Tuesday, November 30, 2010

America's Finest Casual Dining: Chili's

What better way to bookend Thanksgiving weekend than with a traditional Thanksgiving feast on the front end and a trip to India's latest foray into casual American dining on the back end? Early last week we learned that Chili's had finally followed the lead of other casual dining establishments and opened it's first outlet in India last Wednesday. The restaurant, which we had thought opened months ago (apparently the sign on the mall indicated that it was "coming soon"), is located at Ambience Mall in Vasant Kunj in Delhi (not the Ambience Mall in Gurgaon).

Compared to other chains I've been to in India, most notably TGI Friday's (yep, they're here too, it's nice to see American companies trying to spread the obesity epidemic), the food was not only much better but a much closer representation to the actual American version. Had the power not gone out on multiple occasions (again, not out of the ordinary here), we could have just as easily been sitting in a Chili's in Schaumburg as we were in Delhi. Of course, I have an extreme dislike for all things Schaumburg, so that scenario would have likely never happened.

As we exited the restaurant, we were stopped by the franchisee for a quick conversation and asked for feedback. Upon sharing, we learned his goal was to make Chili's the destination stop in India for beef burgers. Kind of an odd goal, given the obvious market constraints, but then again, not something I had heard from any other establishment, so it's quite possible he's meeting an otherwise unmet need.

While the food (and the burger I had, for that matter) that we consumed was actually very good, the restaurant was having a few start-up issues, which you might expect from a five day old establishment. The staff seemed trained, but trained in a way that made you think they were following a script from which they weren't allowed to deviate. Having learned that many of the food items were packaged and shipped directly from the U.S., we were surprised to find that the queso dip had no cheese, which the last I had checked was a fairly important ingredient in the dish (it was all beans). When asked about the mix-up, we were told, "of course, this is queso, it was shipped directly from the U.S." There were some other order screw-ups: bone-in wings instead of boneless and getting chili cheese fries instead of plain cheese fries (as you can tell, between Lindsay, our friend Kristin, and I, we were healthily sampling the menu); however, these ordering issues could easily be fixed by having the wait staff not kneel below table height when trying to awkwardly take an order (which, based on the number of orders I saw taken was more a trained method rather than personal preference).

To the restaurant's credit, after disputing the queso charge on the bill (I wasn't about to pay queso prices for the salsa they replaced the bean dip with) they actually removed all of the screwed up items from the bill, which was unexpected but appreciated (it certainly impacted the tone of this post). The service certainly needs work (I didn't even get into the confusion between the numerous people working tables and the shared looks we had with other tables) and I can't see myself making a special trip into Delhi just to go to Chili's, but I'd go back after a couple months if I happened to be in the area and wanted a little comfort food.

With Thanksgiving, a trip to Chili's, an expat party on Friday night, and a drink at the Hard Rock Cafe on Saturday, it's safe to say I had more than my share of Western culture over the weekend. Sounds about time to get experiencing something a little more Indian, though this weekend includes a trip to a German Christmas Mela, so at least I'll be experiencing a displaced European culture rather than a displaced American one.


  1. You'd better get yourselves to the American Mela this weekend also!!! Might as well add it in :)

  2. Funny you mention that; we're currently stuck in negotiations for the American Mela. I committed to the German one and am trying to leave a "husband option" open for Sunday (we'll see how well I'm able to maintain what little edge I think I have).

  3. What no baby back ribs?!?

    I can't think of Chili's without thinking of the song in that commercial.

    I can side with them though, I didn't know what queso was until I lived in Texas for a 6 months.

  4. What no cheese in queso? They were right?!?

    And no ribs; not to sound like a casual dining addict or anything, but when I've been at Friday's here, they have ribs. Both domestic and, for about double the price, imported. I tried the domestic; not exactly the tender ribs from the Jim's Rib Haven of our youth.