to the restaurant. Or with some of the waiters I have worked with, it's a way for them to try to get a bigger tip.

                    Maybe I'm just cynical...

                    1. re: babette feasts

                      People don't have to be "wowed", they just have to be gracious.

                      Some of the responses here surprise me. The attitude appears to be that, unless you get exactly what you want, the gesture carries no value. It's almost as if getting something extra is a burden for some people in such cases.

                      It costs nothing to smile and say "thank you" and then you can either eat what you are given or not. You can always allow others who are celebrating with you and might like it to consume it instead of you.

                    2. Similarly, what if you have someone who gives you a gift card to a place they know you boycott/do not shop for personal reasons? Should I just go to the store and give it away to someone walking in? I don't know what to do with these things.

                      1. I say its a nice gesture, take it for what it is.

                        With the above said, how common is it for people to tell a restaurant they are celebrating a birthday. Thats something I never do, or want done.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: swsidejim

                          Ya, if you let them know it's your birthday, it's almost like you're bucking for a freebie.
                          If it's a friend who lets them know, they're the one doing it.


                          1. re: swsidejim

                            In restaurants someone in the party might call ahead or mention it when making the reservation. I've had people call and pre-order for their friends, or sometimes they just want to make sure there will be a candle. Occasionally they forget and a few days later there is an irritated thread on 'why didn't the restaurant recognize my birthday'.

                            Some people want a fuss, some people would rather just celebrate in their own way.

                            1. re: babette feasts

                              interesting, I'd rather fly under the radar myself.

                              different strokes.

                              1. re: swsidejim

                                That's why my family and friends have been told that the minute anyone starts singing Happy Birthday to me in a restaurant, I am out of there. It's not something I am comforatble with, or enjoy in anyway.

                                1. re: Sooeygun

                                  that is hilarious, and probably what I would do.

                                  1. re: swsidejim

                                    Luckily, no one has put it to the test. I say I would walk out, but I don't know if I really could.

                            2. re: swsidejim

                              It's extremely common for people to notify the restaurant of special events. Most want some kind of acknowledgment; some want freebies. Like you, I prefer to celebrate quietly. i don't like attention drawn to me. We seem to be in the minority. I cannot tell you how many complaints I fielded/saw/heard over the years when guests said they were having a birthday and there was no recognition. I have seen adults actually yell at servers and managers because the candle was left off of their desserts. It seems to be very important to many diners.

                              1. re: nc213

                                Interesting, I wonder if needing this form of special attention correlates to how much a person goes out to eat? If they only go out for birthdays, and anniversaries, etc. vs people who go out quite often.

                            3. I'm in the "it's the thought that counts" camp. Once when DH and I had dinner at a local place, there were a few glitches (long wait between apps and entree, one entree overcooked). We ordered one dessert and the resto comped us another--not what we would've necessarily ordered, but we were happy to see that they were trying to "make it right" for us.

                              1. As they say, don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Another cliche, "it's the thought that counts". etc, etc, etc, etc.