Raise your hand if you've ever gone to a restaurant and lied about it being your birthday so that the staff would come out and sing a horrible song and you'd get a free scoop of ice cream. Or if you've ever lied about it being your birthday in a bar so that you get a free shot. Or if you've ever called a restaurant and lied about a botched delivery order (that you never made in the first place) in hopes of getting free food.
Hopefully that last example never so much as crossed your mind, because you are a good and generally honest person. But you'd be amazed at the number of (often sketchy) ways that people try to get free stuff from restaurants and bars.
There are very few instances where a restaurant will comp items on a bill for people, and they usually fall under the umbrella of health risks. If you order a milkshake and it has an animal foot or some other foreign object in it, that shake should probably be free. If you're deathly allergic to nuts and make a point to tell this to your server, and then your dessert comes out covered in walnuts, you definitely shouldn't eat that dessert, and it should be taken off your bill or replaced.
Here's the thing: Restaurants will generally try to fix stuff before giving it away for free. It shows a willingness to listen to customers and a desire to actively fix a situation. But, I say "generally," because I once interviewed at a restaurant where the manager told me he'd comp a table's whole tab in order for them to leave happy. And I am positive that that happens in more places than I'd expect, because positive word-of-mouth is worth more money in the long run than one table's dinner. (Side note: I think this practice kind of blows, because some people are never happy. Even when they get free stuff.)
So just for fun, let's go over some instances where it is and isn't OK to expect free things at a restaurant or bar.
"I'm like, a total regular at this bar. I am totally entitled to some free drinks and shots, right? Right."
"I'm allergic to [food], but despite the warning from my server, I ordered it anyway and then ate it and now my throat feels funny. I should get my whole meal for free even though I basically poisoned myself, right?"
"I think very highly of myself, as I make a lot of money or am a well-known 'name' in Chicago. Everyone should automatically know who I am and give me free things."
There has been a communication breakdown between the server, the kitchen and you, resulting in you receiving something that may make you sick or that you may not want. It was an accident, everyone involved feels bad and they're trying to make it up to you.
And I guess that's the main point I'm trying to make: Free things from restaurants and bars are usually gifts, surprises and random acts of kindness. A good rule of thumb is never to expect free stuff. If you're a good customer, it'll come to you. And if you're the guy who lies about having a tomato allergy and then slathers your fries in ketchup, we've got our eyes on you.
RedEye special contributor Stacey Andeen is a Chicago bartender.