Embarrassing restaurant birthday customs
By By Robert St. John / food columnist
Oct. 2, 2002
Robert St. John is the executive chef/owner of New South Restaurant Group: http://www.nsrg.com. His weekly food column appears in various newspapers throughout Mississippi and Louisiana. If you have any questions or comments he can be reached at email@example.com or (601) 264-0672.
Restaurants celebrate customer birthdays in many different ways.
Some restaurants offer free desserts. Some offer complimentary gift certificates. Others make customers wear funny hats and still others sing the ever-popular, off-key, all-waiter chorus of "Happy Birthday to You."
Some restaurants go the understated route by placing lighted sparklers in a piece of cheesecake and parading through the dining room while clapping and shouting your name all the way to the table.
I hate it when they do that.
Over the years, I've seen belly dancers, strip-o-grams and Elvis impersonators. A few months ago, a customer paid an Elvis impersonator to do his entire nightclub act at the table in one of my restaurants. After the third rendition of "Hunk O' Burnin' Love" we were "All Shook Up" and sent the king back to the "Heartbreak Hotel."
Some restaurants try to embarrass you as much as they can. At our restaurants, we give complimentary desserts with no fanfare. Possibly the worst restaurant-birthday practice occurs in Mexican restaurants when they make customers wear the dreaded big sombrero while they sing a peppy, all-Spanish version of "Happy Birthday to You."
At Hooters (not that I've ever been there), they make the birthday boy (or girl?) hop up on a stool and dance while the waitresses gather around the stool and sing "Happy Hooters to You."
Not only are we going to humiliate and embarrass you, we are going to prove to everyone that you are the goofiest dancer on the planet.
Going too far
I think this whole restaurant-birthday routine has gone too far. Before long they'll bring in laser-light shows and fog machines. Isn't KISS doing another reunion tour?
Next week I will turn 41 (which is an amazing feat in itself). I will not celebrate in a white-tablecloth restaurant or a casual, chain-type restaurant. I will not wear the giant sombrero or have to endure a dozen waiters singing a new and "improved" version of "Happy Birthday to You" in the key of Q flat. I definitely won't dance in a chair while being serenaded by scantily-clad waitresses.
My birthday celebrations are low key nowadays. I will probably take my family to my favorite catfish house. It is a place where they could care less if it is your birthday or not. No hats, no sparklers, no singing. I will eat catfish and hushpuppies and spend another birthday lamenting the loss of my rump and other important body parts.
Age plays cruel jokes
I have no rump. I used to have one. I woke up one morning in my late 30s and it was gone. All I have left are two legs that connect to the base of my spine. There is nothing in between. I used to be able to fill the back seat of my Levi's. Not anymore. Nowadays, the seat of my jeans is as baggy as one of those hip-hop skate boarders (and if I don't wear a belt they hang as low). Belts are much more important than they used to be. In my 20s and 30s I didn't need a belt. My rump was there to keep my pants up around my waist. Nowadays, my pants slide off and on with no effort.
And where's my hair? I have acquired a hairline that would make Art Garfunkel snicker. Through no effort on my part, I have discovered a revolutionary and amazing hair transplant procedure. It is one that transfers heretofore permanent hair from one's head to one's back and ears, all while you sleep. At 41, my back and shoulders make me look like I could be an extra in the "Planet of the Apes." It is a cruel world.
Yes, age plays cruel jokes, but over-the-top restaurant celebrations might be the cruelest joke of all. This year I'll settle for a candle in my cole slaw and my wife singing the Marilyn-Monroe-to-J.F.K. version of "Happy Birthday to You."
Italian Cream Cake
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, separated
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup pecans, finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 can flaked coconut (31/2 oz.)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 recipe cream cheese frosting
Grease and flour three 9-inch round cake pans. Line pans with wax paper; grease paper, and set aside. Beat butter at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Combine flour and baking soda.
Add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in pecans, vanilla, and coconut. Beat egg whites at high speed in a large bowl until foamy. Add cream of tartar; beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold beaten egg whites into batter. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 or 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pans 10 minutes, remove from pans; peel off wax paper; and let cool completely on wire racks.
Sprinkle each cake layer with 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier. Let stand 10 minutes. Spread cream cheese frosting between layers and on sides and top of cake.
Cream Cheese Frosting
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1 (3 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup butter, softened
11/2 powdered sugar, sifted
11/2 cups pecans, chopped
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Beat first 3 ingredients at medium speed of electric mixer until smooth.
Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until light and fluffy; stir in pecans and vanilla.