Almost every restaurant was in the deal-of-the-day business pre-Groupon—on customers’ birthdays, that is. Now a new website aggregates those birthday giveaways so customers can cherry pick the best offers. Is Freebirthdaymeals.org  a business-builder or a weirdly efficient way to attract freeloaders?
Birthday deals are a traditional way for restaurants to reward loyal customers. And your loyal customers used to be the only ones who knew what might be available to them on their special day. Free drink? Free appetizer? Free dessert? Free meal? Whatever it was, the restaurant had control over who got what.
It seems like an innocent time now, given that www.freebirthdaymeals.org  lets everyone in this deal-crazy country know what you give away to customers on their birthday, even if that customer has never been in your restaurant before.
Here’s how the website’s founder describes his venture.
“FreeBirthdaymeals.org was designed as a result of not being able to find a comprehensive, up-to-date listing of restaurants that offer free birthday meals in Phoenix, Arizona,” says Mark Minks. “We searched the Internet and found several decent listings of restaurants that offered free birthday meals, but the listings were not kept up to date, were not localized to a particular city and state, and most important of all, were not searchable. We decided to create FreeBirthdayMeals.org so visitors could search for free birthday meals by city, state cuisine, type, etc., and so that any website visitor, including a restaurant owner, could add a new restaurant to the site and help us keep the site current.”
This service will bring customer traffic into restaurants, all right. But is it traffic you necessarily want? This website’s co-founder argues it is.
“Restaurants know that by giving people something free on their birthday they’re going to attract more business,” declares Matthew Cox. “For customers, going out to a restaurant you like and getting something for free is a great way to celebrate your birthday with friends and family,” he says, presuming that enough friends and family will actually come along to make the total bill a net win for the restaurant. “Signing up for a restaurant e-club newsletter and getting free food on your birthday and, in some cases, just for signing up, is a great way to stretch your birthday budget.”
Participation on this site is something each operator will have to decide for him or herself. But some restaurants certainly see an advantage. Early adopters include many units of Denny’s (show your driver’s license and get a free Grand Slam breakfast) and IHOP (which promises a free meal on your birthday). Other offers on the site as we write include units of Buffalo Wild Wings (a free dozen wings or a free dessert), Johnny Rockets (free one-scoop Sunday) and Chuck E. Cheese (a “special gift” for kids’ birthdays).
Other chains, Boston Market and Red Robin being two, require that birthday offer recipients join their e-club or VIP club before scoring their birthday freebie. To us, this sounds like perhaps the best way to use the site to maximize your return on your restaurant’s birthday giveaway. At least you’ll have a way of reaching those customers the rest of the year.