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Portion Size: Is Chipotle destroying their brand?

I walked into a Chipotle the other day after not being in there for a long time, and I noticed something strange. The atmosphere was different and less friendly, and the whole restaurant just seemed very… stale and corporate.

Here are three ways Chipotle is messing up, and why it’s costing them brand loyalty.

Saw this guy coming out of Moe’s the other day

Saw this guy coming out of Moe’s the other day

See if you agree with any of these:

 1. Decreased food quality

Chipotle has written about how they only use organic when possible, and I’m sure that’s true, but they must have decreased the percentage of organic ingredients in their burritos because the taste isn’t nearly as sharp or memorable as it was before.

2. “Friendly” corporate signage

Chipotle’s strong point has always been its copy. Patrons would look at the menus and bags and would see testimonials from fans (probably some advertising firm) talking about how great the restaurant was.

When I went in last time, my bag had almost no words on it, and the only copy I saw from Chipotle were signs posted on the wall warning me that I was being watched.

Chipotle, remember when branding meant something???

Chipotle, remember when branding meant something???

Keep in mind, this Chipotle wasn’t in a bad part of the city, it was on 18th near a whole bunch of businesses, so why the need for cameras?

 3. Decreased portion sizes

Chipotle’s burritos are smaller than they were before. The reason for this is probably a decree from corporate about saving money. I bet Chipotle talked to some consultant group who told them to monitor portion sizes and decrease food quality without realizing the long term effects it would have on Chipotle’s branding and user acquisition. Now, their burritos don’t make customers full until after they’ve eaten the whole thing.

Not in the vegetarian burrito...

Not in the vegetarian burrito…

Of course it’s not fair to rag on a brand without offering solutions, so here are mine. Assuming Chipotle made the above changes to increase customer retention while increasing profits, here’s what they could do instead:

 1. Add a decent rewards card

Right now every transaction at Chipotle is the same. The burritos are the same size every time, the employees are the same level of not-quite-nice, and nobody rewards customers for coming back again and again.

In a closed market this wouldn’t be a problem, and that’s what Chipotle is used to. For a long time they were the only decent burrito chain place, but it’s not true anymore. While Moe’s still sucks, Qdoba has recently been making strides to steal Chipotle’s customers (free burrito every 8th purchased, $5 burritos when you sign up for a loyalty card, increased ingredient quality, and free chips when customers sign up for a card the first time).

If Chipotle can’t match these rewards, customers are going to find out about their options soon. Chipotle doesn’t even have to give away free burritos, just give customers a free drink sometimes or free chips. Both these items cost almost nothing for Chipotle to make, but the upgrade would mean a lot to returning customers.

Qdoba: terrible quality, great customer service.

Qdoba: terrible quality, great customer service.

 2. Make their burritos high quality again

Chipotle’s never been a low-cost restaurant, not even when they were owned by McDonald’s (who isn’t even cheap in some countries), so why do they feel the need to decrease food quality and keep prices constant to keep up with rising food costs?

They could easily go the other way and still appeal to business people on the go. Chipotle’s core demographic has money; if they’re buying Chipotle it’s because they like the taste, the atmosphere, or the habit, it isn’t about price.

That’s why Chipotle should raise their prices a bit, increase their food quality back to where it was, and, if they’re going to keep corporate mandated portion control, increase the portions so the burritos are actually filling again.

3. Remove the video cameras

Final thing Chipotle, why are you spying on your customers? Nobody’s going to get stabbed at a Chipotle in the business district. It doesn’t make anybody feel “safer,” it’s just another hang up potential customers might have about visiting your store.

Don’t tread on me.

Don’t tread on me.

Commenters, I want to hear it. Do you agree or disagree? Has Chipotle dropped the ball or are they on the right track and better than ever? Why do their burritos cause intense stomach pain? Let’s talk about this.