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How Should Restaurants Note Diners Birthdays

I once spent an entire birthday in the company of a friend who thought embarrassment was the greatest gift: Everywhere we ate, she recruited servers to clap, sing and flip light switches -- ostensibly in my honor.

I'm not eager to repeat that experience. But a birthday lunch today left me wondering whether restaurants can also be guilty of underplaying celebrations.

At my request, my husband didn't mention my birthday when he made our lunch reservation. It was my own fault for not exercising the same discretion when we showed up: I tore into a wrapped box at the table, prompting the server to ask whether it was my birthday. He didn't seem the clapping and singing type, so I copped to it.

After clearing our entrée plates, the server returned with a thin birthday candle balanced on a small white saucer. No cake. No candy. Just a flickering reminder of my failure to order dessert.

I firmly believe restaurants shouldn't have to shoulder the cost of buying a drink or dessert for every birthday celebrant. But the unadorned candle struck me as slightly pathetic; I honestly would have preferred a "happy birthday" scrawled on the check.

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Still, birthdays are nothing if not personal, and I imagine it's hard for restaurants to find a way to acknowledge them that works for everybody. There are diners who thrill to having a roomful of people serenade them, and diners for whom the night's ruined if anyone dares mention their birthday (as a server, I waited on a few of those pleasant people.)

What do you think? Should restaurants that don't employ line-dancing servers or mariachi bands recognize patrons' birthdays? What is the proper mode of celebration? And have you ever been served a candle on an empty plate?

(Special bonus question: Check out the following YouTube video and tell us, justifiable homicide in the making or not?)

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