Needle in Chili’s food; accident or extortion, still need to do something

We had some dinner at our favorite local haunt last night, partly because going out tonight on St. Patrick’s Day with a 2-year-old may be dumb.

I had been reading about a New Mexico woman who says a sewing needle pierced her tongue after she bit into a plate of ribs and mashed potatoes at a Chili’s restaurant and thought, I wouldn’t want to run a restaurant. Too much vulnerability.

The NM woman says she pulled a needle about 2-inches long from her mouth at the Chili’s in Farmington last July. The 23-year-old says Chili’s employees quickly took the needle, and a manager refused to give it back when she and her husband returned to request it for testing.

Consumers, if you want to pursue a legitimate claim, do not give the food or item to the restaurant – take it to the local health unit.

Restaurant owners – don’t hesitate to call on the forensic expertise of the state; they often have the expertise to separate accident from extortion.

The NM woman further said she’s suing the Chili’s chain because the company took 52 days to send the needle to a lab. She says she’s since tested clean for HIV, hepatitis and other possible infections, but had to stop nursing her baby in the meantime.

Representatives of Chili’s Restaurant and Grill and Chili’s Inc. declined to comment.

Ron Ruggless writing in Nation’s Restaurant News, says that restaurateurs who find themselves with customers claiming to have discovered foreign objects in their food face a fine line between hospitable communications and legal cautions.

A public relations professional who asked not to be identified because many clients are restaurant chains, said any foodservice operation can benefit from training staff to deal with complaints immediately as they arise, as well as consulting legal counsel.

Michael Heenan, a corporate crisis consultant and owner of Heenan Communications in Sacramento, Calif., said,

“What I tell clients is that in the midst of a crisis, when everyone’s anxiety is high and everyone’s defensiveness is high and there are personal hurt feelings about the safety of the product or the reputation of your company, that is not the time to find out what the dynamic is within your company.”

For independent operators without a corporate infrastructure, Heenan said the job is much more sensitive. “If you are doing it more or less on your own,” he said, “it’s asking a lot. It’s a very stressful environment.”

“The usual mistakes are of the brittle, defensive and unsympathetic nature. If you do nothing else as an individual owner, remember that you must put aside your anger and remember how poorly that looks to the rest of the world. They need to see how concerned you are.”