cake1I celebrate my birthday the same way every year–eating out with my family–and each year, I’m always eager to see how the restaurant reacts when my mom drops the we’re-here-for-a-birthday hint. One year, the Fourth Story, which used to sit above the Tattered Cover in Cherry Creek, responded with a lovely (and complementary) tower of flaky phyllo dough, sweet whipped cream, and juicy strawberries. Another, Barolo Grill brought out a decadent slice of flourless chocolate cake. And Chili’s once (though not on my birthday) delivered a sundae that I couldn’t even begin to finish. My cousin, 10 years my senior, was responsible for that last dessert. For as long as I can remember, Joe, as we’ll call him, has used the birthday line at restaurants whenever he feels a celebration merits a free dessert. When his cousins visit, he tells the folks at the corner Chinese restaurant that I’m turning a year older. Or if his kids have just won a basketball game, it’s birthday time.

It’s not that Joe can’t afford to buy dessert. It’s just that he, like me, enjoys seeing what restaurants do for birthdays, and he has no qualms about researching this topic even when it’s not his birthday, my birthday, or anyone else’s birthday for that matter. I have to admit that Joe’s tactic is an appealing one. Who doesn’t want a free dessert? Or cocktail? Or whatever else the restaurant might serve up gratis for birthdays? I’ve even considered using it myself on nights when I’m out with a big group of friends and we’ve had a few drinks. But I never have. Damn conscience. Certainly, though, there are more Joes out there. Maybe your one of them. So confess. What have you done for free fare?