Dining With Denise Neil

Couple has eaten at the same Wichita restaurant six nights a week for 15 years

Ron Watson is a creature of habit, he admits.

He’s also someone who doesn’t want to cook — and doesn’t want his wife of 20 years, Diana, to have to cook after a long day at work, either.

So nearly every day for the past 15 years, the couple has slid into table 412 at the west-side Texas Roadhouse restaurant for their only meal of the day.

She orders the “Roadkill” — a chopped steak topped with sauteed onions and mushrooms, plus a house salad with Ranch dressing, no tomatoes, and a baked potato, no salt.

He orders barbecue chicken breast — or if he’s feeling a little crazy, the pork chop, well done — plus mashed potatoes with brown gravy and an iceberg lettuce salad with Italian dressing. Though recently, he’s discovered sweet potatoes. Turns out, he likes them.

The Watsons have been keeping their routine since 2004. The only day of the week they don’t go to Texas Roadhouse is on Saturdays, and that’s only because Diana — the former owner of the now-closed A Legacy Antique Mall — works late on Saturdays at Architectural Salvage, and it’s too crowded in the restaurant once she gets off.

Ron and Diana Watson have been eating at the west-side Texas Roadhouse six days a week since 2004. Courtesy photo

On Saturdays, they go to Hog Wild on West Street, get some food to go and watch “Black Sheep Squadron” while they eat.

The Watsons know all the Texas Roadhouse servers, and the servers know that Diana wants a tall 5:02 Amber Ale and that Ron wants a water with lemon.

They also know the kitchen staff, and they’re well acquainted with manager Kyle Hauber, who had their picture added to a “wall of fame” in the entry that features the restaurant’s other most regular customers.

But none are as regular as Ron and Diana, Hauber says.

“They’re kind of like our unofficial mascots,” he said. “Everybody talks to them.”

The ritual is all part of the order Ron Watson likes in his life. A Vietnam veteran, he dines only in restaurants that offer military discounts, and Texas Roadhouse gives vets 10 percent off. He still has some PTSD, he said, and he feels comfortable at table 412, which is a booth at the bar that gives him a good view of the door and everyone coming and going.

The couple also are regular enough customers that they know how to make the most of their money at Texas Roadhouse. Every Sunday through Wednesday, they arrive between 3 and 3:15 p.m. to take advantage of the restaurant’s early bird special, which is available from 3 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and offers a full meal for $9.49.

At Christmas, the Watsons noticed a promotion being offered that would afford anyone who bought a $200 gift card a free appetizer serving of shrimp on every visit for a year. They bought that gift card, and now, their meals start with an order of five shrimp on a skewer, which Ron always cuts into 10 equal pieces to share with his wife. (The kitchen mixes the couple up some special cocktail sauce, just how they like it.)

Ron has done the math.

“We’re going to eat 1,560 shrimp this year,” he said.

He figures they spend about $22 a day at the restaurant, and because it’s the only meal they eat each day, it all evens out, he’s decided.

Diana and Ron Watson have their photo on the regular customer wall of fame at Texas Roadhouse West in Wichita. Denise Neil The Wichita Eagle

“It’s just about as cheap as going to the grocery store, buying your groceries, coming home, heating up the kitchen and doing the dishes,” he said. “If your time’s worth anything to you, it’s about the same as eating at home but you get a lot better service.”

People who eat at Texas Roadhouse every day, however, do have to make some sacrifices to make it work, and the Watsons have made a major sacrifice: They don’t eat the restaurant’s famous yeast rolls that come free before the meal.

They love them, but at one point, the rolls were becoming a problem for Ron’s waistline. The servers know not to even tempt them with the offer of bread.

Occasionally, Ron and Diana will bring a friend or relative along to eat with them. But for the most part, dinner time at Texas Roadhouse is their time. It’s like having a date night six nights a week.

“She’ll talk about what she did at work while we’re there,” he said. “It’s just our quiet time together.”

Denise Neil has covered restaurants and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is the go-to place for diners to get information about local restaurants. She’s a regular judge at local food competitions and speaks to groups all over Wichita about dining.