Dining

It’s my birthday—whatta ya got for free?

One woman’s attempt to get as much stuff as possible on her special day

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Audria Ruscitti

I’ve had a few interesting birthdays during my life, but I’ve never really done anything grand to celebrate the milestone years. I didn’t have a quinceñera party like I was promised—although to be fair, I think it was one of those empty promises parents make when they want their kids to shut up (and to this day my mom doesn’t remember that promise). Then there was the time my entire birthday party got locked out of my house for my 12th birthday. I didn’t have a sweet 16, either. But I did throw a party for myself at Chuck E. Cheese when I turned 18. When I turned 21 I managed to lose my 5-month-old daughter’s favorite toy—a giant plush spider half her size—while on our way to the grocery store to buy my first legal alcohol.

This year I turned 30 and briefly considered spending my birthday the best way I could think of: throwing an enormous party and inviting everyone I knew. But as the mother of a new baby, and with boxes all over the house from a recent move, I settled on the second best way I could think of: seeing how much free birthday stuff I could get. And what better city to experiment in than Vegas, the land of the comp?

The plan was simple. No matter where I went, I would ask about birthday giveaways and see what happened.

I got started at 2 a.m. on a Saturday, heading to First Food and Bar. When our server asked us about dessert at the end of our meal I asked him what I could get for free.

“We don’t do that here,” he replied.

“Oh.”

Not exactly an exciting start.

Later that morning I tried my luck at Dunkin’ Donuts. From my car, I informed the voice on the other end of the speaker about my birthday, adding, “Do you guys have any anything you give away for birthdays?” He told me I had to sign up online to receive a coupon for a free drink.

“But,” he added, “I can give you a donut.”

Freebie No. 1. Sweet!

I collected my donut, along with the dozen or so things I had bought for my family, and made my way to my mom’s house.

After breakfast—my brother ate my birthday donut, by the way—we packed up the kids and headed to the Galleria at Sunset. My mom had wanted to go shopping at Macy’s—they don’t give away anything, ever, I checked—and I thought the mall would be a great place to mooch.

My first stop was Payless Shoes. My daughter and I picked out a pair of shoes we liked, then at the counter I asked what birthday specials they had. She gave me a 10 percent discount. Not a freebie exactly, but a discount that otherwise wouldn’t have been offered. Score! Let’s call that Freebie No. 2.

Freebie No. 3 came quickly—at the Great American Cookie Company I got a free cookie. Things were finally starting to get interesting, I thought.

Then I hit a dry spell. The people at Sweet Factory wouldn’t give me anything. Ditto for See’s, unless you count the free samples that are there for everyone. I did get a See’s coupon for two free lollypops. But since it wasn’t redeemable until long after my birthday, it doesn’t count.

I remembered reading something about Starbucks online, so we stopped there. The girl behind the counter told me if I registered a gift card online I could then come back and get a free coffee. I thanked her, but said I probably wouldn’t make it back in time. (I didn’t.)

Snaking through the food court, we tried Hot Dog on a Stick, Cinnabon, McDonald’s and Auntie Anne’s. Hot Dog on a Stick said no, but the guy at Cinnabon gave me a “buy one get one free cupcake” coupon, which we used on the spot. Freebie No. 4!

I really wanted my free McDonald’s Happy Meal, but when I asked the manager, he laughed.

“No, we don’t give stuff away,” he told me. Then gave me a thumbs up and said, “But nice try.” I still walked away with two free apple pies, but that was only because they gave me a free dollar menu item for buying the new smoothie.

There were two girls at Auntie Anne’s when I approached the counter and requested some free birthday stuff.

“Do we have any birthday giveaways?” one asked.

“No,” the other said, then, looking at my 3-month-old son, asked, “For him?”

“No, for me,” I told her. “It’s my birthday.”

“No.”

Walking into Spencer’s I found a guy at the register and asked him if they had any birthday giveaways.

“Um, I don’t know. I don’t think so. I can sing to you, but you’ll probably be disappointed.”

I was disappointed, but only because he never did sing to me, even after I asked him to.

We stopped at Build-a-Bear Workshop, which is always a birthday staple for my daughter. We went up to the counter and, after explaining it was my birthday, I asked if they had birthday specials.

“We have coloring books and we can ring the bell.”

I turned to my daughter and asked her if she wanted my birthday coloring book.

“Are you going to purchase anything?”

“Um, no.”

“Then I can’t do it.”

Feeling discouraged, I thought I’d shoot for some guaranteed freebies. For years, Gordon Biersch has e-mailed me a birthday coupon, offering a free entrée with purchase. It was time to cash in on it. With the coupon we ended up saving almost $14. Freebie No. 5!

Back at home I checked my e-mail for more potential free stuff. I had read online that Round Table and Krispy Kreme give away a free personal-size pizza and half-dozen box of donuts and mug, respectively, for your birthday, and so I signed up for both. But I never received anything.

Over the phone a girl working at Krispy Kreme told me if I came in I could get a free donut, but I never did make it over.

I printed out a coupon for a free birthday dessert from Jack in the Box, and the kids and I headed out once more. At the drive-thru speaker I mentioned my coupon before ordering two cheesecakes (one for me and one for my daughter). When we got to the window the two girls working squealed, “Happy birthday! I LOVE birthdays! Happy birthday!” After checking my ID they collected the coupon, but let me keep both cheesecakes for free. Freebies No. 6 and 7!

Our final stop was Denny’s. My mom looked visibly pained when I told our server it was my birthday and asked what I could have for free, but he jumped right in and, after checking my ID, offered me an Original Grand Slam on the house. Freebie No. 8!

The long day was over. It was time to total the value of everything I’d received, from freebies to discounts. It added up to almost $30. Not bad.

Maybe next year I’ll plan ahead and register online for even more birthday giveaways. Or maybe I’ll get around to finally unpacking and throw that party I wanted in the first place.

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