It was a normal Tuesday in 2014 when my daughter, Li’l A, and I took what was at the time one of our weekly visits to our local Chili’s. We were greeted by our host who made his annoyance of anyones’ visit known with a huff as he collected the menus. He would rush you to your table and toss the menu’s in front of you. I found the ritual endearing. I kindly reminded our host about the colors and a children’s menu, it was not like him to forget. He looked down at me over his incredibly thick lenses, which led to an almost comical fun house illusion of his tawny eyes from my angle, “the menu is on this.” He reached across me to grasp at a strange foreign tablet device that I had yet to notice. He pulled up the children’s menu and then placed it before my one and a half year old daughter, “her menu’s on here now.”
“And the crayons?” I asked.
“The kids activities are all on it. Just use it.” His tone just as endearingly annoyed as wince we had entered the building.
I looked at the back of the device, unable to see the screen as it faced my daughter across from me in our tiny booth. At a year and a half she was already a whiz at navigating beyond the children’s menu and onto the games. I thought at first the idea quite ingenuous, but then the reality of it began to set in. Here I was a mom that didn’t really want to encourage my daughter to play with devices at the table. Playing with devices at the table as toddlers leads to staring at screens at the table as adults. I want my children socially capable, and something more for their life than the apps in their iPhones.
As the lunch progressed Li’l A ignored her food consistently reaching for the tablet and its games. She pressed every which button. At the end of the meal I was also told that I was to use the Ziosk to check out, which actually felt a bit relieving. Nothing seems to take longer than to wait to check out at a restaurant. I reached to swipe my card, only to find that the screen had turned black. My waiter who typically exhibited the patience of a saint became quite pensive. “You have to use that, I can’t swipe your card.”
“Well it was handed to my toddler, I was told she has to use it, and now it doesn’t work.” Reluctantly he took my card, I mean honestly we both know there was no arguing the facts.
The next visit I made with a friend and her daughter. Once again our host huffed as he reached for our menus and as we sat the Ziosk was placed by the host directly in front of our daughters. Suddenly a new issue presented itself, as opposed to simple crayons and paper, the Ziosk did not share well. The girls fought over the device until the screen once again turned to an unresponsive black. Once again my usual waiter found himself in the same predicament but this time mentioned to me that running my card physically would cause him trouble with his manager. Suddenly, this Shopgirl’s mild annoyance with the device was becoming outrage. I have made my concern for the extinction of customer service through technology known time and time again. Are these machines supposed to serve as replacements for true customer service? Once again he took our cards.
My third visit was with my octogenarian grandmother. Like many southern women her age she witnessed hardship through her childhood, and found her own way in a time when women in the business world was not quite as old hat as it is today. The visit went like most where they placed the device in front of Li’l A once more, but this time the screen did not go blank. When it came time to pay our ticket my grandmother decided to begin a silent protest. She refused to use the machine. The waitress explained that she was not allowed to take our card, that it was against her manager’s policy, and so of course there became the big hullaballoo of dealing now with a waitress and a manager. “Do you not understand that these machines make your job obsolete,” my grandmother urged.
As a result we received a printed receipt and on it she discovered a mysterious charge for $1.99. “What’s a Ziosk,” she asked. The waitress explained that when my daughter pressed the game button that flashes wildly as an ad to the side of the children’s menu they place in front of her each visit, that we are charged two dollars. Suddenly the novelty of these machines turned my stomach into knots. The tactics of this entire operation made me feel uneasy and quite honestly for lack of a better term gypped.
Since that visit a year and a half ago, I’ve visited Chili’s maybe three times. This past Sunday was one of those times. And I was appalled that after two years nothing has changed in the way this is carried out. I now have two daughters, and once again the hostess placed the Ziosk directly in front of Li’l A who is now three and a half. I noticed this time the the ad on the side of the children’s menu still remains, so in the five seconds it took me to turn to offer Baby K a sip of lemonade, Li’l A was swift to hit the ad and be taken to The Game of Life. Frustration filled my being, why was there not at least a screen asking some sort of security question for parental consent? And then came the tears from Baby K as she jealously coveted the flashing screen that her sister possessed. “I wish we even had crayons to offer,” our hostess said. Thanks Judas, I thought, recalling that she was the one who placed the device in front of my three year old to begin with. My husband looked over to find the game on the screen and it was quite the scene of him lecturing our three-year-old for opening the games. And a series of complaints at her when the bill came, reading once again a Ziosk fee of $1.99.
I don’t understand how nothing has changed. I have read of a lawsuit that has been placed upon Chili’s over this issue, leaving me a little at ease, like I’m not the only mom who feels this way. But honestly how can they with good conscience carry on this practice? What do you think? Anyone with similar experiences?