If You Won’t Give Me Free Cake on My Birthday, I’m Not Coming to Your Restaurant
Really, the title says it all.
I know, it’s kind of a weird thing coming from yours truly, but it’s true. I have made a decision: if a chef isn’t willing to put forth the effort (which I believe to be minimal effort) to do something nice for me one day a year, I’m not going. And not only am I not going on my birthday, if I find out that a restaurant is the type of place that ignores a patron’s birthday entirely, I am not coming back ever. Never ever.
This is not a decision I take lightly.
I came to this decision where I have come to many of my great restaurant decisions: Shogun. (You thought I was going to say Jasper’s, didn’t you?) It was many years ago and Andy, the owner and amazing sushi chef at Shogun, offered me a beer. A Kirin in fact. It was a small gesture, considering the retail price of the beer was about 1/15 the price of the sushi I had ordered, but it was touching nonetheless. It was a small gesture, but he didn’t have to try and offer me something that he felt would enhance my meal. He did and I found the interplay of Kirin and sushi to be kind of nice. And I remember it clearly years later.
Shogun wasn’t the first place that gave me a free something on my birthday. I cannot repay the Chinese buffet (that has since gone out of business) in Knob Noster, MO for getting me to try cheesecake. It was my 15th birthday and the waitress brought out a slice of plain cheesecake. Until the point, I would have sworn I hated the stuff. Was I ever wrong.
I think I can still recite Red Lobster’s birthday song (hey, cut me some slack, I live in the Midwest.) Something about the good news is we sing for free, the bad news is we sing off key. Anyway…
And of course, Chef Jasper Mirabile does have a tendency to roll out the red carpet every year for my friends and family. His generosity and warmth make his restaurant as much like home as my house. It’s like when I go to Jasper’s, I’m the only customer that matters. And frankly, Chef Mirabile and Andy both can have a lifetime “You never have to do anything for me again” pass. I can only imagine what percentage of my body weight is made up of their food. Though if they choose not to take it, I can’t believe I would complain…
Which is as good as segue me back to the whole birthday thing.
It would be easy to dismiss my claim of boycotting restaurants that don’t give out free cake on my birthday as greed. However, this is more than me trolling for something for free just because I got a year older.
There is a thread that links the restaurant experiences of places that offer free desserts and those that don’t: customer experience. At each of those places, when I went for my birthday, they did something to make me feel special and that my name was more important than the name of the restaurant (even if say, they couldn’t keep my water glass full or find me a napkin…at least they tried to let me have fun.) That is the type of place where I want to spend my money.
Honestly, I can’t tell if the issue resides in the new celebrity status of chefs or if many chefs are just artists who now getting their say, but there is a trend in restaurants I don’t like. Far from forgetting that they are in a service industry, there seems to be an opinion held by some chefs that the customers exist to serve them. The guests have to eat the food just so, have to drink the wine just so, have to order their meals just so and if they don’t? Obviously they’re incompentent, uncouth, or just plain ignorant.
Why do I think that? Well, a lot of this is an extrapolation of Chef Ron Eyester's quotes from Eatocracy. “I love how a restaurant is expected to acknowledge your birthday like it’s a national holiday or something. Who invented the rule that you get a free dessert on your birthday in a restaurant? I guess we have T.G.I.Friday’s and Bennigan’s to thank for exploiting servers as they, the servers, clap their hands and chant a birthday cheer.
You don’t get free pair of gloves or socks from Old Navy when you buy an outfit on your birthday. I actually will kid with our guests and let them know that on their birthday, 'unfortunately, our mariachi band is off this evening' - and, people believe me!”
And I am left scratching my head. Why would Chef Eyester say that? He knew he was going to be quoted. I’m guessing that parting with a free piece of cake (believe me, singing is optional) is such a burden that he doesn’t want my business and I am more than happy to oblige him. (Oh and someone who is a member of Old Navy’s loyalty program, don’t you get something for free on your birthday?) If you think I am being nitpicky and this one comment alone doesn’t merit the judgment Chef Eyester’s not into customer experience, read the article.
Ultimately, I want to go where I am wanted and where I feel like I am worth someone taking the time to plate a piece of cake. I only have a finite budget for going out to eat and I am going to spend that money where the food is good and the staff act like they want me to be there. And one of the best (and most painless) ways an eatery can do that is by doing something for a customer’s big day, be it a beer, a shot, a dessert, an appetizer, or the chef coming out to shake hands and spending a few minutes outside the kitchen.
So, I’ve put my stake in the ground. Treat your customers well and I will go to your restaurant. Treat them like cattle (or worse that the beef you are about to serve) and I will happily head down the road to somewhere that wants me. Even if that place is Applebee’s. At least there I know I’m wanted.
Thanks to Pink Sherbert Photography for the picture.
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