Social Question

hominid's avatar

How is it possible that the past 8 times I have been to Chipotle, the person in front of me has never been?

Asked by hominid (7347points) October 16th, 2014

A few weeks ago, I went to Chipotle during lunch and the man in front of me had never been to a Chipotle before. In fact, he had apparently never eaten a burrito before. The general confusion this caused felt very familiar, so I decided to keep track of my visits there. It had been happening for some time, but I wanted to make sure I collected the data in a way that would leave my memory out of it. I found a couple of interesting things:

1. I eat way too much Chipotle. I need to stop.
2. The past 8 times I have visited, either the person directly in front of me or two people in front of me was paralyzed in fear, stated “I have never eaten at Chipotle before – how does this work?” I documented this via a spreadsheet. Visits were on 9/24, 9/25, 9/29, 10/1, 10/6, 10/8, 10/13, 10/16 (today).

This has me thinking – is the reported growth of Chipotle dependent on new customers? I wonder how a ubiquitous chain can find new people after all this time. I can’t imagine someone walking into a McDonald’s struggling so mightily.

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23 Answers

picante's avatar

I wonder how common it is for the person behind me to have visited 8 times in the past three weeks ;-)

Seriously, it does seem odd that you’ve had this experience 8 times successively. I’d guess their success would be far more dependent on folks like you who frequent Chipotle.

As to the comparison to McD’s—I don’t think the same level of confusion would exist even if the person was visiting for the first time. The menu items are common. Chipotle’s “unique” approach to a burrito can be baffling, even to those who experience it maybe four times a year.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I’ve never been.

Cupcake's avatar

Do you always go to the same location? How long has it been open? Is it near a university?

gailcalled's avatar

Not only have I never been, I don’t know what it is.

CWOTUS's avatar

Sales growth for a restaurant comes from several obvious channels:
1. Steady customers such as yourself spend more per visit, or
2. Steady customers such as yourself do business there more frequently (or both of those two), or
3. New customers enter the store (then see #1 and #2 above).

There may be other channels, as well, such as catering and banquets, if they do that, or other sales outside of the retail restaurants that you visit, and these may be much less obvious to the casual observer or customer. (For example, unless you know their business intimately, you may not even be aware of other business they do. They could have a contract to serve meals at prisons, schools, hospitals and other outlets, even though “unbranded”.)

So your two-part question has several responses:
1. Most likely, if you’re seeing “new faces in the restaurant” frequently when you visit, then so are others. Obviously, then, their market penetration is still low, and they are still attracting fresh new customers. This doesn’t mean that “all of their sales growth” is coming from those befuddled customers who hold up the line ahead of you, but that’s probably one driver.

2. Unless you drill down into the company’s annual reports or do some independent analysis, you won’t know whether the increase in month-over-month sales is driven by “new restaurants” (a huge driver for an up-and-coming chain like Chipotle’s and still a significant driver for even such giants as McDonalds), or frequency of visits or size of orders or “other business”. Most retail restaurants do their own analysis – because they need to know this! – and publish at least references to it in their annual reports. They do “same store” analysis, and “bodies in the shop” analysis and other breakdowns of sales, and you may be able to read that directly or do your own meta-analysis if you’re interested.

3. You didn’t “find out” that you visit the place too often, it was a conclusion that you reached. Don’t confuse conclusions with data!

CWOTUS's avatar

In addition to the foregoing, there is one other much less obvious channel for “sales growth” from any business, and that comes when the business is failing or changing to where the capital is being sold off. While that may become obvious in relatively short order, it’s not always “duh, of course!” obvious until the business is completely shuttered. I don’t think that Chipotle is in that trajectory, though.

anniereborn's avatar

I have never been

dappled_leaves's avatar

I’ve never been to a Chipotle. However, we have this whole phenomenon in Canada called “Tim Hortons”. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It is a phenomenon because it has a huge number of followers, with its own distinct language. Know what a “double double” is? If you don’t, you’re the person in line who doesn’t know in advance how to order anything, and you’re the person who can’t answer any questions asked by the server without lots of extra explanations. You just don’t have the shorthand.

I really, really hate Tim Hortons. I hate, among other things, the fact that they’ve removed the apostrophe in the name Tim Horton’s, so that it’s easier for people to write. But sometimes I have to go there. Sometimes, when you’re driving long trips, it’s just the only coffee shop (and I use that term loosely) you can find. So when I find myself at that counter, I will sometimes say “This is my first time here” even when it isn’t, because otherwise there’s no accounting for the fact that it takes 8 times longer for me to place an order than it takes the 90% of Canadians who believe that this shitty coffee is a part of their national identity.

Maybe this has something to do with your figures.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I have never eaten at a Chipotle. I’ve had their food often, because when it comes to catering, the chain is almost certainly the winner hands down for dependable, good quality, reasonably priced Mexican food. That’s an outright sterling achievement in this part of the world, because the competition is absolutely brutal. For dine-in Mexican food, there are superb taquerias with flavorful concoctions so marvelous, that the thought of Chipotle never crosses my mind. I remember sitting at the shop I prefer, dining on a prawn & steak quesadilla with cilantro & onions. There was a tv set there tuned to Fox. And there, sure enough, was the habitual idiot spouting on the “evils” of immigration.

Darth_Algar's avatar

I’ve never been to a Chipotle ether.

hominid's avatar

@Cupcake: “Do you always go to the same location? How long has it been open? Is it near a university?”

It’s surrounded by a ton of businesses and office parks, so it’s really a lunch-time thing.

@Dutchess_III and @gailcalled – Chipotle is just a fast food burrito place. Here in Massachusetts, unless you are in the city, it’s nearly impossible to find Mexican or burrito joints. Prior the suburban Chipotle craze, we had no options here.

I wasn’t aware of the complete lack of burrito options until I spent a year in California and returned to MA. I wonder if the fact that MA has been traditionally burrito-less is contributing to the general confusion among newcomers. There are very few places more simple than a burrito place, and they are all pretty much the same. Choice of rice, beans, meat, toppings. The profound confusion about what a burrito even is may be confusing matters. These are likely long-time MA residents who just haven’t been exposed. Five Guys burgers opens up and everyone knows what a burger is.

@CWOTUS – They seem to be doing really well. Obviously, repeat business is not a concern. And if they are hooking new people every day, I’m assuming they would be able to survive and further expansion and the opening of more locations.

Dutchess_III's avatar

They have one in Wichita so I know what it is. Is it really that good?

hominid's avatar

@Dutchess_III: “Is it really that good?”

Well, yes and no. It’s corporate fast food. But it’s pretty darn tasty. Plus, because we don’t have any other burrito options here, it’s really the only place to go for burritos. And burritos should be on every street corner, as they are in some parts of the country. It’s all pizza and sub joints here. And by pizza I mean New England Greek-style pizza, which is not good (has that bizarre sweet sauce).

flutherother's avatar

I had never heard of Chipotle until I read this question but if entering their premises instils such fear and confusion there must something badly wrong with their shop design.

downtide's avatar

I’ve never heard of Chipotle before but we have a nice burrito chain here which I visit regularly. The first thing the server always asks is “Have you been here before?” and if you say no they give you a quick run-down on the many options. I agree with @flutherother – there’s clearly something wrong if a person can’t figure out how to place an order on their first visit.

There should be more burritos in Britain.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I’m eating a burrito that I made, right now!

canidmajor's avatar

@hominid: The conclusions I am drawing here are that the people in front of you all must be from here, so the next time mention Fluther, I’ll bet it’s one of us!

I also have never been to a Chipotles, but I have seen them around.

CWOTUS's avatar

I first ran into Chipotle several years ago on one of my annual pilgrimages to Wisconsin to visit with my sister and my daughter at Thanksgiving. There’s been a Chipotle in Madison for a few years, so when I’d stop there to visit my daughter first, that’s where we’d go for lunch.

It’s not that the place inspires “fear and loathing”, but that there’s no handy 1–2-3–4-5 colored menu above the counter to order from. It’s sort of like a cafeteria-style buffet, but you build your own meal of burritos, rice and beans and other very simple peasant-style Mexican dinner options. Basically, you say or point to what you want, and that goes into your shell. (Unlike most buffet style operations, you don’t serve yourself; all you do is “choose”.) Since the food is unfamiliar to a lot of people who aren’t used to that kind of dining, the choices are not always obvious.

I liked it very much, but now that my daughter has her own food cart operation, that’s where I get lunch in Madison, even though I would still recommend Chipotle to people in other places that don’t have a Good Food cart. (And who knows? You just might, someday. She just started her second cart about two weeks ago.)

Buttonstc's avatar

Even tho I’m not a fan of Mexican food in general (too spicy) if there were a Chipotle located conveniently to me, I’d be eating there a whole lot.

And @hominid, even tho you stated that you’ve come to the conclusion that you eat Chipotle way too much and need to stop, I think if you knew more of the facts behind their slogan of: “Food With Integrity” you’d be singing a different tune :)

And why would that be? I’m going to list a few video titles to put into YouTube search (sorry, I’m on old iPhone; no links) and I think you’ll be a bit surprised at how seriously they take that slogan.

The founder, Stephen Ells, in addition to being a CIA grad, has a pretty unique philosophy quite unlike the majority of fast food purveyors.

1.) Chipotle Story
2.) Back to the Start
3.) Paul Willis Story

These are all quite short, just a few mins. each.

Just for starters, whenever possible, they obtain their produce from LOCAL organic farmers.

Secondly, even tho it started just with the pork, they eschew factory farming and buy their meat and poultry (as well as cheese and other dairy) from farms where the animals are pastured, humanely raised and slaughtered, and fed an all vegetarian diet without antibiotics, exactly as nature originally designed for them.

There’s much more and on their website, they go into a fair amount of detail about
each of their ingredients.

In short, Chipotle is far far different from most other fast food places. They are what we wish every fast food place would be.

It’s no small wonder that there is a constant influx of new customers. Their friends are doubtlessly telling everyone how delicious the food is. Quality really matters to them.

Even tho there weren’t any Chipotles nearby, I was first made aware of them a few years ago when the charming little animation video (Back to the Start) went viral. I was so fascinated and did a little more research about them. What a pleasant surprise !

tedibear's avatar

@dappled_leaves The reason there is no apostrophe is not to make it easier to right. It’s because in French, an apostrophe isn’t used to show possession. So, for Tim to put his shops in French speaking areas of Canada, he had to compromise on no apostrophe.

I think part of the struggle in Chipotle is that there are so many options that people get confused. It’s worse if you’ve never been there and don’t know what your choices are.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@tedibear No,he really didn’t. There are plenty of national chains, like Harvey’s that kept their apostrophes, and plenty that proactively changed their Quebec name, in case they were asked to do it later, like Staples / Bureau en Gros. You are quoting a popular myth, but it isn’t actually true.

tedibear's avatar

@dappled_leaves – Good to know – thanks!

Holey moley! I just saw a big goof in my post. write not right.

hominid's avatar

The streak ended today. The people in front of me had no difficulties ordering and didn’t ask, “what’s the difference between black beans and pinto beans?”.

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