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Is this a new gimmick?

We had a Red Lobster gift card and it was our son's b'day. We'd only been there once before but that was more than enough. We figured we might as well use the card and try the place again. There were 8 of us and, upon arrival, told them it was a b'day dinner. Just as we finished our mediocre meal, the waitperson came to the table and asked if we wanted to "buy a b'day dessert' and they would sing. We were shocked. Never heard of such a thing. Ordinarily, they either bring one free or, on rare occasion, include a charge for one on the bill. Is this a new way of getting more $?

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  1. As welcome as an ugly, overweight "dancer" trying to shake you down for a $20 table dance at a mens club.

    1 Reply
    1. So… they asked you if you wanted to order food in exchange for payment? That doesn't strike me as "a new way of getting more $". That sounds like the normal way restaurants make money.

      Yes, a lot of places give you the cake and the song for "free". There's your gimmick.

      6 Replies
      1. re: DeppityDawg

        But at a birthday party? They got ya by the short hairs, unfair. Same as the strolling rose seller when you are on a first-date dinner. How do you say no without looking like a cheap, unromantic shmuck?

        1. re: Veggo

          My son thanked her and said he was too full. They sang anyway.

          1. re: Veggo

            If the restaurant had the OP by the short hairs, it's because the OP walked into the restaurant with his short hairs exposed and said "here, tug on these". If you choose to tell the restaurant that you're celebrating a special occasion, in the hopes of getting some extra food/service freebies, you can't really complain if they are then aware that you are celebrating a special occasion and tell you about some special occasion foods/services that you can consider purchasing. This kind of up-selling is nothing new, either, and it does not sound like it was handled at all unfairly or dishonestly in the OP's case.

            There was another long thread earlier this year about a restaurant offering a birthday dessert and the customer ending up having a bad experience:
            In both cases the disappointment could have been easily avoided by working things out explicitly with the restaurant ahead of time instead of spending the whole evening wondering and hoping and expecting something to happen all by itself.

          2. re: DeppityDawg

            Giving it away is not a gimmick; it's good customer service. If they want to charge for it, that's fine; just add it to the bill but , don't stand there and ask across the table if you want to buy it.

            1. re: mucho gordo

              So the problem is the waitstaff using the word "buy"? I suppose it's not the most elegant way to phrase the question, but how do you get from that to "a new gimmick for making more money"? They certainly didn't get any more money out of you.

              Offering something extra without mentioning the charge, and then just adding it to the bill, is seen as unforgivably dishonest by many. You may prefer it, but there are lots of threads complaining about that kind of up-selling.

              1. re: DeppityDawg

                Not only was in inelegant, it wasn't even directed at me or in a low voice. I have no problem paying for a b'day dessert if it is the customary practice of the restaurant but, I have to say that the majority of restaurants do not charge. It's good PR and doesn't really cost them.

          3. I'm a bit confused. You either expect a free dessert or expect an unexpected charge to your bill?

            I'll admit that I have never been to a Red Lobster. But here are my b'day experiences:
            1) I was a few states away at a wonderful Italian restaurant. The waitress heard my DC wish me a happy birthday. At the end of the meal she brought a tiramisu gratis. I will always favor that spot and we tipped accordingly.
            2) I was at a local "high-end" restaurant and ordered dessert. Waitress must have heard it was mom's 80+ birthday and served it with a candle and a flair. ETA: I ordered and paid for the dessert.

            2 Replies
            1. re: gaffk

              I don't "expect" anything, gaffk.

              1. re: mucho gordo

                Ordinarily, they either bring one free or, on rare occasion, include a charge for one on the bill. Is this a new way of getting more $
                So yes, you do "expect" a free dessert.

            2. I suspect the server was trying to make it very clear that the cake would be on the bill. I'm sure they had people upset once they realized the birthday cake was not free. Perhaps a better method would be to have printed information and provide it to the host while saying "here are the details of our celebratory dessert packages".

              1. Consider it one less bit of mediocrity to ingest. It gave you the opportunity to refuse and get your son a better desert at home or somewhere else.

                1. Maybe I don't get out enough, but I'm somewhat surprised by the expectation of a free birthday dessert. Is this a common practice? It certainly doesn't seem to be one at the restaurants I most often go to: non-chain, medium-priced (entrees $18 - $28) places in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Or perhaps I've been missing an opportunity!

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Miss Priss

                    Again, it's not an expectation but, rather a common practice. You've never been to a restaurant where the waitstaff brings out a token dessert for the celebrant and sings?

                    1. re: mucho gordo

                      Mucho gordo, I've certainly seen waitstaff bring out desserts with candles in them, and sing Happy Birthday; but it seems to me that on the rare occasions when I personally requested that this be done, I chose the dessert and paid for it. (What a sucker!)

                    2. re: Miss Priss

                      Thanks to the internet, you don't have to miss out on anything!

                      Red Lobster:

                      Cheesecake Factory:

                      Macaroni Grill:

                      Olive Garden:

                      Bubba Gump:



                      I think you get the idea… It's probably fair to say that most people who choose this sort of restaurant for a birthday celebration are familiar with this practice, and if they tell the restaurant that it's a birthday, they are fully expecting something like this to happen (for free and without any further prompting). So if the restaurant doesn't do this, or no longer does it, or now charges money for it, I can see how this can lead to awkwardness, disappointment, and on-line ranting. It would be nice, and easy enough, for restaurants in this category to anticipate the problem, and set their customers straight right away, but ultimately they have no obligation to hand out birthday freebies, even if it is common practice and good PR, and even if they used to do it in the past. My advice, if you have your heart set on this free dessert and song and dance, is to ask about it directly at the beginning of the meal.

                      1. re: DeppityDawg

                        Nice rant, DD. I must have touched a nerve.

                        1. re: DeppityDawg

                          Thank you, DeppityDawg. After watching all of those clips, I feel about 7 years older!

                          1. re: Miss Priss

                            I solve the problem by not even mentioning it's my birthday and woe be to my dining companions if they mention it. Although I did go to a local, non chain restaurant for someone else's bday and of course it was brought up. The staff gave us a free dessert but without the fanfare.

                      2. They asked if you wanted dessert and made it clear that you would be expected to pay for it. It may be that they gave the birthday celebrant a free dessert in the past and they wanted to clarify that was no longer the case.

                        How is this a gimmick?

                        It does seem that you are a little peevish about not getting your free dessert after your mediocre meal.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: NE_Elaine

                          We all thought it was a bit tacky to ask out loud if we wanted to buy the b'day dessert; just bring it. If a charge appears on the bill, that's ok. I'm willing to pay for it but, it's been my experience that few places do.

                          1. re: mucho gordo

                            Absolutely tacky to ask aloud, it makes the host seem cheap if he doesn't want to spring for that piece of cake.

                            1. re: bagelman01

                              The whole dining room is about to put their meal on pause to have the spectacle of the waitstaff singing "Happy Birthday" to your table imposed upon them. We're beyond worrying about "tacky" here.

                              Besides, in this case, the OP _wanted_ to spring for that piece of cake, so what went wrong? Maybe the son really was too full for dessert, in which case the staff did the right thing by asking first instead of "just bringing it". If the OP thought his son was just being polite, he could have insisted on ordering it for him. "Go ahead, son, help me use up this gift card so we can stop coming back to this restaurant that we've always hated."

                        2. They will sing for their supper if the birthday boy is in the mood. Paying for the cake is normal and comes with the singing which rolled into the bill. So if they tack on an extra $10 this is normal. You should have brought a cupcake and candle from home and done it that way.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: zzDan

                            BTW, the b'day boy in this case is 44.

                            1. re: zzDan

                              Don't assume that you are allowed to bring outside food into a restaurant.
                              #1 The restaurant is in business to sell food, not serve your food, or have you eat what you brought in
                              #2 The resataurant doesn't want any liability if they serve your cake and somone gets sick
                              #3 It is illegal in many jurisdictions for a restaurant to allow the consumption of food that is either not prepped on the premisies or was not made in a licensed, supervised and inspected commercial kitchen

                            2. I would never ever tell a restaurant of a celebration, as it can lead to embarrassment, disappointment or both.

                              I was at a starred restaurant with a friend, celebrating nothing at all except breaking our diets by carefully navigating the menu to have a reasonably healthy meal. We raised our glasses and said 'happy un-birthday' to each other, as we are wont to do.
                              The waitress mis-overheard us, and bought us a special chocolate desert to celebrate our joint 'birthdays'!
                              It was unexpected (obviously) and sadly unwanted, but we felt obliged to thank her and eat it. There was no charge - had there been we would have felt very foolish.

                              1. Well, I'm feeling pretty fortunate. One of my favorite Italian restaurants in the next town comps the entire meal of the birthday celebrant.
                                Maybe we need to take advantage of that more often.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: jmcarthur8

                                  Great way to build a word-of-mouth reputation.