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.
One Reply to “If You Won’t Give Me Free Cake on My Birthday, I’m Not Coming to Your Restaurant”
I do agree with what you are saying and I think its more than just a free item on your birthday. I almost think of dining at a restaurant to be similar to valentines day. Why make a special deal out of 1 day of the year for your significant other when you can do it 365 days of the year because you want to. There is a particular restaurant I enjoy going to because I feel like I am welcomed like I was a red carpet star or royalty not to mention family. They say hello and mean their hello. They seat you and truly want to know how you are doing. They shake your hand asking how the family is and interacting with you as a person not as a hog at a feed lot.
Its that extra care the extra touch the “we are all people here touch” that will keep me going back. Just because you had a bad day does not give you the right to snap when asked for a water. When you are in a service industry its to SERVE but not just throw mediocre food on the table and crank up the AC to get me to eat faster. Granted we are all human and have off days and being human we cant be expected to be cheery and happy 100% of the time but due to the nature of the biz you better be 95% happy and cheery up front.
Let me sit there and talk and enjoy myself for as long as i want enjoying the time I am having with my dinner guests family or friends. Tips are not mandatory as many people seem to think they are these days. Tips like many other things in this world are a privilege. I can choose not to tip you and I can also choose not to dine with you again. At the same time by you ruining my experience I guarantee that I will go home and over the course of the next week or month tell as many people as I can about the poor service. On the flip side if you blow me away with your service I will rant and rave over your establishment and tell people ten fold compared to a negative reaction and I will also tip much better if I truly have a good dining experience.
I could go on but I think I shall save that for another day.