This week, Monica and I visited Chuy's, a Tex-Mex restaurant at 2271 Gunbarrel Road, for some tasty Texas flavor.
I thought about not writing this one, but I think it will serve as a good example of how a restaurant should handle a frustrating situation. The short version is that we each had an entire meal and only ended up paying for our drinks because of a "kitchen problem" that delayed my plate from being delivered to the table. There were really no other issues with the meal other than not receiving it. The server boxed up my order, and we took it home—having already spent over an hour at the restaurant. Monica and I ended up splitting her plate while there, and it actually worked out fine in the end. Hence my hesitation.
I've had several experiences at local restaurants where the service was terrible and the staff reacted as if it were my fault. Chuy's staff was the opposite. Our server apologized for what I believe was an honest kitchen error and remedied it on the spot. They even added extra tortilla chips and salsa in the to-go bag. I ate the food later that evening and enjoyed it.
Curiously, we never spoke with a manager—I didn't ask to, either—during the meal. Nobody else but our server visited the table, which I found incredibly strange given the severity of the mess-up. Still, I appreciate that it was fixed, no questions asked.
Other than that, our experience is related below.
Coming from Austin, Texas, you have to imagine the competition for quality Tex-Mex food is high in Chuy's hometown. Founded in 1982, Chuy's maintains more than 80 locations nationwide, with Chattanooga's version opening in June. The interior is colorful, and the menu includes Tex-Mex favorites like enchiladas, nachos, quesadillas and tacos. The menu also boasts "big as yo' face" burritos. As you look around the restaurant, you'll notice a quirky, somewhat-creepy infatuation with celebrities, in particular Elvis Presley. I also saw an Oprah.
We arrived at about 6:45 p.m., and the restaurant was busy. We offered to sit outside and were seated almost immediately. It took another 10 minutes of us sitting outside for a server to visit and ask us if we had been served. When we told her no, she left—and a different server visited five minutes later to take our drink orders. It's a major pet peeve of mine to be ignored, and it cast an ominous shadow on the experience from the get-go.
We were finally able to order drinks. Monica got a blood orange "flavored rocks margarita," and I went with the classic frozen Chuy's margarita in an 18-ounce shaker. We weren't planning on drinking, but we felt like it after having sat there for so long. We sipped our drinks and nibbled on the endless chips and salsa. The chips reminded me of the addictively salty, thin tortilla chips served at another "C" restaurant, Chili's.
Monica saw a few friends and chatted for a bit while I sipped on my cocktail and waited on food. After their conversation—about 10 minutes—her friends still hadn't been served. They eventually got up and left. I'm not sure what it was about this particular Tuesday night, but Chuy's staff was struggling. It had been a long time since I'd seen people just get up and walk away from a table.
I ordered a combination No. 5, which features a chalupa, enchilada, rice and refried beans. Monica ordered the Baja tacos with fried shrimp. Her dish also came with rice and refried beans. As mentioned above, my order never came to the table. Thankfully, Monica is a lovely person and allowed me to eat one of her tacos. I thought the flavor was nice, light and crispy. At $10.29 a plate, these aren't the cheapest tacos in town, but they were tasty. Monica also enjoyed them, even though I'm sure she would've rather eaten them both herself.
When her plate was delivered, the server told me, at first, that mine was "coming out soon," implying a short delay. But apparently, the order was never even put into the system. Later, I was offered a chicken burrito plate that I declined.
The server said she would box up the meal I never received and that she would only charge us for our cocktails. I thought this was a more than generous effort to what amounted to only a minor inconvenience in a lifetime of meals. The extra effort we were offered led me to believe that this was not a typical Chuy's experience. Hell, if it were, they wouldn't be in business. Every restaurant has an off night, and I appreciate how we were taken care of, despite the issues.
After some shopping, I ate my enchilada while standing in the kitchen at home. It was lukewarm, but the flavor was great. The chalupa is still in my refrigerator.
Would we go back?
Ah, Chuy's. I had heard nothing but good things about the restaurant. But I wouldn't write off the restaurant based on this experience. The food was actually really good. It might be a few months before we're out at Hamilton Place again, but I will always remember this meal. And although it wasn't a positive experience, the staff more than made up for it by not charging us. We will definitely give them a second chance. I'm sure it was just a bad night.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.