This is a guest post by longtime reader Glenn, who last year scored $199 in birthday freebies for $4 + tips. This year he redeemed 34 birthday offers worth an estimated $413.51, for just $26.54 + tips. Yowza!!!! Here are excerpts of his story:
Hopefully, some of you will be able to put some of this information to good use and gain personally during your birthday month.
Dec. 8 — This year I decided to redeem my $30 Benihana birthday certificate first. I ordered the Rocky’s Choice. The price went up from $24.60 to $25.10, but my total bill was still under $30 so my bill came out to $0.00 since I had water with my meal. As expected, the meal was delicious, but I am unaccustomed to waiting such a long time to be served everything. I was there a total of an hour and 45-minutes.
After Benihana, I drove to Buca di Beppo. I redeemed my free birthday brownie sundae. The brownie sundae was 1/6th of their colossal brownie sundae valued at $12.95. So I estimated that the serving I received had a value of $2.16. It was delicious. They gave me a very generous helping of whipped cream. And I also spent $.50 for 30-minutes of metered parking.
Dec. 13 — First stop en route to Las Vegas was Red Robin. Every new member of the Red Royalty Club automatically receives a welcome reward in the way of a free appetizer. I chose the triple riblet which had a value of $7.99. It was a bunch of pork ribs that were cut into small 2-inch manageable pieces with some steak fries at the bottom. Very tasty. I drank water with my food, so my server swiped my brand new membership card and said I was good to go.
Next stop was Dave & Busters. I received a birthday coupon for $10 worth of free gaming credits without purchase.
For dinner, I drove to the Las Vegas Hilton to redeem my $30 certificate to Benihana. Whoa! What? You’re probably saying that I had already used my $30 certificate at the Encino location. So how did I get a second one? Truthfully, I don’t know. Have you ever received a Sunday paper and instead of one coupon packet, there are two or sometimes three of the same packet? That may be what happened with the email that I received.
And if that wasn’t enough of a surprise, I received a total of three certificates all with different codes. Sweet. Now, I know that some of you may be screaming “greed,” “that’s unethical,” “stop thief,” or “throw the extras away.” I may be inclined to agree if I deliberately had a hand in receiving the extra certificates, but the error was on Benihana’s end. I felt completely in the right to use all three.
The Benihana restaurant located inside of the Las Vegas Hilton was super nice. I noticed the inflated prices of everything on the menu. The Rocky’s Choice I ordered in Encino was now priced at a whopping $39.95! This forced me to go with the hibachi steak valued at $29.95. Also, at this Benihana, they do apply the sales tax to the bill before applying the $30 certificate, so I owed them $.80. I put my tip and the tax on my visa card.
Dec. 14 — For dinner, I drove to the north edge of Las Vegas to redeem my free birthday burger from Ruby Tuesday. I had to drive nearly 10-miles out into the hicks and for a moment thought this freebie may not be worth it. But it turned out to be my favorite freebie of 2011. The reason was not because of the food (which was excellent), but because of the service that I received. The hostess seated me right away and a moment later a pretty young girl named Amber came over to introduce herself. She had a million dollar smile and a very good attitude. She informed me of the specials and handed me a menu. She returned less than a minute later with a tall glass of ice water. At this point, I showed her my free birthday burger certificate.
Some servers, when they see these print outs, react with a deflated look on their faces as though they know they’re going to make no money from this cheapskate. But Amber was genuinely happy that I was celebrating my birthday. She told me she wasn’t a big burger person herself, but she really liked the burgers there. She helped me to pick out the best burger that suited my tastes, so I chose the triple prime bacon cheddar gourmet burger which had a $12.49 value. They also had a lot of sides to choose from, and I was entitled to two sides. With her recommendation, I chose their garlic mashed potatoes and fries. I was going to try the macaroni and cheese, but she said that cheese sauce wasn’t up to par that night. I chose the fries over the baked potato because she said she could get me extra fries. She also brought me extra complimentary cheesy garlic biscuits. The burger was excellent. And the sides were very good too. In fact, she gave me so many fries, I had to ask for a take home box. I knew I wouldn’t eat anymore, but my pooch would love it for a snack upon my return. Amber was very efficient and instinctively knew when to come over to check on me, fill my drink without being asked and brought me extra napkins. By the end of the meal, I had to tell her that she was one of the very best servers I had ever come across. I thanked her for making me feel like a million bucks. In fact, I was so impressed by her that I asked to speak with her manager about her excellent service. This is something I almost never do. I left Amber an extra big tip as a show of my appreciation. This is something I rarely do.
Even though I was full, I hit another Vegas only location called Schlotzsky’s to get a free small turkey sandwich valued at $4.75. I took my order to go. Later, when I was relaxing in my room, I took a couple of bites out the sandwich, but either I was still too full or I just didn’t really care for it, so I gave the rest to my dog, Wasabi.
Dec. 15 — I checked out and drove to Silverton to use one last buffet coupon. The lunch buffet was only $9.99, and my coupon reduced that to $4.99. In addition, I had the cashier use up all of my available cash on my player’s card since any unused credits would be erased by the end of the year anyway. I was able to apply an additional $2.62 from my account, so I only had to charge $2.57 on my credit card. Pretty good for a really nice buffet.
Dec. 16 — For lunch I went to Daphne’s Greek cafÃ© in Burbank. I got classic grilled chicken pita sandwich valued at $5.99. From there, I went to the Hooter’s restaurant to redeem my birthday entrÃ©e with a $7.99 max limit. I ordered the pulled pork sandwich valued at $7.99. My server informed me that they had a special which included fries for the same price. Naturally, I wanted the fries too. Most people criticize Hooters for their so-so food. I don’t think their food is the best either, but the pulled pork sandwich was very good.
For dessert, I drove to a Baskin Robbins less than a mile away to get my free birthday cone valued at $2.29. I chose a sugar cone and scoop of mint chocolate chip, which is my favorite ice cream flavor.
For dinner, I redeemed my free birthday meal from IHOP. The freebie was for the Rooty Tooty Fresh N’ Fruity, but in the fine print it says or another entrÃ©e of equal or lesser value. I ordered the bacon cheeseburger with onion rings, which had the same value at $7.49. As usual, I had ice water with my meal, so my bill came out to $0.00. Afterwards, I made a quick pit stop to my favorite Del Taco location and redeemed my free birthday milkshake for dessert. A $2.79 value. Up $.10 from the year before. But just like last year, I chose the chocolate flavor. Yummy.
Dec 17 — Claim Jumper’s changed their reward program. They joined a bunch of other restaurants to form a group called the Landry Club. There’s a one time fee of $25 to join. But for doing so, they’ll instantly give you a welcome reward of $25 the first time you use it. Also, for joining, they still give you a free birthday meal up to $25. Now, you can argue that since I had to pay $25 to join, I really paid $12.50 for each meal. I would agree with you. But next year and every subsequent year, I will still get a $25 birthday meal free and not have to pay additional fees. In addition, the $25 welcome aboard meal and $25 birthday meal are up in value from the $14 appetizer and $18 birthday meal when I joined their e-club last year. I ordered the pork and beef ribs platter valued at $24.99. It also came with two sides, so I ordered the mashed potatoes and baked potato.
Dec 18 — Today was the big day. The day I turned 45. It was also the day that I redeemed my most valuable birthday freebie to date. To celebrate their 30th anniversary, Catalina Express is giving out free round trip passage to anyone traveling on their actual birthday. A $70.50 value. I found out that parking would cost $15, so this freebie wasn’t entirely free. But still I felt it was worth taking advantage of. The last time I went to Catalina, I was a young boy.
I was able to get a free game of bowling and a free charm bracelet as a birthday traveler at a couple of shops on Catalina. In hindsight, I should have rented a golf cart so I could explore a lot more of the island. As it were, I stuck to the famous shoreline and spent my time there. I quickly found out how expensive it was to eat there. I finally settled on a corner hole-in-the-wall place that had a cheeseburger special that came with fries and Coke for $6.75. They had no tables, so I found a spot on the beach’s edge. No sooner than I sat down there were about a dozen pigeons within 5 feet of me. A couple of them had no problem coming within 2 feet of me. Normally, I would toss a few fries, but I was so hungry that I ate them all. I then proceeded to unwrap my cheeseburger. The first bite was great. The second bite was good too, but then everything went to hell.
Something large reached over my right shoulder and plucked the meat patty out from between the buns and tossed it on the ground in front of me. It was large seagull. The whole thing happened so fast, I didn’t have time to react. I just sat there shocked as I watched the seagulls and pigeons attack that patty like a swarm of land piranhas. It was all gone in less than 30-seconds.
At least two people witnessed the incident. One guy was laughing and a woman told me, “Don’t feel too bad. Last week, they stole my entire hotdog from me before I could taking a bite.” About an hour later, I had calmed down enough to be able to look back and laugh at the situation myself.
Dec. 20 — At Shakey’s Pizza, the buffet had a value of $7.49, but you were required to purchase a beverage at a cost of $2.60. The buffet was okay. They had several kinds of pizzas available, but I focused on the fried chicken, mashed potatoes and garlic bread.
Dec. 21 — Today I received an email from Restaurants.com for a free $10 certificate, so I redeemed it.
Dec. 23 — For lunch, I went to Rubios Fresh Mexican Grill out in Glendale. I ordered the steak big burrito valued at $6.79. Very good. Then I drove to Fuddruckers in Burbank to redeem my free 1/3lb burger valued at $5.75. Then I walked next door to Ben & Jerry’s to get my free birthday scoop valued at $4.50. Places like Baskin Robbins, Coldstones and Ben & Jerry’s mark their product up way too high, but I don’t mind getting my free birthday scoop. Otherwise, I’ll continue to buy my ice cream on sale at the grocery store.
Dec. 25 — Due to my atypical work schedule, I spent Christmas Day alone. Luckily, the El Torito’s restaurant in Burbank was open. So I went there to get my free birthday meal. This year, they put a max limit of $12.99 on the coupon. There was no limit the previous year. I ordered the shredded beef burrito especial valued at $11.19. I love authentic Mexican-style restaurants because of the endless complimentary chips and salsa. At the end of my meal, my server brought me an unexpected surprise. He brought me a birthday flan for dessert complete with a burning candle. A $4.79 value. I appreciated it, but I was so full that I could only eat about half of it. I boxed it up along with the unfinished chips and gave it to my dog.
Dec. 26 — Today, I decided to have lunch at Acapulco’s. Just like El Torito’s, they put a maximum value of $12.99 on my birthday entrÃ©e. The two places are under the same ownership so they share a lot in common, but have subtle differences to stand apart. I ordered the gigante shredded beef burrito valued at $11.99. This burrito was very similar to the burrito especial, except it did not come with a scoop of Spanish rice or a scoop of refried beans. I thought I was ordering an entrÃ©e, but the burrito came a la carte. The burrito was very good and filling.
Dec. 27 — Tonight was the night I used my third and final $30 Benihana Birthday Certificate. I made plans to meet a friend for dinner at the Puente Hills location. The first thing I would discover was that it’s a good idea to call ahead and make reservations. Since I typically go during lunchtime, it never occurred to me to make a reservation, so we ended up waiting about 70-minutes before we were called. But we got one of the best spots to eat in the joint. Our hostess led us to the far back corner in a semi-enclosed dining area with only one other teppan grill across from us, and my friend and I sat in the seats with our backs facing the rear wall so we could look out into the restaurant. My friend was born in December too, so we both whipped out our $30 certificates. She ordered the Splash & Meadow, and I ordered the Rocky’s Choice once again.
Dec. 28 — Today was my day off, so I got an early jump and headed north to Bakersfield to spend Christmas with my godson’s family. I stopped at the mall in Bakersfield first to grab lunch at Red Robin’s and use my new Red Royalty card to redeem my free birthday meal. Even though I have been redeeming free birthday meals for awhile now, I still have a lot to learn. Last year, I had such a good time because I received great service above and beyond what I had expected that I rated the Red Robin experience 4th best.
This year, Red Robin’s ranking will fall a little bit because I made the mistake of accepting a seat at the bar as opposed to telling the hostess that I wanted a table. There was only one bartender for the whole restaurant, and he clearly did not like taking on the roll of a waiter. Drinks, no problem. But heaven forbid that he had to stop what he was doing and pick up an order of food. Had I insisted on a booth, service would have been a lot faster. Especially when it came to getting reloads of my bottomless fries. The bartender was slow as an ox. I eventually succeeded in getting two extra baskets of fries, but I wasted about 20-minutes in the process. Also, I did not get a surprise vanilla ice cream sundae like last year. Truly the worst mistake of the year by agreeing to sit at the bar. Lesson learned. I still left a tip in case anyone was wondering.
Dec. 29 — I took a small detour into Canyon Country to redeem a 1 hour unlimited pass at Mountasia. I had my choice of miniature golf, bumper boats, rock climbing, or gas-powered go-karts. I managed to get in 3 go-kart races before my time ran out. They don’t keep official score as to placement, but I believe I finished in first place in all three races. No one ever passed me. I avoided all the stalled cars and crashes. And I lapped every single car. Hard to put a value on this one since they don’t sell 1 hour passes. But based on the prices on the wall, I figured each race had a value of $6.67. Pretty sweet.
Dec. 30 — Today was Claim Jumper’s day. According to the Landry Club, my free birthday meal had to be redeemed before my birthday month was up. But my first stop was Carrow’s restaurant to redeem my free birthday dessert. When I got there, the friendly manager, Ramon, greeted me and said, “Happy birthday.” He saw my printed coupon in my hand. I chose to get their Bumpy Monkey Sundae which consisted of one banana cut into four halves, two scoops of vanilla ice cream, a very generous dollop of real whipped cream and decorative hot fudge striping. Value — $3.99.
Next up was the Macaroni Grill in Northridge. I received a coupon for a free birthday dessert and decided to redeem it since the place was only a football field away from my real target, Claim Jumpers. The hostess seated me right away, and then I met my server. I presented her with my birthday coupon for a free dessert. The first words out of her mouth were, “Don’t you have to buy an entrÃ©e with that?” I took a momentary pause while looking at her. I said, “No. Why don’t you read it for yourself?” As I handed it to her. She was squinting and scrutinizing over it for a good while. “I’ll have to show this to my manager and get approval.” She returned after a few minutes to say the coupon was approved. I selected their chocolate cake.
When it arrived, the cake was very warm to the touch as though it was baked to order. And it probably was judging from the fancy porcelain deep dish it same in. The cake was accompanied by a small container of hot fudge. The cake was delicious without the added fudge. I did leave a tip even though my server left a lot to be desired. But in my mind, I wasn’t leaving it for her. I left it for the busboy that had to bus my table after I left and for the person that had to wash my dirty dish and silverware. Also, the dessert menu did not have any prices, so I have no idea how much this freebie was worth. But if I were to guess, I could see a place like that charging at least $5.99 for it.
Then came the real reason for my excursion to the far northeastern edge of the valley — Claim Jumpers. I already knew from the previous visit that I was going to order the pork and beef rib combo platter – $24.99 value, but I took a couple of minutes to look over the menu anyway. I decided to try their onion rings. Funny, I dislike onions when they’re raw, but dip them in batter and deep fry the suckers, and it’s a whole different experience. As expected, I couldn’t come close to eating everything since I had the ice cream sundae and chocolate cake. Luckily, they have take home boxes like most restaurants do, and I had the leftovers for dinner.
Dec. 31 — Hmmm. What to do on the last day of the year? How about a movie? Sounded good to me, and it gave me a chance to redeem my free large soda birthday coupon from AMC Theatres. I decided to see “We Bought A Zoo” and used my Silver Experience ticket that I received as a Christmas gift to pay for my admission. Then I redeemed my coupon for a large Coke at the snack counter. Can you believe they charge a whopping $5.50 for the large drink? I would never pay for one, but to their credit, the sign did say free refills on the large size. Whoop-dee-do. The movie was very good. Matt Damon’s character, Benjamin Mee, is a real person. And the zoo he bought and repaired back to code, is a real functioning zoo. There were also some very funny parts. I gave it 3 out of 4 stars.
Afterwards, I drove to BJ’s Restaurant in Burbank. The offer was for a free Pizookie, valued at $5.95. A Pizookie is basically a large chocolate chip cookie about 6-inches in diameter with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. My server was a young kid by the name of Andy. I say kid, but he was probably in college. That goes to show how old I am. He was a very pleasant person. Good attitude and professional. Then Andy showed up with my Pizookie, and it looked like it was baked to order. The plate was warm and so was the cookie. Andy put a lit candle in the ice cream, and I blew it out. The ice cream scoop was a generous amount too. No skimping here. The whole thing was delicious, and I left Andy a nice tip.
Jan. 5 — With December behind us, you’d think that would be the end of my birthday month adventure. However, some of the offers came later than others and had expiration dates into January, 2012. First up, Coco’s restaurant for a free slice of pie. I picked the Chocolate Raspberry Harvest pie, $3.99 value. I’m a strawberry man, but the raspberry pie was pretty good. Very good since it was free.
Next up was the same Carrow’s restaurant I went to a week earlier. This was an anniversary offer for a free dessert; not a birthday freebie. It looked like only one guy in his early 20’s was there to wait on all the customers. After I was seated, it took him several minutes to find out what I wanted to order. When I told him I wanted the Bumpy Monkey Sundae, he said that would take a little while. I was in no rush. I must’ve waited close to ten minutes, then he popped around the corner, arm fully extended and slid the sundae onto the table. I didn’t even see his face. Only his arm. An indication he was really busy and stressed out. But a move like that scores very low with me. And there was another problem. The ice cream wasn’t vanilla. It was toffee, and I do not like toffee ice cream. Since this was a free anniversary gift, I didn’t want to make a stink about the flavor of the ice cream especially since he was by himself. In addition to the flavor of ice cream, the chocolate fudge was not presented in an appealing way. It was just glopped between the ice cream and banana. And there were only two banana halves this time, not four. I ate the whipped cream without any problem. Then, I tried eating some of the toffee ice cream. Maybe it would be an incredible quality of toffee, and I would actually like it. No such luck. After a few small bites, I couldn’t eat anymore. This was one of the worst experiences of the month. And it sucked that this location was the farthest one out from where I lived. This time, I didn’t leave a tip. Was this fair of me? I wanted to because I knew someone had to bus my table and clean my dirty dishes. But everything was bad. Bad presentation. Awful flavor of ice cream. Half of the bananas. Rush job on the fudge. If you believe it was wrong of me not to leave anything based on the circumstances, I welcome the comments and/or suggestions.
Following the Carrow’s fiasco, I redeemed my birthday free appetizer from T.G.I.F. restaurant. In the fine print, the coupon read max value $8. I decided on the pot stickers and handed my server my membership card. The pot stickers were excellent. I wish there were more than just 6 pieces, but I was satisfied. The dipping sauce was excellent as well. The pot stickers were $8.99, so I was charged $1.08 for the balance. I put my tip on the bill as well.
My final stop of the day and the main stop was Marie Callendar’s in Northridge. Here’s another lesson I had to learn the hard way. If any of you decide to try to get as many birthday freebies as me, call ahead first to make sure the location you’re thinking about will honor your certificate. Case in point: Marie Callendar’s. Turns out this company is comprised of both corporately owned locations and independent franchise locations. The Marie Callendar’s in Sherman Oaks on Ventura Blvd would not accept my coupon because they are independently owned. There’s no sign out front that tells you this. I called the Northridge location and spoke with the manager. She confirmed that they do accept the birthday coupons. Another chain that has both corporately owned locations as well as independent franchises is Johnny Rockets. Only the corporately owned restaurants will accept the birthday coupons. And I don’t know which ones are what. So do yourself a favor and call ahead. You may just save time, gas and frustration.
Anyway, I digress. The birthday offer wasn’t a freebie. It was only for $5 off any entrÃ©e and a free slice of pie. I ordered the original burger with fries valued at $10.99. I ordered the chocolate cream pie to go because I was full. The pie was valued at $4.49. My bill came to $6.51 with tax, and I put my tip with it.
Jan. 13 — A day after my last birthday run, I receive a belated birthday offer from Chevy’s Fresh Mex. They apologized that some of their members were initially skipped over when they revamped their system. I waited until I had a good reason to drive out to Burbank to redeem my final birthday freebie.
I joined the Panera Bread e-club months ago, and recalled getting an email for a free birthday pastry. So I decided it was time to redeem it. A nice girl, Genevieve, helped me. I chose the large cinnamon roll to go.
I decided not to eat the cinnamon roll just yet. I drove a couple of blocks to redeem my free birthday entrÃ©e from Chevy’s. The max value on the coupon was $12, but that wasn’t a problem because I wanted their Mesquite Steak Fajita Burrito valued at $11.98. I polished off my first basket of chips before my friendly server, Janice, took my order. She also brought me a second basket of chips and a fresh salsa bowl. By the time my food arrived, I was out of chips again, so she brought me a third basket. I immediately tore into my steak burrito, and it was good. Maybe a little more peppers than I would have liked, but it was good. I also enjoyed the Spanish rice and refried beans. But with all those chips sitting inside my belly, you’d better believe that I boxes up the leftover rice, beans and chips to take home. I left Janice a nice tip for doing an excellent job. The chips would become my dog’s afternoon snack, and the beans and rice would become his dinner. I was still fairly full by dinnertime, so I ate my cinnamon roll. It was tasty even if a little stiff from sitting exposed to the air.
To summarize my entire birthday adventures for 2011, I had a blast. Who would have guessed that I would get twice as many birthday freebies? There’s still room for improvement on my end. Good luck to you all in your birthday month.