How Chain Restaurants Sing ‘Happy Birthday’: An Elegy

With the classic song being ruled part of the public domain, we’re losing a little piece of Americana. And, really, a little piece of ourselves.

daryl_mitchell / Flickr

A federal judge has ruled that Warner/Chappell does not have a valid copyright for “Happy Birthday to You.”

We, the “public” in the “public domain,” stand to gain a lot from that landmark decision, among the gains the fact that “Happy Birthday,” one of the most-sung songs in the land, can now be performed in movies and TV shows. But we stand to lose something, too: the delightfully ridiculous songs that some restaurants—some chain restaurants, in particular—have written to wish their patrons a happy birthday without having to pay royalties to Warner/Chappell. The songs are sometimes performed dutifully, with rolled eyes and limp claps, reminding their audiences of the power of corporatism and the demands of capitalism and the fact that all of us, one day, will die. But the songs are, much more often, performed with a generous gusto, with entire wait-staffs assembling to announce, “You’re big time, big stuff, going far!”

Here’s hoping the restaurants below will continue their individual versions of the cheesy birthday-song tradition even when they’re no longer legally compelled to do so. Because, while the songs are occasionally accompanied by a little gift—a free cheesecake, maybe, or (as is the case for the birthday-celebrating patrons of Chevys Fresh Mex®) a bedazzled sombrero—mostly, they are gifts unto themselves. For the person who is marking the passage of another year, and, really, for us all.

* * *
Applebee’s is fun, it’s true,
Especially when we sing for you.
Good news is we sing for free!
Bad news is we sing off key!
Happy, happy birthday,
Today’s your birthday day!
You are one year older,
And so we’re here to say:
First you get your flan,
And then you eat it, too.
So happy, happy birthday,
From all of us to you!
Chuck E. Cheese
Clap your hands!
Now stomp your feet!
You’re a Birthday Star at Chuck E. Cheese!
You’re our special guest,
We all aim to please
You’re big time, big stuff, going far
Here’s to you, our Birthday Star!
Happy happy birthday,
From the Chili’s crew,
We wish it was our birthday
So we could party too.
LongHorn Steakhouse
Fried chicken,
Country hog,
It’s your birthday:
Hot dog!
Olive Garden
From the pasta we make
To lasagna we bake
Ba ba ba ba
We’re wishing you a happy birthday!
We hope you will remember
This fond event forever
We’re wishing you a happy birthday!
It’s like family and friends
At the Olive Garden
In the true Italiano way
Hey! Hey!
So if you’re looking for some fun
Try Hospitaliano
Have a happy happy day!
Red Lobster
Happy, happy birthday,
We’re really glad you came,

Happy, happy birthday,
From the lobster gang!
We hope you had a good time,
On this, your special day,
So have a happy birthday!
Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!
Romano’s Macaroni Grill
Tanti auguri a te
Tanti auguri a te
Tanti auguri, caro/a mio/a

Tanti auguri a te
TGI Fridays
I don’t know, but I’ve been told!
Someone here is getting old!
I don’t know what has been said!
Someone’s face is turning red!
Good news is we sing for free!
Bad news is we sing off key!
Sound off! HAPPY
Sound off! BIRTHDAY
Happy birthday—
To you!