DEAR MISS MANNERS: My wife and I went to a restaurant on my birthday. A sign at the door advertised a special reward when paying the bill if you were dining on your birthday. So, I mentioned to the waitress that it was my birthday, in anticipation of the reward.
When it came time to order dessert, the waitress brought a large dessert of the restaurant’s choosing to my table with a showy sparkler stuck into it.
I was appalled. This was not a dessert that I could share with my wife, as she didn’t like it, and I was hugely embarrassed as I do not make a big deal out of my birthday. Now everybody in the restaurant knew it was my birthday.
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.
How should I have handled the situation better? Should I have sent the unexpected dessert back and ordered what we really wanted? And why do people do stuff like this on birthdays without asking the celebrant first if it’s what they really want?
GENTLE READER: People generally do not do things like this, but companies do. And no matter how many times the restaurant assures you that they are all about people, or people are their business, or people come first -- what they are doing is running a business.
Miss Manners does not object to this; in fact, she is sympathetic. She mentions it to explain her lack of surprise that a restaurant that no doubt prides itself on “tailoring their service to your every need” in fact establishes rigid policies for their employees that do not always fit a given situation.
Someone in the head office thought it would be nice to do something special for the birthday boy or girl. They told someone, who told someone, who told the staff. You ordered the special reward, and out it came. 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. But as it was free, Miss Manners agrees with your accepting it with reasonable grace -- and not asking about the free pony ride.