If You Don't Tip for Free Food on Your Birthday, You're a Jerk


Far be it from me to criticize those who get away with something they shouldn’t for a meager gain—like pretending it’s your birthday to score a free cupcake or whatever from a restaurant. It’s even a little funny when your friends pull this prank on you, but only if it’s done rarely; not only is birthday song annoying, but also it doesn’t take much to go from “harmless fun” to “taking advantage of restaurants.”

And then there’s this kid, who has made it his life’s work to score free food every day of the year by pretending its his birthday. As I told the Lifehacker staff the other day, I hope he has to hear that godforsaken song—and the many clap-filled versions of it—every single time. He should suffer that much, at least.

He should also be tipping. Buzzfeed’s article didn’t indicate whether he’s doing that or not, so I’m not going to make assumptions, but I will say that as a general rule, you still have to tip for the free food or drinks you get from restaurants, bars, or wherever. This isn’t negotiable.

Someone had to make the food, someone had to deliver the food to your table, and someone had to sing you a stupid little song. The least you can do—should do, really—is tip the regular amount you would have tipped if you purchased that food yourself. (Twenty percent is a good default.)

Here’s what that would look like in practice:

  • You indicate to the server that it is your birthday (or your friends make a big freakin’ deal about this when you’re ordering).
  • You enjoy your regular meal.
  • You wait.
  • You get your annoying song and your free something-or-other.
  • You eat it.
  • You get the bill.

At this point, you’re left with a predicament. How much did your free item cost? You don’t have to be Sherlock to figure out what the original cost would have been—if you got the same little dessert as someone else at your table, but yours was comped, this should be easy to find out. If you were the only one at the table who got dessert (or whatever), you can either ask for a menu (eh) or look up the restaurant’s menu on your phone (yay).

If you received something completely unique—a little cupcake with “HBIRTH” written in frosting when the restaurant doesn’t offer that on the menu—then make your best guess as to the value of that item. Spoiler: The value is never $0.00. In fact, maybe it should be a minimum of $5, which means you should throw in at least the $2 or so you’d tip for a beer (were you feeling especially generous).

No matter what figure you ultimately end up with, know that it’s going to be a minimal burden for you to add a few extra bucks to what you’re already tipping, and it’s going to mean something big for your server if everyone does this whenever they receive free food. It’s the compound effect, and it’s even more apparent when multiple people in your party are celebrating something—a birthday, an engagement, a baby, a dog, or whatever—and they all get free food. That’s “free” as in “you didn’t have to purchase the item,” but not “free” as in “you aren’t obligated to tip on it.”

Do I wish restaurant staff all got paid amazing wages that let them forget about the necessity of tips? Sure. Until that happens, though, you still have to tip if you’re sitting down, taking up space, and getting food—free or otherwise.



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