Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Arianna Hill and her "Broken" Cheeseburger - Good for Chili's!

Arianna Hill kissing her "fixed" burger. Photo by Anna Maclean
I like stories to which I can relate. And when I read this story, about which many of you may have already heard, about autistic 7-year-old Arianna Hill in Midvale, Utah's Chili's restaurant who was brought the "broken" cheeseburger, I found myself nodding. I also found myself thinking, yet again, about how many issues arise in life (and not just in interactions with disabled people) because we make assumptions (myself included...I can't tell you how many times I said to people I supported, particularly in the early stages of my career, "I made an assumption and I apologize. I'll do my best not to do it again.").

Arianna Hill's whose sister, Anna MacLean, took her to Chili's last weekend before going to see the Easter Bunny. Arianna Hill ordered a hamburger which server Lauren Wells cut in half. Chili's does this with children's burgers to make them easier for the children to eat and to see that the burger is cooked to the right temperature. However, when Arianna Hill received her burger, she declared it "broken".

Seeing that this seemed to have put a damper on Arianna Hill's earlier high spirits, Wells ordered another another burger for the girl free of charge. Manager Brad Cattermole apologized personally to her, brought her some free fries to enjoy with her burger, and all was well.

MacLean was very impressed, saying that Arianna Hill "has to have certain things in a particular order at all times. One slight change in her routine can change the course of the day instantly," and that she "did NOT expect such kind and compassionate mannerisms from Lauren and Bradley" given what she's heard that other autistic families and their children have experienced in restaurants.

"No Butter, Please"

How can I relate to this? Besides knowing what's like to have to say, "I made an assumption and I'm sorry," I've sent back food in restaurants because of assumptions. Not often, by any means - I'm part of a family that loves food and that isn't all that picky. There are very few things for which I'll send back food in a restaurant, or not eat it if I've ordered it. I'll definitely send it back if it's undercooked (especially meat; I've had food poisoning and I don't want it again, thanks).

But I will send back sandwiches that have come with butter or margarine on them.  I don't like butter or margarine on bread at all, and I really just don't like putting myself in positions where I even have to try to choke it down, Something about the texture makes it just...yucky. Most times I remember to tell servers, "No butter, please," but I occasionally forget. Most restaurants are very accommodating and will make me a new sandwich (and more and more avoid the issue altogether by just not putting butter or margarine on sandwiches anymore) They seem to see that it's an assumption that everyone likes butter or margarine on their sandwiches, the same way that Wells and Cattermole realized that they'd made an assumption that all children want their burgers cut in half.

Arianna Hill - Good Job, Chili's

What I really like about this story is that Arianna Hill and her sister weren't judged because her request was unconventional. It would be easy enough for Wells and Cattermole to say to the family, "What's the difference? Why does her burger have to be in one piece instead of cut up?". But they didn't. They saw that a customer was unhappy and they took (what turned to out be very easy) steps to rectify the situation. And that's what the bulk of accommodating disabled customers come down to - not hugely expensive changes to a physical building (although these are important), but small actions every day on behalf of all employees.

Including adoption of a policy where staff ask rather than assume:

  • Ask the customer if they found everything that they wanted, rather than assume. He might have some disability that prevented him from reading signs, reaching items on high shelves, hearing store announcements, etcetera, that made it difficult to get everything that he came in for. 

  • Ask someone who looks a little lost, "Can I help you find something?" She might be feeling overwhelmed by all the sensory information in the store.

  • In Arianna Hill's case asking, "Would you like your burger cut in half?" would have been a good way to "ask, not assume."  But good for Chili's for handling it the way they did.

Disabled people spend money at stores and restaurants too, and we talk about the places that are particularly aware or especially unaware of our needs. It's worth it, in my opinion, for especially large corporations to insist that their staff training includes disability sensitivity training.  Because all people in the restaurant business business, in the ideal world, should have handled the situation with Arianna Hill and her "broken" cheeseburger as well as Lauren Wells and Brad Cattermole of the Chili's in Midvale, Utah did.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, good for Chili's. I'll have to go have dinner there.