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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dinner Report: Chili's on 1604 at Culebra - You are on Notice!

Let's be clear; I am a Chili's person. I have said it before and I continue to believe that for a reasonable price, you can go to most Chili's restaurants, get some decent food, and it will be consistent with your previous several visits, regardless of location.

But in the past six or eight months, I have noticed an extremely consistent trend in crazy service in the bar section of the 1604 and Culebra Chili's, and I simply can't let it go beyond this evening; Chili's, you people need to know that directly across 1604, all that dust and construction and loads of new traffic are several new competitors that are just waiting to get started on earning my business.

But let me just fill you in on our experience tonight. First, it isn't so much our waiter. We have had this kid before and he is a good, friendly waiter. The problem is with the rest of the people milling about as if shift change is like some sort of two-hour overlap process where nobody does any actual work.

When we walked in around 4:30PM, the place was empty. The hostess immediately went to seat us in the regular dining section but my wife asked her if we had to sit in the bar to qualify for Happy Hour specials. (Don't even get me started on Happy Hour!) The hostess turned us around and sat us at a booth in the bar area and aside from the fact that there were only a few people in the area, we immediately noticed that there was no bartender.

This was not a problem because our intent was to eat, but it was a sign of something bad. An experience we had on previous seating's in this same area. By the way, am I the only person who finds it a tad bit unhealthy that they toss the receipt for the drinks in the tops of the drinks? In other words, say you are sitting in the regular area but you order a beer. Your server goes to the bar, orders up your beer then walks away to take some other customer their drinks. When the bartender (assuming they are there) fills your beer to about two inches below the top of the tall glass, thus serving you the same amount as if your ordered a regular size, he or she then takes the receipt and tosses into the top of the glass so your server will know which table to take it to. I trust the ink is edible.

So anyway, our server comes by and says he'll be right with us then leaves for about 10 minutes. I notice that two guys, apparently contractors of some sort, are seated at the bar near our table. Both these guys are working the cell phones, but are kind enough to leave the restaurant each time the phone rings.
The result is, for the majority of the time we were there, these two guys would take quick chugs of beer, then be outside for 5 to ten minutes at a stretch.I trust they were coordinating the building of a new restaurant in Alamo Ranch while waiting for refills of beer.

I keep noticing the staff just hanging around, maybe having a meeting of some sort, and even though they are technically standing in the "employees only" area, they are in clear view of the customers. I could just tell that this was not going to be a quick dinner.
I ordinarily limit my Chili's consumption of beverages to either unsweetened iced tea or a single tall Miller Lite. Because of the unreasonably slow service, I was forced to order a second tall Miller Lite. This would have been fine had I not been waiting for an extra long time. And here is the real problem. If you sit in the bar area, you see everything that is going on in the bar, you know that you could simply get up, serve yourself a tall water, a fresh lemonade, or in this case, a Miller Lite, and it would happen in a reasonable time. If it was a case of a bartender constantly making drinks, mixing Margaritas or doing all sorts of Tom Cruise Cocktail tricks, you could sit back and wait your turn. But there was no one at the bar, yet three feet away, multiple Chili's uniformed servers chit-chatting and milling about like they were waiting for the results of a horse race.... and then my burger came. I went with the Jalapeno Smokehouse Big Mouth Bacon Burger. When cooked right, this puppy is seriously YUM! But if we mistake "medium-well" for "stick it in the microwave until it is overdone, then leave it on the counter until it is only slightly warm", it isn't that great.My wife ordered some mushroom burger and asked for bacon on it, but was then upset that her bacon wasn't the same real thick good bacon that came on my Big Mouth Bacon Burger. Bacon discrimination: Call LULAC.

Oh, I checked my receipt later. We didn't even get Happy Hour prices on the drinks we ordered. WTH?

Yes, Alamo Ranch is open. We Culebra folk' now have our own version of Bandera Pointe - no, better yet, The Rim! So let us count the competitors ready to take my money:
  • Logan's Raodhouse: I used to go to the one up on I-10 until Texas Roadhouse opened at Ingram and 410. This Logan's will be closer.
  • Mama Margie's: We enjoy the one on I-10, but this one is, say it with me.... Closer!
  • Ruby Tuesday: Fairly new around here but I've enjoyed them in airports and this is going to be a shocker, they are pretty much like Chili's.
  • Red Robin: How many times have I yammered on about Red Robin? And now I won't have to drive to The Rim. Hell, I'll pull into Home Depot (or the new Lowe's if they don't get their act together) and then pop in for one of those huge stacks of onion rings, and a burger with an egg on top.
Be warned Chili's at 1604 and Culebra, your competitors are calling and I'm not in the mood for crappy service.


sapphire said...

You forgot Lenny's Subs and Chick-Fil-A, for the value-conscious. ;-)

I have railed on that particular Chili's for 2 years now. We've gotten ONE good meal there, period. We used to give them "another chance" and on the last awful visit we decided we were done with 'em. Funny how I've never had a problem at any other Chili's--and I've eaten at a lot of Chili's--from Sulphur Springs to McAllen.

cb said...

Came across your blog by accident awhile back and have been having fun reading it. I'm a total Foodie! I also work at KENS 5 so I'm always looking for possible news stories from other people's blogs. :-)

Question - why are you still eating at Chili's? So many good local restaurants in town! I actually think the growth on the NW side is a bad thing because most of the restaurants are chains. yuck!

But yes, I do hate it when the waitstaff just hangout and talk to each other when people still need their drink refilled!

Dave said...

I'm always looking for possible news stories from other people's blogs. :-)

My wife's dream is to end up as part of Chris Marrou's Newsreel - perhaps I'll post video of her doing something goofy - she may be in luck!

Anyway, the more important point: We hit Chili's, albeit less and less frequently, because of the supposed consistency and it is just easy. No other reason.

If you make it through all the back posts, you'll see that we prefer going to places we have never been as a first choice.

There are lots of San Antonio famous eating places, I simply had never been to like Tip Top and Schilos, just because it was so much more convenient to go to Chili's. Obviously, we have changed our ways and want to spread our eating patterns, if not our girth!

Thanks for the comments, and say howdy to Vicky Buffalino (I'm her biggest fan).

Anonymous said...

The management at that Chili's has let it be known to the bartenders that happy hour is for Chili's to hook you on the food and slow down on deliveries of happy-hour drinks. (A ploy used in Europe on Ugly American tourists.) The money is to be made on food sales, not half-price drinks -- make them wait until they get hungry or get fooled into thinking the service will get better. NOT! We have found that all TGIFs have the same bad habit. The very last time we ate at the Bandera Point Chilies, the waitress failed to bring change back from $20 on a less than $12 check. After several subtle attempts, I finally got the waitress’ attention, pointed out the error of her ways, retrieved my balance, and left without leaving a tip. Kind of like spanking a child. Never again will I go in there unless I’m caught in a rain storm without an umbrella in front of their door.

Dave said...

The very last time we ate at the Bandera Point Chilies, the waitress failed to bring change back from $20 on a less than $12 check.

I'm sure the waitress just forgot - it's tough to keep track while you are busy milling around the kitchen yacking with other staff.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the yacking, you may be right, but I doubt it. I believe that it was the waitress thinking we would let it go and she would get a big tip.

I also got a comment from home on my spelling. In defense of the British "mother tongue," and regarding “Point Chilies” instead of "Pointe Chili's," and for the linguists, see the following:

Anonymous said...

Hi, It upsets me a little to hear all of the bad that comes from this restaurant. I have been employed there for 3 years and I wish I have had the opportunity to offer my service. There is no excuse for the service you had, you are going out and spending your money and you should leave feeling happy and full not displeased. This is not an excuse but an observation. The new opening of the alamo ranch is hurting and helping us in many ways. We are trying to staff our kitchen more and better train servers so that we may accomodate more guests. We are used to such a smaller number of people walking through our door, and the new business is certainly throwing us for a loop. I can personally say that I love being a waitress, and I wish your experience could have been better. However just as future insight, I understand how our economy is and I understand how you would like good service for your money, but something i would like to reiterate is that we get paid $2.13 cents an hour. we tip out 1% of our sales to our busser and bartender at the end of the night. If your tab runs 40.00 and we dont recieve a tip, it actually cost us .08 cents to serve you. If anyone has served before, its a difficult job, you spend eight ours running around and your face is the only face an angry table sees. Please be understanding and give us another chance to gain back your trust... There are some really nice servers out there who take pride in their jobs. Thanks.

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San Antonio, TX, United States
I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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