Restaurants take great care when trying to establish a certain atmosphere. For instance, Taco Bell’s look is meant to inspire a feeling of “It’s 2 AM, and your relationship won’t last through college anyway.” For Ruby Tuesday, it’s “This is the finest dining this side of a store next to Game Stop.” For, Chili’s, it’s “WELCOME TO CHILI’S. ARE YOU READY FOR CHILI’S? GET READY FOR CHILI’S.”
It was the day after the day after Thanksgiving, a holiday dedicated to discovering that, one day, you will run out of Thanksgiving leftovers, and be forced out into the cold world to once again scavenge for belly gifts. My girlfriend’s parents, my girlfriend, and I had all decided, through a majority vote, to go to Chili’s for lunch. It was the first time that I’d ever been in a situation where more people wanted to go to Chili’s than didn’t. Most conversations about Chili’s end with ignoring the suggestion entirely, but the mob mentality held sway here. And a bunch of people making the hazardous decision to head to Chili’s is, by every definition of the word, a riot.
Going into any Chili’s is like going into the warehouse where the Chili’s corporation keeps their promotional items that they will later give to the restaurants. The décor is solely meant to answer the question “Where are we again?” and it provides an interesting contrast to the waiters and staff, who could not be less excited about wearing a black polo shirt with a pepper on it. They acted like showing any hint of enthusiasm would result in detonation of the Saw trap embedded in their rib cages, and when you’re being bombarded by constant reminders that, yes, you are indeed in a Chili’s, you need the kindness of others to remind you that living is worth it. Thus, the logo for Chili’s should read “Can you survive Chili’s?”, placed right above a picture of an impatient, crying child sitting next to their father, who is emphatically dipping a hot wing into ranch dressing, watching a football game, and ignoring his crumbling family.
We waited more than an hour for our food. So, if you were wondering “What’s so special about Chili’s? Do we really need another Chili’s story in this Chili’s-saturated market?”, there’s your answer. The place was crowded with people who had arrived in droves that day to try the Southwestern Eggrolls and it will inspire a great plot for a Gerard Butler movie one day, where I am played by that one guy from HBO’s Girls, and Chili’s is replaced by the Pentagon. There are two steps in waiting for more than an hour for your food to arrive at Chili’s, and they are:
- This is taking a while.
There is no reason, even if people are being crushed to death under the weight of each other and the six-hundred dangling cardboard chilies that hang from the ceiling, for a Chili’s meal to take longer than thirty minutes to serve. There is nothing on the menu that isn’t “that one thing that your fraternity brother could make really well,” and they’re all simple recipes, with one additional thing that will ruin the taste of it. Chili’s is obsessed with adding that extra sauce or ingredient that reverses the intended taste of the meal, and they’re incorrigible about it. I ordered the “Crispy Chicken Tacos,” and while their main flaw is yet to be revealed in this article, one of their many downsides was the sauce that coated them, which turned a mild-mannered taco into a surprise party for your mouth. Oh, and your mouth just found out that your mouth’s best friend passed away in a car accident. Delicious.
After an hour of leaning on one elbow, nibbling chips and coming to the conclusion that the person who arranges the TV’s in Chili’s has a phobia of bare wall space, my Crispy Chicken Tacos were placed in front of me, each partially slapped atop another like a line of little breaded tow trucks. I bit into the first quickly, and when I pulled my mouth back from the taco to chew, the whole chicken strip came with me.
I don’t want to sound like I’m being unreasonable by asking for shreds, or even slices of chicken when I order a chicken taco, rather than an order of chicken tenders that has been previously lost in a bin of tortillas and lettuce, but I feel like it’s healthy to have certain expectations for the food that you buy from a business where it’s everyone’s job to make better food than the food that you’d make at home. And I expected my Crispy Chicken Tacos to be more than one person’s attempt at not making Crispy Chicken Tacos. In defeat, I opened all three tacos, and ate the chicken strips out of them, along with the side of rice and beans that they’d given me, just in case Plan A went awry.
No one in the group was satisfied when we left, and it cast a shadow on the rest of the day. “Why did we go to Chili’s? Why didn’t we go somewhere else?” we asked ourselves. But the answer lay in the question, because, when you make the choice to add Chili’s as an option, your fate has already been sealed.