If you want a restaurant to recognize someone’s birthday or a special occasion at your table, there is a proper way to ask. When you call for a reservation, tell the receptionist what you are celebrating in advance. It’s a nightly occurrence in every restaurant, so don’t expect any special treatment or a troupe of waiters to serenade you.
The staff will be delighted to add a candle in your dessert (if the guest of honor orders one). At most restaurants, it will not be served complimentary. If possible, tell the maitre’d or host whose birthday it is when you check in or discreetly point them out to your server to avoid any confusion. What you should not do: wait until the last minute, awkwardly beckon the waiter to speak privately in plain view of the birthday boy or girl, and whisper instructions to orchestrate the “big surprise.”
Also, don’t feel the need to constantly reference that you are celebrating a birthday to the waiter every time he visits the table. If you want the celebration to go smoothly, communicate your instructions as clearly as possible, and he or she’ll take care of it. It’s best not to bring your own cake to a restaurant, expecting it to be served. If you insist, fine dining establishments are likely to levy a plating fee (as many do with wine corkage). Would we let you bring in your own rotisserie chicken and serve it as an entree free of charge? Restaurants are businesses that require selling food for profit to survive, be respectful of that.