Stat of the Moment: 52.1% Birthday Cake Fraud

Celebrating a birthday at one's favorite restaurant is a once-a-year treat, filled with singing, candles, and camaraderie. Yet behind this wholesome veneer lurks an undercurrent of lies — 52.1% of all in-restaurant birthday celebrations are fraudulent. These celebrations, whether acts of mischief or malice, are perpetrated upon the establishment in the hopes of receiving free cake. The figure was uncovered in 2007. Bernard Gentry, head of the Spirit & Flare Committee at the National Council of Chain Restaurants, had long been convinced that member chains like Applebee's and TGI Friday's were losing time and money at the hands of those falsely claiming a birthday. Not only is dessert a high-margin menu item, but having the whole waitstaff sing to the perpetrator reduces the turn-around time of all tables. Gentry wanted the entire Council to adopt rules mandating that government-issued identification be produced for birthday celebrations, but was shot down on the grounds that A) such ID-verification would ruin the surprise for genuine birthday boys/girls, and B) it was mean.

Undaunted, Gentry commissioned an independent audit to determine exactly how many birthday celebrations are false. The eighteen-month study, conducted by the University of Minnesota's School of Statistical Numbers, was based on a double-blind, cap-weighted survey of over 16,000 chain restaurant patrons. The results were unequivocal: More than half of all birthday dessert/song/clapping events were presented to patrons who were lying about their dates of birth.

Why do they do it? One key factor may be the spectacle itself. Cake fraud incidence is higher at restaurants that use sparklers on their cakes, and rises exponentially with the length and complexity of the waitstaff's performance. Average amount of "flare" worn per server also plays an indirect role. Certain Hooters locations have cake fraud rates well over seventy percent, for obvious reasons.

Gentry himself acknowledges that the underlying reasons are not always cut and dry, but the effect on the bottom line is the same regardless of intention. "Some are trying to impress a date. Some want to play a joke on a friend, by having the whole restaurant turn to look while nine people in striped shirts blow slide whistles at them. Really though, most just want a free Apple-Cherry Mud Slinger Bomb® or Death By Chocolate Earthquake Landslide®. Bunch of greedy bastards, all of them."