To the new CEO: I went from Eating Chipotle 24 times a month to zero and here’s the one change that would win me back

Max Brawer
5 min readJun 18, 2018

If you’ve known me for 5 minutes, you know that I Stan Chipotle:

Designed / eaten by the author in 2011

But at this point I don’t mean it in the cute way that friends at BuzzFeed use the word Stan, borrowed from the Eminem song of that name. I mean it more in the terrifying-third-verse kinda way — “We could’ve been together / think about it / you ruined it now / I hope you can’t sleep and you dream about it”. I spent a few years back in the day mailing proposals to Denver HQ, getting in touch with execs, and trying to work for corporate, too. But I won’t make this about me, I’d rather focus on the one insight I would do just about anything (blog?) to communicate up to the new leadership for their customers’ sake.

Psychology 101 students are taught that the brain can hold 3 to 4 pieces of information at once, especially under pressure. So why, then, does the first line-person at Chipotle always ask for your burrito’s life story before even starting to prepare it?

To be more direct, I’m referring to the practice of line workers asking an impossible-to-memorize 5–6 questions about components in your order from the start, which turns me into a bitter curmudgeon who fakes stalling, phone-checking, and deep-thinking just to slow down the process on purpose while secretly boiling on the inside. I imagine this is how management trains workers to pace the process, so this goes out to them. To explain, here is a transcript of my last visit (but really my last 100 visits) to Chipotle:

Chipotle: “Hi what can I get started for you?”

Me: “Burrito for here, please.”

Chipotle: *Just beginning to take a wrap out* “What kind of meat?”

Me: “Chicken.”

Chipotle: “Brown rice or white?”

Me: “Brown.”

Chipotle: *Still pressing a tortilla* “Black beans or pinto beans?”

Me: *Emulating the 🤔 emoji even though it is my 1000th visit, hoping that I can stall them until the first ingredient hits the wrap* “Black please.”

Chipotle: *Just now removing the wrap from the press* “What kind of meat?”

Me: *My future flashing forward in front of my eyes, coming to terms with the series of unfortunate events that will soon occur* “Veggies and chicken.” (If you’re keeping track, this is now 6 pieces of the order).

Chipotle: *Digging in the wrong scoop* “White rice?”

Me: *Thinking of a nice memory from childhood to keep a smile on my face* “No, brown please.”

Chipotle: *Scooping rice onto my burrito* “What kind of beans did you say?”

The saga begins.

Me: “Black.”

Chipotle: *Scoops black beans. Slides the work-in-progress to ANOTHER PERSON (!) WHO WASN’T EVEN THERE FOR THE FIRST PART LIKE WHEN THEY RECAST AUNT VIV MID-SERIES ON FRESH PRINCE* “Chicken.”

Me: *Calling out to new person* “Actually, that’s veggies and chicken please.”

Chipotle: *Adds fajitas With disdain, causing an overflow of the burrito, which eventually breaks and gets double-wrapped (not cool, they’re supposed to ask)*

…and that’s of course only the first half, but I’ll spare you. That’s almost 20 lines of dialog. Now, I don’t need cold-hearted efficiency — quite the opposite, I’ve made good friends with managers and team members at the locations I used to frequent by filling in the blank space with good chats. But it was blank space left by taking things one step at a time.

But the current, more-common, 20-line experience underscores one thing that always broke my heart: we’re all treated as if it’s our first time there even though Chipotle is 25 years old. This treatment is so well-known, there’s merchandise with memes about it:

This first-timer treatment sends the message that Chipotle doesn’t reward your loyalty, even on the 100th or 1000th visit. This leads to boredom with the same old experience as opposed to the spiciness of a rewards program or some other gamification (remember McDonald’s Monopoly?). The one change I hope to see? Treat customers like old friends rather than newbies.

Consider Dos Toros, Chipotle’s competitor in New York, in contrast. On my last visit, the final line worker, recognizing me, said “how’s it going man? You want guac?”. I declined. “No no, on me, why not take some?” he added. His proverbial avocado fist-bump with me probably cost the company 80 cents, but made me feel like Leo in the first part of Titanic when he sneaks onto the big boat and hangs out with fancy women, whereas my last double-wrapped Chipotle experience was more akin to drifting through the Atlantic Ocean on a door.

I will be fair and say that maybe Chipotle doesn’t need to cater to my segment (younger male quick serve food lovers): I recall from marketing class that this was a famous failing of the Burger King rebrand. The weird-ass live-action King was hilarious to me as an 18-year-old-guy, but families are more valuable customers on the whole.

So this is my cassette I’m sending you, I hope you hear it. I am aware that you’re brand new, Brian Niccol, and not responsible for any of the above (but you are maybe responsible for the crunchwrap supreme which is tight). But I know there are plenty of field marketers at Chip’ who can test what happens when you take ordering one mindful step at a time. I will be at the 864 Broadway location, waiting.

If you enjoyed this, here is my never-really-published BuzzFeed List “33 Signs You’ve Ascended to the Highest Level of Chipotle.

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Max Brawer

People Tech & Analytics leader @ Atlassian, formerly Twitch, BuzzFeed, Google, Nielsen | Try his apps @ sheetswizard.com