“On a day where we served more than 200,000 free meals as a small gesture of our appreciation for our veterans and active military for their service, we fell short,” said Kelli Valade, President of Chili’s Bar and Grill in a statement released following a 11/11 PR fiasco (Brinker). You can watch the event go down in the Facebook post that has gone viral, here. The abbreviated version goes as follows, a Trump supporter, also a veteran, suspected a man, named Ernest Walker, wasn’t actually a veteran, and that his service dog was not a service dog. This man’s suspicion led the manager of the said Chili’s (located a stone’s throw from Denton in Cedar Hill, Texas), to question Walker’s veteran status and service dog (Wright).
If you weren’t aware, you can’t question a service dog. It’s part of the ADA law that says, basically, if your dog helps with your disability, it’s a service dog. I worked with a nonprofit for adults with disabilities, and I am very familiar with this law. No place of business is allowed to question you about it, so if you believe the dog helps you and is worthy, you can bring it in. Asking about a service dog’s credibility is ILLEGAL, no matter what the instance, so that action was Chili’s first boo-boo. Their managers should know this law, and the fact that the one in the video doesn’t shows he probably shouldn’t be manager in the first place.
Full disclosure, I worked at a Chili’s in high school and had a very positive experience. My managers were excellent and I enjoyed working under Brinker, the parent company of Chili’s, and I do believe in their merit as a company. All of my experiences, for the most part, were great. I know this is probably not everyone’s experience, and I know not all management is great. I understand that. But here’s the thing I can’t get over: it was one free meal. The manager had already given this man a free, rightfully-deserved meal, as Chili’s gives to all veterans who show valid military ID on Veteran’s day. Why did he feel it was necessary to take it away? A single free meal, regardless of what it was, should mean absolutely nothing to Chili’s. Especially if he had a service dog, why would he question this man’s validity? Who knows.
But, in this instance, most people assume racism. Even though that might not be the case, it looks bad for Brinker at every angle on this one. Which, if you work for Chili’s or Brinker, is a big bummer. Like Valade said, Chili’s gave away 200,000 free meals, and made a lot of veterans feel appreciated and valued. And over 200,000 did. They left with free food in their bellies and gratitude for the brand. But, since one manager messed up, all of that work goes unnoticed, and one ruining just one veteran’s experience on veteran’s day is cruel, any way you slice it. I’m sorry for your loss, Brinker, and I am sorry for Ernest Walker’s terrible Chili’s experience. A GoFundMe has been set up in his name, and has raised near $6,000 for his “dinner,” and I have to think that that much money, from the goodwill of the internet, not Brinker, has got to help ease the pain. And, as someone who knows from experience that not all Chili’s are bad, take it from me: Brinker did more good than bad on November 11th, and while the public may never recognize it, 200,000 veterans are thankful, and that’s important too.
Wright, I. J. (2016, November 15). Chili’s Crisis Proves How Little It Takes to Sink a PR Effort. Retrieved November 17, 2016, from http://www.prnewsonline.com/chilis-veterans-day