Happy birthday – maybe.

Dear Janice, I would like your opinion about a rather strange (I think) occurrence at a local restaurant. Five of us were celebrating the 88th birthday of my partner's mother and took her to a local, pricey seafood restaurant recommended by you a few years ago. We had been there several times since your review and were always very pleased with the exceptional food, service and atmosphere. We told the host upon our arrival that we were celebrating a birthday.

"After a delicious and filling dinner, we told our server that we were, indeed, too full for dessert. As we were awaiting our rather large check, our server brought a special hat and a small plate with a candle placed in a quarter slice of lemon(!) with whipped cream dollops all around. We all looked at this ‘treat' and wondered what the recipient was supposed to do with it. Is it not usual to expect an actual edible birthday treat if they are going to go to the trouble of lighting a candle and singing to the birthday girl? Is this the new norm?"

– Still a Seafood Lover

Dear Lover:No, it's not a new norm, but you have to admit it's original. Maybe the restaurant thought it was funny – actually I think it is sort of funny – or maybe they didn't have any cake.

And you did say you didn't want anything for dessert.

As my mother used to tell me, "It's the thought that counts," and certainly somebody back there appears to have been thinking. This is certainly a mixed message, but the whole celebratory thing in restaurants is hardly carved-in-stone.

The truth is, some celebrants – and again happen to be one of them – would rather not eat at all if they have to endure singing and blowing out a candle. But others like the attention. Achieving 88 years is a pretty remarkable feat, after all.

Franchise restaurants are really big on birthday celebrations. They usually have some goodie or other stashed in the pantry that they can pull out with short notice. And sometimes they assemble the staff, who shamble up to the table and give voice.

It's kind of like a server introducing himself when he gives you the menu. It is supposed to generate good will.

A more upscale restaurant can probably come through with a lighted pastry if you ask nicely ahead of time. Some restaurants even ask if it's a birthday or celebration when you telephone to reserve.

By the way, you may or may not be charged for this little extra service. (You did not pay for the enhanced lemon I'm sure.)

My opinion: The restaurant and the servers did try, so do what you probably did anyway: Smile, say thank you – and leave a generous tip.


Send your questions and comments about dining out to Janice Okun at She will respond in this column, which appears every Wednesday in the Taste section of The Buffalo News.