Chili’s Latest Restaurant Concept: A Review

Chili’s Lover

IF YOU HAVE VISITED A Chili’s restaurant lately, you have undoubtedly noticed a difference between the exterior and interior design of Dallas-based Chili’s today versus the Chili’s restaurant we once knew.

THE EXTERIOR OF Chili’s latest restaurant scheme resembles Italian fast-food chain Fazoli’s, headquartered in Kentucky, while the interior of Chili’s latest restaurant design appears to be a sibling to the ever-boring (and also Texas-based)  Cheddar’s restaurant.

IT IS HARD TO fathom that the interior and exterior of Chili’s restaurants have reached such a mundane existence.  However, the new design concept, implemented as early as, is seemingly here to stay.  We had hoped that the latest rebranding campaign was simply a test and would not be forced upon all existing Chili’s restaurants, yet, that does not appear to be the case.  Both old and newly installed Chili’s Grill & Bar restaurants are (yawn) looking more like a jazzy I-Hop — pancakes not included.

NORMAN BRINKER, the founder of Chili’s, definitely had more exciting things in mind when he started Chili’s Grill & Bar Restaurant franchise.

IN THE 1970s, when Chili’s first hit the scene, food servers carried up to eight wicker baskets holding either a burger (such as the tempting “Verde Burger”), Buffalo wings, or “Freds” (Chili’s lingo for fried mozzarella cheese sticks) on a single extended arm.  Sure, it was schtick, but the sheer audacity of handling a customer’s food with such wild abandon drew patrons in.

GUESTS WERE likewise awed by the infamous ability of a Chili’s food server to carry up to 6 mugs of cold beverages in a single grasp – no small feat, as back in the day, those mugs were made of solid glass; not plastic, like many mugs used today (beer, however, is still delivered in glass mugs at most Chili’s.)

WHILE RETIRING the stylish flair of serving food reflects a more cautious era, what has happened to the fun and enthusiastic interior of Chili’s restaurants?  Where are the terra cotta planters shaped like fish, turtles, and goat-like creatures?  We miss the Saltillo tile floors and Mexican cantina-style table tops in addition to the funky lamps hanging over each table.

ALTHOUGH a few framed, candid photographs of folks are still on display at a few Chili’s locations, posters depicting the famous Terlingua Chili Cook-off are almost non-existent.

Additionally, gone are the unique items filling decorated shelves throughout the restaurant.  Yep, no more “funk shelves,” as those jam-packed ledges of nostalgia were called by those in the know.  It seems the days are gone when patrons could dine while gazing upon antique cowboy boots, Braniff model airplanes, radios and cameras of days gone by, bowling pins, and a six-pack-sized, wooden flying monkey painted in festive colors.

WHILE WE ARE dismayed at the route Chili’s restaurants are taking with appearance and atmosphere, we are also disheartened at the direction Chili’s menu is heading.

CAN YOU SAY CHEESE? Chili’s restaurant menu contains an awful lot of food dripping in cheese. Cheese sauce, cheese blends, bleu cheese crumbles, shredded cheese — it is too much cheese to mention.  We are blowing up like a puffer fish just thinking about it.

The visual on Chili’s latest menu is also jarring. Why are there so many enlarged photographs of food? Does the franchise really think that people cannot figure out what they are ordering based on a reasonably detailed description of items listed on the menu?

Our last few visits to Chili’s Grill & Bar Restaurant revealed that perhaps the menu at Chili’s is designed the way it is because the food servers are not aware of precisely what is in each menu item.  After all, who could remember all of those different kinds of cheese?  With the dumbed-down, “here’s a giant picture” menu, the food server does not have to educate the customer, when asked, about what they are ordering because, supposedly, the enlarged photos help the guest “see” menu offerings.  As a result, the effectiveness of the food servers at Chili’s appear to be greatly reduced; which is a shame as the food server was once known as Chili’s greatest asset.  Where else could you learn exactly what was on a Frisco Salad (which is no longer on the menu – – but it was delicious)?

We visited our local Chili’s a few days ago and asked the food server just 2 questions about items on the menu.  Unfortunately, he did not know the answer to either question: “What kind of cheese is in the queso dip,” and, “How much does a regular Margarita cost?”

Although economics must surely explain the dumbing-down of their interior, it is difficult to understand why the menu at Chili’s has become so complicated and laden with heavy fares such as Boneless Buffalo Chicken Salad, Potato Skins, and a Hatch Chile Cheeseburger.

Our latest visit to Chili’s will not be our last. We will continue our typical once-a-year visit just to see what is going on.  If you have never visited a Chili’s restaurant, hurry and get to one soon before its charm is entirely eradicated.  And do yourself a favor — skip the queso dip, it’s schlock.

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