Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Why We Won't Be Going Back To Red Robin Again

Two weeks ago on a Sunday night, after a long day, my son and I arrived at Red Robin for dinner. This has long been his restaurant of choice because he likes the free balloons and he is able to order for himself because of the "picture" menus.

The "picture" menu is key to this story. One key learning tool for children with autism is the use of Picture Exchange Communication System, or PECS. This is the use of small pictures to be used instead of words to communicate. Kids will exchange them with their therapists in order to get what they need or even "speak". It is the tool that Lex first used to communicate before he started talking.

On this night, Lex strayed from his usual order of pepperoni pizza. He was studying the menu and pointed to the picture of spaghetti and said to me "I want the spaghetti, no sauce, butter."  So when the waitress came, I placed our order and thought nothing more of it.

Our service was spotty that night even thought the restaurant was half full. Finally, a server arrived with our food. As she put it down, I looked at Lex's food. I stopped the waitress and asked her where the food he ordered was, because that obviously wasn't it. She had brought him a bowl full of cavatelli pasta, not spaghetti. She said no, that's what he ordered.  I then asked to see my waitress. While waiting for her, I had to convince Lex to just eat the pasta, even though he knew it wasn't what he ordered. The last thing i wanted was him to have a meltdown in the restaurant over not getting what he was expecting. After some hemming and hawing, he finally caved and started eating. I was so relieved there were no hysterics or issues.

When my waitress finally came over, I asked the same question. She proceeded to tell me that the cavatelli pasta was what the restaurant considered "spaghetti". I pulled out Lex's menu and showed her the picture of the menu item, which clearly showed traditional spaghetti. I asked how they can offer a menu item titled and showing one thing and knowingly serve another. My thought process now was heading towards autistic children. I know many autistic children who simply need to have structure at mealtimes. If you show them a picture (thinking of the PECS system), you pretty much have to give them what is on the picture. Giving them anything else will cause hysterics, crying, meltdowns, etc...  I was lucky this day in that Lex decided he was hungry and would eat after just a little cajoling. I knew that this was not ultimately the waitress' decision so I let it go.

But I wasn't done. I had to find out what was going on.

While I was sitting at the table, I took pictures of the menu item and of Lex's meal and I tweeted them to the Red Robin Twitter account, asking them to tell me how they could justify telling me they were the same. This got their attention. They direct messaged me and by the next week, they had put me in touch with the manager of that restaurant. But the discussion I had with him was even more disappointing.

I recounted my experience with him and was given the following explanation for the replacement of the pasta: It wasn't the restaurant's decision to make the pasta switch and not change the menu.  It was the Corporate Office's. Corporate made the decision to replace the pasta and not change the menu because it was cheaper. So basically, they don't care about false advertising to kids. And in my case, and to all parents of kids with autism, where that could potentially mean a public meltdown, it means we have to deal with managing the emotions of our children, because we aren't important enough. Money is king, you see.

For these reasons, Red Robin has lost two loyal customers. I'm extremely disappointed in the fact that no one seems to care about pulling a "bait and switch" on these children who actually depend on getting what they order.


Anonymous said...

And menus cost lots of money to redo.

So very sorry that you had this experience and I am glad that Lex wasn't traumatized by it.