Customers are looking for good service at restaurants after years of staff shortages and pandemic restrictions.
Some have found it at Chili’s, according to the New York Times.
Diners interviewed by the Times say they are paying more for a night out thanks to inflation. Many restaurants are understaffed or lack experienced employees who quit during the pandemic, leading to poor service. Diners are frustrated.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, fine-dining establishments are trying to up their hospitality game, the Times writes. But diners are also expecting hospitality at fast-casual restaurants, and Dallas-based Chili’s seems to be rising to the occasion.
In the early years of the pandemic, Chili’s experimented with technology, such as a robot server, to handle the labor shortage and increase efficiency. But Kevin Hochman, who became CEO of Brinker International, Chili’s parent company, in 2022, rolled back some of those initiatives to give servers more time with their diners, according to the Times.
When Hochman joined, the number of “guests with a problem,” or G-WAPs, as the metric is known within the company, had risen significantly thanks in part to a lack of service at restaurants from staff, the Times reported. In response, Hochman instructed restaurants to relieve the burden on servers by hiring workers just to bus tables. He also oversaw a streamlining of the ordering and food preparation so staff could focus on serving diners.
“When you go out to eat you want to be waited on, and that hasn’t changed,” Hochman told the Times. Many people are returning to in-person dining after years of take-out, he said, and they are looking for “a fast and fun, inviting atmosphere.”
Just over a year ago, it seemed that many restaurants would simply offer less service to patrons. In early 2022, seven out of 10 restaurant operators said that they couldn’t attract enough staff to meet consumer demand, according to the National Restaurant Association’s annual State of the Restaurant Industry report.
Many restaurant employees reported that their job had worsened during the pandemic, between dealing with angry customers and filling a deluge of takeout and delivery orders.
For some restaurant employees, their jobs are getting better. Jasmine Owens, a longtime bartender at a Chili’s outside of Atlanta, told the Times that customers would scream and toss their food during the pandemic.
Since then, conditions have calmed down. “Things are, like, night-and-day better,” Owens said.
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