It has become a quarantine tradition. On Saturday nights, my parents order takeout from a local restaurant. Best of all, they feed me too (yay!). We have enjoyed some delicious meals from different eateries in the North Spokane area over the past several weeks. However, the tradition took on a slightly different form this most recent weekend.
Instead of ordering from a locally-owned restaurant, they decided to go corporate. The winner? Texas “Eat Your Heart Out” Roadhouse. Within the past several months a location opened not too far away from the house and how can you really say “no” to those rolls?
Around 7 p.m. this past Saturday, I had my excitement for the evening as I went with my parents to Texas Roadhouse to pick up our order. It was a culture shock!
Until that night, we had very tame experiences picking up our takeout. We would pull right up to the restaurant’s front door and a lone employee would walk out with plastic “thank you” screened bags filled with Styrofoam to-go containers. The transaction would take a couple seconds and then we would drive out of the lot just like we found it…practically empty.
The Texas Roadhouse experience was an entirely different animal. As we approached the restaurant, we could already see the cones and vehicles from a couple blocks away. Once we entered the parking lot it was almost like an obstacle course following the signs that led us around the perimeter of the property up to an energetic and eager employee.
“Hey guys! Spot 21!”
The individual Texas Roadhouse parking spots were labeled by small signs with numbers on them. No, these numbers didn’t correspond to a row of spaces at the front of the restaurant like a normal takeout operation during non-pandemic times. Instead, basically every single spot in the general lot was numbered and most of them were occupied by cars!
We pulled into our spot and watched the scene. At least seven employees were making runs to the cars. A couple other employees manned a cash register set up outside the main entrance. The employee who initially assigned us to a parking spot was sprinting around the lot chasing random cars. It was a hotbed of activity.
Amidst the chaos, there was a pretty solid system in place. Once in our spot, one of the runners checked in with us. Once they cross-referenced our name, they brought us a receipt with our order. Once we confirmed it, they placed a slip of paper under our windshield wiper signifying that we paid. Then came the food. No mass-produced plastic bags here. Our dinner came out in large, sturdy brown paper sacks with twine handles. What a waste of money, I thought.
But then I thought of other ways the Texas Roadhouse was saving money. As I looked around at the busy parking lot and the sacks and sacks of food that kept coming through those main doors, I mentally took note of potential cost saving measures in place…
– Fewer rolls baked. We ordered three meals and only got a total of four rolls. If I was dining with my family in the actual restaurant, the ratio would not be 1.333 rolls per person.
– No soda refills. Now I know people say there is a non-existent profit margin in soft drinks but you have to be kidding if you say that not refilling glass after glass of soda all night long doesn’t cut some costs.
– Forget about the peanuts. Probably my favorite thing about Texas Roadhouse (besides the large mugs of beer) was eating way too many peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor. The chain no longer has to worry about keeping the barrels full nor cleaning up the mess.
– Dishwashing costs, restaurant maintenance. Although the brown sacks and the quality food containers can’t be cheap, I am sure Texas Roadhouse is still coming out ahead without the obligation to wash dishes and thoroughly clean the restaurant on a daily basis.
– Reduced labor. Yes, the parking lot was busy with Texas Roadhouse employees going in every direction but the 10 workers I counted on Saturday night paled in comparison to the roughly 100 employees I swear I see inside the restaurant on a regular night during non-COVID times.
So while many local businesses are going through a nightmare right now, could places like Texas Roadhouse be thriving? I have a feeling that loss of liquor revenue might mean a big N-O to my question but I would still like my restaurant business people to set me straight. Until then, even though Texas Roadhouse is one of my favorite casual chain restaurants, I think we will probably order takeout from a restaurant next Saturday that needs our business a little more. Don’t Blink.