It turns out that family and friends aren’t the only ones who like to spoil you on your birthday — a bunch of restaurants (and a few other retail spots) offer generous gifts on your big day.
I wanted to see if these places stuck to their word, so on July 14th — my 23rd birthday — I schlepped across Manhattan with my coworker Arielle Berger, who was also celebrating her birthday in July, to see what I could accumulate.
A bit of planning is involved if you want to rack in the freebies. Most places require you to sign up for their email club or rewards program at least a week before your birthday (I registered three days in advance, which cost me in some situations).
We stopped at 15 places overall and had a pretty impressive success rate. Here’s how the day went:
I kicked off the birthday bright and early at Starbucks, where you can get a free drink if you're a member of the Starbucks Rewards program. I'm not a member, but thought I'd give it a try anyways and rely on birthday cheer.
A combination of early morning Tuesday blues and me not actually being a rewards member sent me out the door empty handed.
It's worth a try -- you have nothing to lose -- but don't enter Starbucks with high hopes on your special day if you're not a rewards member.
If you have time to plan ahead, sign up here. (Note: You must register a Starbucks gift card to join.)
I took a morning break from work and headed over to Jamba Juice, which advertises a free birthday smoothie for all Jamba Insiders (you can sign up for free here).
I signed up ahead of time, but not enough in advance. You have to sign up at least a week before your birthday to capitalise on the freebie.
However, as a new member of the Insider club, you receive $US3 off your first visit, so my $US6 'Greens 'n Ginger' smoothie ended up being about $US3.
While I hadn't actually received anything for free yet, I was getting closer, and already planning next year's excursion.
On my way back from Jamba, I stopped in CVS, where you get $US3 ExtraBucks on your birthday if you join their Beauty Club.
The two cashiers could not have been nicer about it being my birthday, but I needed to present a coupon that should have come in the mail in order to use the $US3 ExtraBucks. Once again, I had signed up too late in the ballgame, and ended up dishing out a few dollars of my own to buy a Vitamin Water.
By 11:30am on my 'freebie day' I had already spent about $US5 and had yet to actually get anything for free.
If you're a Sephora 'beauty insider,' which I already was (you can sign up for free here), you can head to any Sephora during your birthday month for a free gift.
Three failed attempts in a row had altered my mindset to expect the worst, so I was pleasantly surprised when I actually received a free gift at Sephora: two NARS lip pencils.
All I had to do was verify my email address to secure my first victory of the day.
With newly painted lips, I made my way to Au Bon Pain, which offers a free salad or sandwich on your birthday if you sign up for their eClub.
I confirmed with the cashier that my coupon would work before ordering a chipotle black bean burger. The transaction went smoothly, and I didn't owe a single penny.
Burger in tow, I stopped in Baskin Robbins, where you can get a free birthday scoop after signing up for their Birthday Club.
I never received a coupon or email confirming the free scoop, but explained the situation to the cashier (and even offered to show her my ID), who was happy to grant me a complimentary scoop.
Because one ice cream cone isn't enough on a birthday, I headed to Ben & Jerry's. If you sign up to be a 'ChunkSpelunker,' you supposedly receive a free birthday scoop.
While I didn't receive a birthday coupon (I likely signed up too late again), I did receive a free scoop for joining the eClub.
I'll be on the look out for a birthday coupon next year.
Dunkin' Doughnuts was another wild card, as technically you have to sign up for the DD Perks Rewards Program to get a free beverage on your birthday. I opted out of signing up, as it will cost you a minimum of $US2 to open a DD card.
It didn't seem to matter though, and the generous staff wanted me to celebrate with not only a complimentary coffee -- but with two doughnuts as well.
Having struck gold at Dunkin,' I liked my odds heading into Panera Bread, which has a similar policy to Dunkin' and Starbucks: If you join MyPanera, you receive a free birthday pastry.
I had not joined MyPanera, and the birthday schmoozing didn't prove to be enough, leaving me cookie-less.
To continue the unhealthy streak, I found a Sbarro, which offers a free cheese or pepperoni slice with the purchase of a drink.
I came prepared for this stop, having signed up for their eClub ahead of time. They emailed me a brithday coupon, which I printed and presented to the staff.
Just as advertised, I earned a free pepperoni slice after paying for a Diet Coke.
Next on the list was Moe's, where you can get a free entrée on your birthday with the purchase of a drink. I registered for their eClub ahead of time, which not only provided me a birthday coupon, but also provided me a free queso coupon just for joining the email club.
This was definitely the best deal of the day: a chicken burrito bowl, chips, queso, and a fountain drink for about $US2.
Note: The first Moe's I went to was not a 'participating location' and rejected my coupon. Check in with the cashiers before placing your order and verify they will accept it.
Many of the coupons didn't require you to show up on your exact birthday, so I decided to save a few to use throughout my birthday week, including Buca di Beppo.
After signing up for Buca di Beppo's eClub, I immediately received two coupons: a birthday one for $US20 off any combination of two pastas or entrées, and one for joining the club, which granted me a free spaghetti marinara, fettuccine alfredo, or baked ziti.
Since I was picking it up to-go and dining solo, I decided to save the birthday coupon and redeem the free pasta. Moe's may have been the best value on my actual birthday, but this baked ziti fit to feed a family topped the charts as the best deal overall.
If you sign up for the Birthday Club, you'll get a coupon for a free Italian ice. You'll also receive a buy-one-get-one just for joining the email club.
One of the nicer free meals of the week came from Haru Sushi, which offers a $US20 birthday gift card if you join their email club.
After showing the waitress my ID, a friend and I ended up dishing out just $US6 extra for a salad to start, a six-piece roll, and an order of fish tacos.
The legendary New York City ice cream joint does not offer birthday specials, and I was planning on paying full price for this delectable double scoop. When my friend offered to buy it as a birthday treat, the Ample Hill's employee overheard and declared that it would be on the house.
It was sweet icing on the cake after a whirlwind week of freebies and calories.
After a few days traipsing through New York City, I ended up with eight purely free items and four discounted purchases, and spent about 15 of my own dollars.
I also barely scratched the surface -- there are a shocking number of places that offer birthday freebies.
A few that I missed and hope to try next year:
Sprinkles: If you join the birthday club, you'll get a delectable Sprinkles cupcake for free on your special day.
Noodles & Company: If you join their eClub, you'll get free noodles on your birthday.
Dairy Queen: If you're a member of the Blizzard Fan Club, you'll get a free blizzard on your birthday. I had maxed out on ice cream for the week, but maybe next year.
Benihana: I received a hefty $US30 dinner certificate to this Japanese steakhouse (requires the purchase of an adult dinner entrée before it can be used), but didn't have time to test it out.
The Dead Poet: This NYC bar lets you drink for free on your birthday, if you share your birthday with a dead poet.