What Is Your Service Tolerance Level?

Update: Soon after this experience, and prompted by all of my awesome readers, I contacted Chili’s via their Twitter account. They really went the extra mile to make things right, and I appreciate it. Check out my follow-up post detailing what they did. Thanks for caring, Chili’s.

Saturday, my wife and I had an exceptionally productive day and we decided that we wanted to have a little night out on our own. We have two kids and it’s not always an option to dine out without them, but it was late on Saturday and my wife decided to see if her family could watch the girls while we went out. The night was a go, and we headed off to find a nice quiet place to relax, talk and eat a nice meal together.

We normally go for the local restaurants for many reasons, but my wife is pregnant and you never know what a pregnant woman will crave; this time it was Chili’s restaurant, so we headed there.

As we got there, we could see it was pretty packed, but decided to go in anyway. We were told it would be a 15 minute wait so we put our name down and sat down to wait. When we leave our kids with a sitter, we both know that the maximum we can ask someone to sit our kids for free is about an hour so we never go too far, or plan anything too big on a whim like this but a 15 minute wait would fit perfectly into our plan to be back in an hour.

Question: Would you have waited 15 minutes for a table?

15 minutes came and went, then 25 and 35. Finally we were seated at a table that had clearly been cleaned in haste. Our waiter came by five minutes later, took our order then disappeared for 20 minutes, finally returning with our meal; an appetizer we decided to share as we had already been there almost 50 minutes and just wanted to eat quickly and leave at this point.

Question: Would you have waited 35 minutes for a table?

To our dismay the food was inedible. It was improperly cooked and looked disgusting. We couldn’t even eat it and when the waiter came by, another ten minutes later, to ask how everything was, my response was filled with dissatisfaction. The waiter picked up on this and asked what he could do, giving us the option to get a discount on our meal or order something different. I decided instead to bring our entire experience to the managers attention. I let the waiter know. He left only to quickly return, telling me that the manager was in the kitchen doing the cooking and it would be a few minutes. We opted again to wait.

Question: Have you ever asked to speak to the manager at a restaurant?

When the manager finally appeared, I told her about our experience. She listened, apologetically, to what I had to say, but when I was finished, she just walked away without saying anything at all.

I have rarely ever spoken to a manager about things like this. My wife and I are very tolerant. We know that people make mistakes, restaurants get unexpectedly busy and normally instead of bringing it up, we simply don’t return for a while after a bad experience but this was over the top and the managers response to my complaints left me puzzled.

After a few minutes sitting there wondering whether I would be served another plate or the discounted bill, the waiter returned and told us that we were cool. We thanked him and left hungry, disgusted and truly disappointed that our very rare evening together without the kids was ruined.

What do you guys think, was I wrong to complain about our evening? What do you parents out there do when your kids are with a sitter? (keep it clean please πŸ™‚ )

Image by iwouldstay

If you liked this, please subscribe to my triweekly updates via RSS or Email. Thank you!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

26 People have left comments on this post

» Money BeagleNo Gravatar said: { Oct 12, 2010 - 07:10:07 }

It sounds like you did everything you should have to the letter. I'm guessing that there was probably short staff in the kitchen which led to the manager having to cook.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:


I suspected they were short handed but when I asked exactly that, I was told no. I can't understand if they weren't understaffed, why the manager would be cooking the food but that's what I was told. This all took place between 8 and 9pm, it was very strange.

» @27andfrugalNo Gravatar said: { Oct 12, 2010 - 10:10:22 }

The last time (and only time) I ate at a Chili's, I ordered something that was much spicier than I had anticipated. I probably asked for about four waters and at one point the server said "no" to my request for yet another water and kept walking. Eventually she returned to refill my glass but I was so annoyed we just left shortly after.
My recent post 27 And Frugal’s First Birthday!

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:


When my wife and I were dating, we were invited to a Chili's grand opening which was actually a private night and all the food was free (Ok, we weren't invited…we showed up there unaware and they told us it was invite only, but they let us in anyway). Everything was amazing and we felt like movie stars, so because of that night, no matter how bad our experience is at Chili's, we will probably always feel a little nostalgic about it.

When a waiter puts on an act like they don't care, to be funny, it never works…

» thinktaylorNo Gravatar said: { Oct 12, 2010 - 10:10:18 }

No you were not wrong, but you didn't take it far enough. I would have called the general management on the way hope and spoke to them about this poor service. If people tolerate that mess, then that is what they are going to get. Do you want to deal with that the next time the wife wants some Chilis? I don't think so.

Besides, someone in that organization values service and would be appalled by this lack of professionalism in their chain. So I would have called, but my wife and I are marketing people so we do stuff like that and often get a free meal from upper management for sharing our experiences with them.
My recent post Real Estate Investing in Dallas Texas

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:


Well, this was just a couple days ago, perhaps I'll put in that call; not so much to get another free meal out of it, but just so that the general manager is aware of what's going on. I am appalled by bad service in an industry that is funded for the most part on tips.

Thanks for the prod πŸ™‚

» Matthew RogersNo Gravatar said: { Oct 12, 2010 - 10:10:14 }

In a situation like that it probably would be best to complain to upper management. I have worked in big chain restaurants before and usually complaints that get sent into corporate do get sent down to the individual store level.

The good thing about this is that in the end, if Chili's continues to treat its customers this way they won't get much business and go bankrupt. The restaurant industry is so competitive that eventually the problem will take care of itself.
My recent post Athletes Who Can’t Manage Money Other Problems With Having Capital

» Sandy @yesiamcheapNo Gravatar said: { Oct 12, 2010 - 12:10:04 }

I've had bad service before and wrote a nice, long detailed letter to headquarters with names and times. The response was that they sent me back a nice letter apologizing and an invitation to dine again and let them know my experience. They also send a nice check for $80. I was mad about the original visit, but they want a long way to retain my business.
My recent post Time To Be The Hardnosed Landlord

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:


Wow, way to go! I guess I am a writer too..huh? I could write them a letter haha

An $80 check would go a long way to make up for the $10 meal that was ruined πŸ™‚

Now I just have to find out how to contact their HQ..Google to the rescue!

Sandy @yesiamcheapNo Gravatar Reply:

My meal was 4 people so that gave me $20 per person to make up for it. I will say that it was about 5 years ago and the service was so horrible that my boyfriend never went back. I on the other hand, couldn't let a free $80 meal go that easily. It was lobster that day. πŸ™‚
My recent post Time To Be The Hardnosed Landlord

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Ah, got it. That makes more sense, I assumed it was just the two of you. Lobster sounds great, and free lobster tastes even better! πŸ™‚

» everydaytipsandthoughtsNo Gravatar said: { Oct 12, 2010 - 01:10:36 }

I would have lost my mind. Yes, I would wait 15 minutes, but after that, I would have gotten antsy. Your whole experience sounds like such a nightmare. Especially since it was a rare night out. If that were me, I would have been consumed with anger while waiting for my disgusting food and probably wouldn't have even been able to have a nice, pleasant chat with my husband.

I would be writing a MAJOR letter!
My recent post Medical and Financial Tip- Get To Know Your Formulary

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:


And that's exactly what happened. My wife and I tried to strike up conversation time and time again, but each time, we both went back to something about the restaurant. Every time the waiter passed without stopping and asking us what we wanted to order, or asking how everything was just got us more and more heated. It really just ruined the entire night.

» Kay Lynn AkersNo Gravatar said: { Oct 13, 2010 - 08:10:22 }

I hate when you get seated and no one comes to the table. After 10 minutes, I complain.

Sorry, your rare night out ended so badly.
My recent post Make New Thanksgiving Traditions

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

@Kay Lynn
Ah no worries, it happens. We will have more nights out..eventually πŸ™‚

» KNS_FinancialNo Gravatar said: { Oct 14, 2010 - 10:10:30 }

You weren't wrong at all! I think you guys handled it well, and the manager should have spoken to you and told you what she planned on doing to make things right!
My recent post What is the Worst Credit Card You’ve Ever Owned

» [email protected]No Gravatar said: { Oct 14, 2010 - 10:10:02 }

You were right to complain! The only way they can know when what they're doing isn't working is when you let them know. That gives them a chance to either fix it, or lose your business for good.

That being said, there are times in any business–a restaurant in particular–when a night might be so bad, so beyond redemption, that the manager and staff might just write it off and be unresponsive. That sounds like what happened here. Maybe too many people called in sick, or they got an unexpected surge of business. Either way, they're in a customer service business, and they have to take responsibility when things go wrong.
My recent post Computer Dying Try This Before You Junk It!

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

They did mention an unexpected surge of business, but said they were fully staffed which seemed really odd considering the lack of staff they had their. Maybe their staff was technically full as far as who was on the schedule, but they had to cut back because of economy or whatever.

I agree though, either way, if they want the business to do well, they have to take care of the customers!

» thousandairecomNo Gravatar said: { Oct 14, 2010 - 09:10:46 }

The big difference between your situation and mine is that I don't have kids or anything waiting for me at home. If I end up waiting a long time at a restaurant, there is no ripple effect for me. With that being the case, I'm generally pretty laid back and don't really care if my time is being "wasted". I probably would have wasted that time when I got home after dinner anyway.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:


You know, I'm pretty laid back too. Time isn't a problem, but I don't like being lied to or misled, and I don't appreciate the hosts never updating us on the wait time or status. They also took plenty of very pushy people ahead of us, which I can understand but they just ignored us.

Another thing that bothered us is that there were tons of tables open, but not cleaned off.

But, aside from not caring about your time, do you like to pay for things that are unsatisfactory?

By the way..I used to be carefree too..then I got married πŸ™‚

» FB @ FabulouslyBroke.comNo Gravatar said: { Oct 21, 2010 - 01:10:30 }

I have a very low service level tolerance. I expect a certain level and I don’t complain, but I never go back and I never recommend the place any longer.

I’m patient but I’m not a fool.. I keep my money to myself if it’s going to be a better experience eating and cooking at home.

» Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar said: { Oct 25, 2010 - 04:10:07 }


I love it, “I keep my money to myself if it’s going to be a better experience eating and cooking at home.” I need to live by that motto

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.