Saturday, June 15, 2013

Things I Hate About A Brand I Love

Everyone loves Chipotle.

While that statement may be a bit of an exaggeration, it gets to the heart of the love/hate relationship that I maintain with the brand.  I love their burritos. I just hate the wait that's required to eat one.  

I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.  During my most recent visit to Chipotle, I noticed two customers step out of line and leave the restaurant in frustration after experiencing another agonizing delay.  I feel like recently I've seen this happen much more frequently; would-be customers are saying that a half-hour wait for a burrito just isn't worth it.

Even though I decided to stay for my chicken bowl, my dinner didn't come without making some accommodations.  I've learned that trying to go there during normal dinner hours (between 7pm-8pm) is hopeless; so in a feeble attempt to avoid a long wait, I delayed my food run until 9 pm, only to wind up suffering through a 28 minute wait in line. I understand that it's highly possible that "my Chipotle" may be more heavily trafficked than the average location, but I think it might be wise for  Chipotle to examine its ordering process.

Online ordering:  As a customer, it's incredibly frustrating to watch meals being made for people who aren't standing in line.  They can get away with this when the restaurant isn't busy, but, when there is a line, the burden falls on customers waiting in it.  I draw the comparison to motorists who wait until the last inch of road to merge before a lane ends.  In each situation, the heavier the traffic is, the more it makes sense for people to take advantage of the situation, even if it's at the expense of others.     

Options:  Choice is the enemy of speed.  Naturally, the more decisions a customer is asked to make, the more stops there will be along the way.  While Chipotle's menu hasn't changed much through the years, the proliferation of menu items like kids meals, brown rice, handmade margaritas and tofu (coming soon) adds complexity for the employees behind the counter as well as the customers stepping up to it.  Although the proliferation of menu items are viewed by many as valuable new revenue streams for a company that is quickly maxing out on new store growth, the trade off of providing slower service to its customers is a major sacrifice to make.  This is an interesting dynamic to watch: Chipotle, a company that has valued sustainable sourcing of its ingredients from day one, appears to be caught up in Wall Street's unsustainable, scale-faster growth model.

Out of orders: The giant, red, emergency stop button of the Chipotle assembly line is pushed whe they run out of an item. It brings the operation to a screeching halt.  During a recent visit with a friend, I ate alone while he waited almost 15 minutes for the chicken to be replenished.  In the past, I’ve waited while the rice was being prepared.  It's obvious that the employees are spread thin and cannot keep up during the rush; one needs to look no further than the drink stations, garbage cans, table tops and bathrooms to see this happening firsthand.

Ironically, McDonald's, who once owned a majority stake in Chipotle, recently announced that it's adopting a dual point ordering system to relieve the its own kitchen chaos.  Perhaps the efficiency experts at McDonald's will pass along something for Chipotle to emulate with its own dual point system. 

Until then, it might be fun to put on our industrial design hats and brainstorm some solutions.  Keep in mind that a key ingredient to the Chipotle brand is preparing all orders under the supervision of the customer (with the exception of online orders).

Obviously, Chipotle cannot serve food that isn't prepared; therefore, expanding or finding efficiencies in the grill and prep area would be a priority.  Nothing will improve speed if they keep running out of food.      

Moreover, the final stop on the assembly line, the cash register, is the second place I would look to find efficiencies.  This final step has the potential to be the most time consuming, as the cashier is responsible for accepting payments, grabbing drink cups, chips and possibly making change.  For this reason, breaking this step down and adding a second register makes a lot sense.  Orders would be assembled with extras like chips, dips and drinks, and then handed to customers, who would bring them to a separate bay of registers to quickly check out.

As always, thank you for reading and sharing.  Feel free to make contribute your own Chipotle related bugaboos (early nominees include an inconsistent product experiences and a recent shift to cheaper utensils) as well as proposing your own suggestions on how to improve the speed and overall experience.  P.S.  I would love to hear insights from any current or former Chipotle employees and actual industrial designers.


Anonymous said...

Online/Chipotle app ordering is key. I hate waiting in line and you can input the exact time you want your order to be ready. Although you can't watch your food being made, I'd sacrafice that over wasting my whole lunch break waiting in line.

The whole 'food not being ready' aspect has to be addressed at a management level. Either via increased staffing or more competent food workers that know when they are going to run out of something before it happens. The staff that is usually working in these types of joints are obviously lacking something in their training. However, if more skilled workers were to be hired, the increased cost to run the business would be passed along to customers.

Since Chipotle is not a franchise, I think it would take a long time for company wide mass changes to occur as they most likely wouldn't be made on a store by store basis.

Just my $0.02. - bkinsella

Alexander Villeneuve said...

Thanks reading and sharing Brian - hope your doing well.

I agree that the online ordering makes a lot of sense if you have only have a one hour window. In fact, last week, I was in a Chipotle in downtown Cincinnati and saw that they had a separate kitchen and pick up window for just that reason. It was great to see so soon after I posted about it.

Yes, better training and employees would cost more, but I do think its manageable. Don't know if you have ever been to Chick-fil-A, but I think they're a good example of this.