November 21, 2016
Chili’s gets hammered for shaming veteran
The casual dining joint where anyone can come for a fun, friendly time and some delicious Tex-Mex inspired fare. But things were not so good for U.S. Army vet Ernest Walker when he sat down to lunch at a Cedar Hill, Texas Chili’s restaurant on Veterans’ Day.
During the meal, Walker says, a restaurant manager came over, questioned his military service and took away his meal, which was supposed to be free to veterans in celebration of the holiday.
According to Walker, the incident began when another of a similar age approached him and accused Walker of stolen valor, insisting “they” didn’t let blacks serve where he was stationed overseas. Walker didn’t film that encounter, but he did catch the manager on camera, taking away his food.
The manager accused Walker of lying about his service, but when Walker displayed his military ID, the manager was unmoved. Walker left that day humiliated, saying he felt “embarrassed and dehumanized,” so he posted about the incident on Facebook. Within days the video has been viewed more than 50,000 times, and countless customers were holding Chili’s to account for the incident.
After viewing the video and seeing the outcry, the company immediately apologized, saying it “fell short” of its “goal to make every guest feel special.” The statement included plans to reach out directly to Walker and offer some form of commiseration.
Walker blamed politics. “I do believe that the election has changed the hearts and changed the motives of people so much so that he believed in his heart and mind after talking to the Trump supporter that I was stealing food…”
Chili’s never said what the manager “believed” but they did say he had been “removed,” and the company issued the following statement: “We are aware of the situation that occurred at our Chili’s Cedar Hill restaurant on November 11th. Our goal is to make every guest feel special, and unfortunately, we fell short on a day where we serve more than 180,000 free meals as a small token to honor our Veterans and active military for their service, hence these actions do not reflect the beliefs of our brand. We are taking this very seriously, and the leaders in our company are actively involved with the goal of making it right. Since the incident occurred, we have extended an apology, and we are reaching out to the guest.”
Walker said they were doing what they should do, but have still failed to “validate” him as a soldier. The following Monday, Chili’s said they reached out to Walker to do just that.
“…we personally apologized to Mr. Walker for the unfortunate experience in our restaurant on Veterans’ Day and thanked him for his service to our country … one of our restaurants fell short on an important day where we strive to honor our veterans and active military for their service. We took swift action and immediately removed our manager from the restaurant. We are now in the process of working with Mr. Walker on a resolution that promotes trust and healing.”