Restaurant Birthday Etiquette

I read with some surprise recently a Miss Manners entitled: “I can’t believe they did this on my birthday.” The person who wrote into the syndicated columnist was “appalled” by the restaurant offering him a “large dessert of the restaurant’s choosing with a showy sparkler stuck into it.”

He and his wife had gone to a restaurant on his birthday. “A sign at the door advertised a special reward when paying the bill if you were dining on your birthday.” He mentioned his birthday to the waitress and was then “hugely embarrassed” when she arrived at the table with a dessert he could not share with his wife (she didn’t like it). Plus, “now everybody in the restaurant knew it was my birthday.”

He wrote, “I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the waitress, so I feigned delight and ate the dessert. I really wanted to share a dessert with my wife, but because of the actions of the waitress, I was cheated out of this opportunity and I’m not very happy about it.”

He wrote to Miss Manners wondering how he should have handled this better.

The Mannered Response

She suggests that the restaurant did not do a good job of tailoring its service to its customer need. She even argues, “A more astute wait-person would indeed have noticed that you had not ordered your dinner from the children’s menu, and may have been able to adjust the reward accordingly.” There’s also a joke about a free pony ride.

Still, unless you have never eaten out in a restaurant before, how could you not expect there would be a dessert and some sort of hoopla. At least it wasn’t one of the restaurants where all the waitstaff available are pressed into service serenading the guest.

This man asked for the “reward.” What else could he have been expecting? A discount would be my guess. Yet restaurant after restaurant has made a sparkler or candle in a slice of cake, often with a song, the go-to response to birthdays. The cake is free. That’s the discount. But the price you pay is not getting to choose the dessert they serve.

I also to share my umbrage that Miss Manners equates this birthday “reward” with the kid’s menu. If you don’t want to be feted in public, don’t tell the waitstaff of a public restaurant it’s your birthday. Otherwise, don’t infantilize those who enjoy a little birthday pomp and circumstance on their special day — regardless of their age.

One last thing, imagine how chagrined these correspondents would have been to get the birthday surprise at this restaurant near my house. It’s really a showy sparkler!

birthday sparkler