Monday, April 21, 2008

Just bring me my free desert please

A good friend of mine was telling me about her birthday dinner the other night at Applebee's.

Apparently the whole "let's sing her a birthday song!" event went horribly awry and instead of having a 1/2 dozen jubilant servers belting out a hardy chorus of whatever it is they sing there, she instead had one lone waiter squeaking it out by himself - and out of key. It was embarrassing for the both of them.

I'm always impressed by the fact the servers have to take valuable time out of their already busy evening to begrudgingly gather together so they can sing a ridiculous song to someone who doesn't even want to hear it in the first place. I can only imagine how challenging that must be to coordinate.

Over the years I've seen some pretty creative and lame versions of this routine. One of the better ones was when Austin turned 10. We took him to Joe's Crab Shack and the entire staff came out and led him around the restaurant in a giant conga line that picked up customers along the way. By the time they were done there was 15 or 20 people in the line. Pretty exciting for him.

The fastest version I've heard so far was at T.G.I. Friday's...

*clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* "Here's your birthday song. It isn't very long. HEY!"

I give them credit for keeping it short - for both the servers AND the customer.

So what about you? Do you have an example of a restaurant birthday song experience, either creative or lame? Or how about a song that has stuck with you after taking your kids to 1000 different birthday dinners in their lifetimes?

I'd like to know, because if misery loves company - I'd like to share it with my friend.

* * * * *

It's always your birthday at!


Heather said...

I haven't had any that were too bad myself, but just a couple of weeks ago we were at the MOA and ate lunch at the Rainforest Cafe. It must have been EVERYONE'S birthday that day because the servers were singing about every 5 minutes. How they got any food served is beyond me. Come to think of it, it DID take a while to get our food.

MYM said...

Oh...the damn public birthday song. My husband did that to me one time ... we're divorced now.

I've tagged ya ... it's optional :)

Susan said...

My 9 year-old daughter LOVES the public birthday song. We pick the restaurants for her birthday dinner based on which makes the biggest spectacle. Last year was a hibachi place that brought out a fruit boat with a sparkler in it, and the staff sang happy birthday punctuated with a gong. Oh, and they gave her a giant chef's hat to wear. She loved it.
To bad we don't have a Joe's Crab Shack, she would love a conga line.

Sam said...

Once I took Lucy out for her birthday to a little Italian place. The brought banjos and everything and took us both by surprise!

She thought I had arranged it, but it turned out that the waitress had just overheard me saying "it your birthday, you can order what you like"!

cathouse teri said...

I think those birthday songs are a horror for everyone involved. Not only for the servers and those to whom the song is directed, but the whole damn place! I don't want to hear the stupid song, neither do I want to hear the freakin' (isn't that nice I said freakin?) holiday songs sung by a group who are having their holiday party at a restaurant. (Scrooge R me.)

Birthday songs should be reserved for Chuck E. Cheese (the place I call HELL) and such.

I don't have a birthday song story, but on my son's 21st birthday, we all went to Applebee's. There were about ten of us. It was about ten o'clock at night. We were told that if we didn't pipe down, we'd be thrown out! Now I am sure you know that Applebee's isn't exactly a quiet place. So I'm thinking that it wasn't so much the volume but the subject matter that was questionable. We're kind of a raunchy bunch. Hee hee.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of HELL - Chuck E. Cheese's- the funniest restaurant song we ever experienced was watching the staff- mostly 15-16 year olds, completely embarassed that they would have to stoop to this level to earn a buck, standing by the "stage" with the animatronic Chuck E. behind him, and singing in the most monotone, "I could care less way", "You say happy, we say birthday. (Happy by the five year olds) Birthday by the 16 year old, mortified staff; Happy -- Birthday. Their arms were barely moving while pointing to the crowd and then back to themselves as they were rolling their eyes and slouching. It was classic! It's now my husband and my code alert for "disaffected teenager."

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

heather - That place takes FOREVER to get seated, waited on and served. Why do you think they have so many distractions built in?

drowsey monkey - Wow... I'm afraid to ask what you would have done if he had put you on the jumbo-tron at the ball park? ;-)

susan - Very cool. I think kids appreciate those songs much more than adults. Well, at least most adults.

sam - Now that's paying attention. Plus, I'm guessing it netted her a bigger tip?

teri - Thank you for your verbal restraint ;-) I have no doubt you and your raunchy bunch of friends like to have fun when you're out. I could use your gang at some of my gigs.

anon - Oh, that IS classic. Disaffected teenager indeed! I can't even imagine how painful that is for those kids that work there. But hey... when you're 16, you take what you can get!

Idaho Dad said...

I've never been sung to at a restaurant on my birthday. The waiters just refuse to do it, I guess. They take one look at me and say, "Oh no, not that guy."

So, whenever I'm in a restaurant and hear them singing Happy Birthday to another patron, I become very bitter and resentful, and just start shoving dishes off the table. At least I get some attention that way, and I say, "While you're here cleaning up the mess, maybe you can sing to me too!"

Impetua said...

This isn't a birthday song, but around here there used to be an ice cream parlor that served up a gigantic dessert called "The Trough." Once I went there with my dad and he ate the entire trough (it really was served in a trough-shaped bowl thingy). Afterward they had a little ceremony with a big bass drum and all kinds of other instrumentation and the waiters presented him with a certificate. The best part was when they told him, "Now, raise your right hoof and repeat after me..."

He was so embarrassed. Totally worth it. I was about 18 and laughed my ass off.

Doozie said...

I straight up HATE being sung to at my birthday no matter who is doing it. In fact I have threatened peoples lives if they even hint it's my birthday at a restaurant.

Maureen said...

Oh yeah. Hubby AND I hate it. Daughter loved it when she was young... but for her 16th birthday last year, her friends took her to Montana's... a place that gives your "friends" two choices; a pie in the face or singing to the birthday girl/guy while they wear a hat with huge horns on it. Well, her so-called friends, of course, chose the pie.

But when it came time, they got it mixed up and they brought out the horned hat instead (which she had to wear during the song whilst standing on her chair, no less).

She was so relieved.

Mooselet said...

There's a place back in Mass called Bugaboo Creek that has a very rustic Canadian theme going. When they sing the public happy birthday song, they bring out a giant buffalo or moose head and the recipient had to kiss it. My workmates used to go there frequently for dinners and would make up birthdays just so we could hear the song and see the giant animal head.

Did you say immature? You betcha!

Anonymous said...

So where is your free desert, Africa?

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

phil - Allll-rightythen... When I read about the guy who went bizerk at Olive Garden I'll be able to say "hey, I know that guy!"

impetua - Bridgeman's used to have a thing called the LollaPalooza. It was like a triple-sized banana split with 6 scoops of ice cream. You would get a medal if you finished it. This guy wrote a great post about it.

doozie - YOU threatened someone? No way, not sweet lil ol' knife-stabbing Doozie!

maureen - A pie in the face sounds a little harsh. Maybe they don't really do that and simply claim to "forget." Although with a place called Montana's it could be pretty wild!

mooselet - And... how many times have YOU worn the moose head?

chris c - Exactly. I've been waiting long enough!

yellojkt said...

My wife and I have the exact same birthday (it's true) and she refuses to let me ever mention our birthday at a restaurant.

Alice said...

I don't know where Babycakes was, but he's got a birthday picture from a restaurant and he's got a sombrero on his head. Forced to wear a hat AND listen to a song would put me into Corona land quickly.

Anonymous said...

Remember when you were playing music on the Iron Range, and we took you out for a fancy hamburger at the Sawmill. I opened mine and found a live cut worm eating lettuce. You laughed, as I called the waitress until you found two live worms under your bun. I told the waitress, "I can't say, your lettuce is not fresh". Come to think of it, she certainly brought replacements back fast!!!--Dad

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

yellojkt - Sweet. We have a Mexican restaurant here that gives you a free birthday meal. You two could eat free every year!

alice - Sounds like he already was in Corona land when that picture was taken ;-)

dad - That sounds about right - me laughing at you like that. It was only funny when I thought it was just your problem.

Julie Pippert said...

My husband insisted on a prenuptial agreement. This is actually a really good idea for any marriage.

It's not that either of us had any assets outside of outright owning our own cars.

But there were certain stipulations he required prior to marrying himself to someone for life.


First thing on the list. All caps. I kid not.

He wanted it in the vows to, so I had to swear before God and everyone but I told him he needed to take my word for it no way was that part of our vows.

Oh, and look at Drowsey Monkey. Case in point.

So we do not EVER do that sort of thing.

Ed said...

I always threaten the kids that I'm going to tell the waiter it's their birthday (even when it isn't)so they have to suffer through the birthday song...

Mom Thumb said...

There is a picture of Curtis on my post from July 8, 2007. He's wearing a hat shaped like a lobster that has a green balloon attached to it.

My best one was in my early twenties at a Mexican restaurant in the mountains of New Mexico. The Mariachis sang happy birthday to me and then serenaded our table for quite awhile, taking requests. Outside, in the moonlight. Nice.

Anonymous said...

There used to be a place in CT called Chi-Chi's that had a really catchy birthday tune that ends in a big "OLE!" that my sister and I still sing. They also made you stand on a chair and wear a sombrero - didn't love that part so much. Last year at the Chinese buffet (I know, the height of excitement) they actually played a Chinese version of happy birthday to me over the restaurant sound system and the waitstaff stood around and clapped. It was kind of sweet.

Nancy in CT

Memarie Lane said...

The best one I had was at a family Mexican restaurant in my hometown. They put a giant sombrero on me, gave me fried ice cream with sparklers, sang happy birthday to me in Spanish, and took a Polaroid for me to remember it all by.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

julie - Hmmm, he must have been severely traumatized at a birthday dinner as a child. Either that or a previous love left him standing at the salad bar on his birthday.

ve - You're a cruel dad. I like it.

mom thumb - I checked out that picture of Curtis... he looks completely humiliated. Good job!

nancy - I've heard the Chi-Chi's song before too. It's quite energeitc. The sombrero thing appears to be quite popular. I hope they use plenty of Lysol between events. Sorry.

marie - And you're going to post this picture when?

cathouse teri said...

Hee. I love Phil's idea.

Anonymous said...

I remember when places like Applebee's and TGIF's were new, and the staff sung their Happy Birthday songs (along with everything else) with youthful entusymusy.

Now, these places are megacorporations (Applebee's has been sold to IHOP?!?), and the staff are figuring things out. "We're making sub-minimum wages to serve mass-produced food in a high-volume environment in the name of the profits of industrial accountants. We're making high-energy fools of ourselves for why?"

Imagine if, every time the staff at one of these places started in on one of these songs (the copyright owner of Happy Birthday charges up to ten grand per public performance, by the way), you got a hippopotamus, a pigeon, and two sheep pounding, fluttering, and ... um ... messing around the dining room.

yoo hoo said...

HATE the birthday song, but LOVE the Green doo-hicky recycle thingies in your banner. Happy Earth day to you, Happy Earth day to you....and so on!

Kathy said...

I'm happy to say I've never had this done to me (that I can remember). I guess the scowl on my face when the singers/waiters come around was the tip-off to my friends and family. They know it's not an option.

I did have a very nice birthday surprise once, though. I was brought a dessert sampler, plated beautifully, with the words "Happy Birthday" written around the edge in chocolate. That's really the way it should be done. We're happy. The servers are happy. And nobody wants to punch anyone.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

teri - Sounds like he would fit in with you and your friends ;-)

amoeba - Hmmm, entusymusy... Can I change my word of the day?

carla - Thanks for noticing! I just hope Yahoo doesn't sue me for stealing it.

kathy - That's always the hallmark of a successful dinner... nobody gets punched.

Michelle said...

Ohhh, I so miss Bridgeman's! You have no idea how crushed I am when I found out they closed. They had the best milkshakes, too.... Now I have a taste for ice cream, thanks!

Anyway, I have no good birthday stories. My husband doesn't "get" how birthday's work, and we cook at home for the kids, so.... At least now I know what I have to look forward to. Unless, of course, they simply never hear about these singing opportunities.

Unknown said...

So I'm the waitress and I sing, and it's always, "You have to go sing to ________" To which I say, "No I don't." $5.25 is not nearly enough for that. I am not above walking over and announcing loudly, "So, I hear you're getting older..."

Anonymous said...

Sure, Jeff. If entusymusy is good enough for Victorian era hack poets, it's good enough for the likes of us.


Unknown said...

A couple of weeks ago, we took our 11 year old to Buca for his birthday. Instead of inflicting a song on all of the patrons, we sent him to the kitchen to sing "happy birthday to me" to the staff. They loved it.

JD at I Do Things said...

I used to waitress at an "Irish-Mexican" restaurant called Carlos Murphy's. Oh, how I remember the hated birthday songs. The other servers would yell in the kitchen: I've got a birthday! And we'd all have to drop what we were doing to go sing. Once a bunch of us gathered on really short notice, started breathlessly singing, and realized we'd forgotten to ask the name of the birthday man. It was Helge. So, halfway thru the song was a kind of weak . . . Hel-gee?, which left all of us embarrassed and annoyed.

JD at I Do Things

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

michelle - Your husband sounds like the perfect candidate to spring a surprise restaurant birthday song upon. You'll both be glad you did. I think.

gette - This whole thing is starting to sound like a skit for SNL. "Gette, the singing waitress!"

amoeba - I love the name of the guy you referened: George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron. What the hell is that?

wendy - You mean Buca di Beppo? I love that place. I bet they haven't had anyone sing to them before!

jd - Mmmm, Irish/Mexican... I was just having a craving for a corned beef taco.

Memarie Lane said...

Jeff- I totally would, but it's a Polaroid and I don't have a scanner.

G said...

The first thing that popped into my head was our little gang bringing out our friend Barbara for her birthday to Beni Hana's many years ago. At the end, all the little waiters came out with their Asian inflection singing "Happy Birsday Balbara!" King of like the scene in Christmas Story...

Pink said...

Here's a fun version I learned at the summer camp I worked at:

"Kings & queens & bishops, too
want to wish the best to you
Wish-day, Wash-day,
What do you say? Birthday!
Happy birthday to you!
There's flies in the air,
People dying everywhere.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY (spelled out)
Happy birthday!"

Gale said...

I usually eat at Cafe Ole on the birthday. I get to wear a sombero, eat fried ice cream, drink lots of margaritas and have my picture taken. Its the American way.

Jenny, the Bloggess said...

When I was a teen we used to go ot El Chico's and be like "Oh it's my friend's birthday" and they'd sing and bring out ice cream with a sparkler in it and make her wear a sombrero. Then another of us would go "Wait a minute. It's my birthday too!" Repeat, repeat.

They hated us there.

Unknown said...

To be played by Dan Ackroyd in drag with a bad smoker's hack. (Classic SNL only, please)

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

marie - Just take a picture of it with your digital. I'll wait...

g - Cute. :-) Now you got me hungry for Japanese food!

pink - Wow, that's a lot of work for a birthday song!

gale - Funny. But you're right.

jenny - At the Mexican restaurant here, you either need your driver's license or a birth certificate to get your free food. Not kidding.

gette - Absolutely original SNL only. That would be hysterical.

Windyridge said...

This isn't humerous but it was fun. When my grandmother turned 80 we threw a party for her in a local restaurant and my son Dan who was 10 at the time, played happy birthday on his trumpet.

Anonymous said...

I used to work at Applebee's (a looooong time ago) and we, as a staff, HATED having to sing the birthday song... to adults. Kids deserve attention and being sung to. But grown men and women? Come ON already. I refuse to be sung to because I'm over the age of 12.

Most of the time the people were mortified by it and I don't think servers should have to inflict that on people who don't want it done to them.

Anonymous said...

So I was at Applebee's and I made sure that I informed everyone not to say anything about my birthday because I can't stand when the resturants have the waiters(who seem to hate it just as much as me) sing to you. So when we went in to get seated we just so happened to be seated next to my uncle who immediately yelled out happy birthday to me right next to the waitress. So after the meal the waitress came out with the dessert menu and said to me that I could have one of these extremely small desserts for free so I said I will have it as long as you don't sing and the waitress refused and said I could only have the dessert if I allowed them to sing but I was determined not to let the happened after continuous debating between me and the waitress she still refused and it came down to me saying forget it and I got no free ice cream can you believe that I still can't.