Kids Eat Free at Chili’s Tomorrow…and why we’ll think twice before going

The “Kids eat Free” at Chili’s offer I saw on Facebook today just made me laugh, ’cause here’s what happened last time we went…. Caution – this is really long – not intended for a blog post but rather an exercise in narration. If you make it to the end, you should get a prize. How about free dinner for your kids at Chili’s tomorrow night?

Going out to eat with 3 little ones is a feat in itself. We don’t do this on a regular basis – it was only ’cause of the kids eat free at Chili’s coupon and a chance to see our good friends, Mike and Traci, who also have 3 kids. Yeah. The adults were definitely out numbered. But that wasn’t the biggest challenge of the evening.

We arrived at the restaurant around 6pm, and instead of the whole gaggle of servers and hostesses that you usually see gathered around that little podium thingy waiting to serve us, there was one lone gal.
Jeremy had called ahead so he gave her his name and she said, “Oh, yes!  I have your table right over there, I just need to – uh – have someone clear it!” And off she ran. She was back a minute later – with a bucket to clear the table herself! “OK, that’s a little weird” I thought. “The hostess doesn’t usually bus tables!”

Meanwhile, our friends arrive and we all stood in the foyer waiting to be seated. We could see our table was clean now, but the hostess was nowhere in sight.

Ten minutes after getting to the restaurant, we were seated at the table we’d reserved. At least 5 min. later someone finally came to take our drink orders. We didn’t really mind – we had kept ourselves busy rearranging the chairs and highchairs and 6 kids so the adults might have a chance at conversing while still keeping at least the toddlers and babies within reach. We ordered our drinks and then waited….another ten minutes when our drinks arrived and “Yes!” we were totally ready to order! It was 6:30 and I’d been running errands all day with a light lunch over 6 hours ago – I was starving! Besides that, the kids had nearly gotten to the end of what entertainment 8 crayons and a few sheets of blank paper could provide them.

I order the classic cheese-smothered chicken breast that every restaurant seems to offer, and Jeremy got ribs. (Sorry to make your mouth water with our food descriptions, but these details are important later in the story…much later) Traci ordered the burger with Avocado slices, and Mike got the Fajita Combo. We ordered mini pizzas and fries for each of the 4 kids who ate solids. Then we sat back to wait and keep the kids entertained for the 20 min. one expects to wait for one’s food in a moderately busy restaurant on a Tuesday evening.

I say moderately busy because there were tables empty around us throughout the evening, thought wait staff seemed stretched to keep on top of everything. Maybe it was ’cause there were so few of the. Through the whole evening I only saw 1 waiter (ours) and 2 waitresses, plus the hostess, who continued to bus tables when there was a need.

Regardless, we were enjoying our time with our friends, and only began to notice the increasing delay in seeing any food when our waiter came by offering refills on our drinks. I said to Jeremy, “I hope the food gets here soon – the kids are getting antsy and everyone is hungry!” I was beginning to realize why it’s not such a great idea to take little ones out to eat.

Finally, about 40 min. after taking our orders, our server, Bobby, brought out the kids pizzas. He was apologeteic – we assured him that we knew it wasn’t his fault – and the kids dived into their food. Oops, there was en extra fries (first mistake with our order). That was alright – the little hors-de-vours Traci had ordered of onion rings had been devoured long ago. The grown ups shared the extra basket of fries, assuring ourselves that our food would be coming on the next trip from the kitchen.

Oh, but it was not to be. I have never waited so long for dinner in a restaurant in my life. Our poor server was obviously distressed, and kept coming back (empty handed) every 15 min. offering us drinks on the house. The kids had finished their meals and were beginning to get out the they’re seat to play. The babies (well, my baby) was fussy, tired of being propped in a high chair for so long. And I was joking that I could have made dinner 6 times in the time it was taking them. Mike joked, “Yeah, the kids eat free, but what they don’t tell you is that nobody else eats anything!”

Finally, around 8:00pm a short fellow we hadn’t seen before came towards our table with 2 burgers. He set one down in front of Traci and asked who had the other one. We told him we hadn’t ordered another burger. “Huh – well, it says ‘table 11’, but – it must be a mistake” and off he went. Traci turned back to her burger to inspect it. She liked the look of the avocado slices – they were fresh and green on top of – “Hmm – this doesn’t look like beef.” She picked off a bit of the ‘meat’ and nibbled it. “Yup – this is a bean burger” she said, laughing. We all sat staring at her burger (there was no other food on the table) until a server came in sight.

“This isn’t the burger I ordered” Traci told the little guy. “Yeah, I know.” He was here to retrieve it, obviously having found where it did belong. He whisked it away, Traci calling after him – “I already touched it!” He acknowledged this and headed back to the kitchen. Jeremy made some comment about things being a little understaffed and hectic in the kitchen – perhaps the chef had been distracted because he was doing dishes.

Again, we waited, thinking surely it wouldn’t be long now. Another 10 min. and here came the little runner again, two plates held high above our heads so we couldn’t tell whether he had it right or not.

“Monterrey Chicken?” He asked expectantly. It had been so long since I ordered, and my blood sugar was so low, I had to think hard – “Ahh – Yes! That’s me!” at least I had my food – and boy, was I ready to dive in. I glance up to check on Traci. It looked like she’d gotten the right burger this time – but, dear me, did it look sad. It was very evident it had sat under the warmer, forgotten, for some time while the bean burger paraded around the dining room flaunting its stolen identity. The bun was well past golden brown and the avocados were gray and lifeless on top of a dried out patty whose blanket of cheese ahd nearly melted into oblivion. Traci just laughed – both us moms were just grateful someone else was cooking dinner and doing the dishes.

I sliced into my chicken and too my first bite. Oh, my – it was delicious… but… not… really… very… hot. I checked the potatoes. They were barely warm, and the gravy had formed a tepid skin on top, as gravy does when it sets a while.

“Honey,” I said to Jeremy, “My food is room temperature.” Traci reported that hers, also, was barely warm. Just then the server arrived with the guys plates. I wasn’t about to complain, afraid he’d whisk away my dinner and I’d wait, famished, another hour before they got it right! I decided just to eat fast so it wouldn’t get any colder! Across the table, however, I could here Mike’s fajita platter sizzling!

“Well, the got yours hot, Mike! Can you just fan some of that heat my way?”

“Here, I could scrape off my food onto a plate and you could reheat your potatoes on the skillet!” He offered.

We all laughed, then quit talking to stuff our faces while trying to keep the kids corralled.

My food was delicious, I have to say – thought maybe it was ’cause I as so hungry? I just tried to ignore the temperature and texture of teh potatoes and gravy until – “Ouch!” What was THAT? I gagged and choked and stuck my finger into the back of my mouth to claw out – what was it?

A piece of steel wool, nearly an inch long.

That was, as you might say, the last straw. The rest of the table looked in dismay at the sliver of metal on my napkin as I inspected the tender skin at the back of my throat with my tongue, feeling out the damage.

“See! The chef was doing dishes – while he was making the potatoes, obviously!”

Our harried waiter arrived at that moment and behind him, we saw the restaurant manager approaching. We showed him the metal and hew was horrified. He swiped it off the table quickly, as if he didn’t want the manager to see it, but also very carefully, as if he did intend to show it to somebody – probably the chef himself. “That’s so dangerous!” He gasped under his breath, and dashed off to the kitchen.

The manager had come to make her personal apologies though we got the impression that the problem was not with the dining room staff, and we didn’t blame them. She proceeded to tell us she was was terribly sorry for our interminable wait and that she was discounting our bill, and was there anything else she could do for us? She told us dessert was on the house and if we just wanted to leave ’cause our kids were tired, they would package it all up for us to enjoy at home. And could we please tell her how we got our kids to behave so well for so long ’cause her 13 month old never lets her eat in restaurant!

Dessert on the house, after what we’d been through, felt like the perfect way to redeem the evening. We oredered several brownie and cookie sundaes and continued to laugh and joke about the saga of our evening while we took care of tired children. The dad’s each made trips to the cars for diaper bags and I had to change two dirty diapers before I could enjoy my dessert. The kids had been good, though by this time the restaurant was quite empty and they were dancing along the aisle and playing wiht seat cushions. Dessert arrived, piping hot this time, and it was so yummy. I blocked my mind to how unhealthy it was form me and how late it was and savored every bit of the molten-hot fudge brownie and the fake-but-tasty icecream melting all over. I shared bites with Claire, enjoying the shine in her eyes as she relished the special treat.

Jeremy and Mike were looking over the bill and getting the tip figured out. They discovered that, after the kids dinners were discounted the manager had taken off th cost of our hors-de-vours and the most expensive of our dinners, reducing our bill to just $40 for the 6 who had eaten. We were grateful, and tipped our poor waiter generously for his long service to us.

we left the restaurant stuffed and happy, grateful for our evening spent together.

“We should do this again sometime”  I joked, “at an entirely different restaurant!”

“Yeah,” Mike agreed, and when we call head we should make sure there’s a head chef on staff that night!

We had been at the restaurant 3 hours and waited nearly 2 hours for a cold dinner, garnished with steel wool and cold avocados, but we’d made the best of it and definitely came away with memories.

8 responses to “Kids Eat Free at Chili’s Tomorrow…and why we’ll think twice before going”

  1. Traci Avatar

    Oh was it ever an experience!! But your account is very accurate. While on vacation (and eating at several restaurants with different friends and family along the way) I thought of the experience often. Whenever I told the story and arrived at the steel wool part jaws would drop to the floor, lol!

  2. Kristina Avatar

    We have trouble like that when we go out to eat at the Olive Garden. And it is NOT just the one near us. We even ate out of state and it was still bad. Ray and I have desided that we are not going to eat there any more. Last time poor lil ray almost got hit off the head with a glass full of ice and then our food got spilled all over the floor and it just went on and on. At least they knocked the price down for you folks. We had to pasy FULL price for our meals!!! Oh well. It all in a life time huh? hehe!!!!!
    Hope you have a better day.

  3. Farmer's Wyfe Avatar

    Yikes!! I wonder if everybody lets out an “Ewwwww,” at the steel wool part. That's HORRIBLE!!! Those places are all a little scarey to me: where you can't see who's cooking the food and what his cleanliness ratings are. :S
    Glad you made the best of a rough situation! It was quite an interesting read. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Serena Avatar

    WHAT a story! I would have curled up under the table at some point from hunger. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Oh my word – your children must be saints! We went to Chili's, once, before we had children.
    Our order got “lost”, then our server finished her shift and went home. After that, no one was assigned our table, and the other servers were way too busy to be flagged down. It took more unpleasantness than it should have, and over 2 hours to get a meal…
    Like I said, we only went there once!

  6. Kateri Avatar

    I can certainly see why you are reluctant to take up the offer of “kids eat free' again. Sounds like quite the experience!

  7. Miki Avatar

    Oh my goodness Trina! I think you should have gotten your meals completely free!

    It kinda reminds me of the time I went to Ponderosa for the all you can eat shrimp meal, and ended up eating a deep fried cigarette butt… well I almost ate it. I spit it out after the first coupla chews.

    ugh. I still gag when I remember that meal.:-P

  8. Rachel Avatar

    Oh my word…that is quite the experience! My latest and greatest with dining out was when Jake stopped to grab me a couple small sandwiches to hold me over til dinner the other day. I got no mayonnaise or dressing of any kind on the chicken sandwiches and one had both bottoms and the other had both tops. We figured a blind man made them…so between your chef doing dishes and cooking at the same time and my blind man it's been quite the time! lol

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