1 Month Review of Chipotle from an Experienced Food Service Professional

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Cowardly Chipotle Hater's picture
5
Average: 5 (5 votes)

I have been working in foodservice for 14 years. My father was in the business his entire career. I have worked in about a dozen different restaurants in all sorts of positions. I have experience in Pizza shops, tex mex, BBQ, casual fine dining, quick service sit down, take out, catering.... you get the point. I've been around the block so to say.

Applying to Chipotle I saw an opportunity to learn from an extremely successful business model that I have always admired. A focus around keeping things as simple as possible so you can focus on hiring people with the right attitudes and mindsets and not focus quite as much on their technical ability and education, which you have to pay for. I saw people that obviously had very little food service experience running stores and putting out a quality product, and I loved it. If I could have bought stock in Chipotle in 2006 I would have, sadly I had about $100 in my bank account. I was expecting to find myself in a situation where the systems were extremely tight and it was almost impossible to mess up. I was expecting to see a situation where the corporate scaffolding held up a group employees who mostly had very little food knowledge and skills. I was expecting to see the main reason for the success being an extreme focus on systems that made it almost impossible to fail.

Holy shit was I wrong. I mean like taking Ryan Leaf wrong. I mean Blaine Gabbert to the Jacksonville Jaguars wrong. I mean WMD's in Iraq wrong. I mean "we need the government to put out fires and build roads" wrong.

I could write about 10 pages of examples that were just mind blowing, but long story short the place is a fucking disaster compared to the "high standards" and "empowerment" that they try to preach in training.

High standards is NOT rolling around two carts that are being held up by third pans because the wheels are falling off. High standards is NOT stacking dozens and dozens of 1/3 and 1/6 pans on top of each other soaking wet. High standards is not allowing massive stacks overflowing pots, pans, utensils, and rice pots to pile up because you don't want to hire a dishwasher. High standards is not allowing nonperishable items to run out before the next order (like BURRITO BOWLS or PORTION CUPS). High standards is NOT running out of one of your primary ingredients for flavor on your meats that has a shelf life of roughly 10 years.

Empowerment is NOT achieved through being understaffed to the point where employees don't feel they can go out of their way to make sure the dish room stays clean and the sinks filled with water that is at the appropriate temperature and cleanliness. Empowerment is not telling employees that once "throughput" starts they can't move from their station to do ANYTHING.

Overall there seems to be a massive pressure from area and regional managers to keep costs down. It feels as though bonuses must be major parts of their compensation, and that is a recipe for disaster. You could almost certainly hire an extra staff member for all hours of operation at every Chipotle for ROUGHLY the salary of Steve Ells and Monty Moran. Obviously this would be way overkill of what would actually be needed. Food costs are extremely important, and yes there should be a focus on that, but it has nothing to do with making sure you have enough food and supplies to get through lunch on the day of the order. When you do as much and as consistent sales as Chipotle does, it eliminates a lot of the concern over things staying in the walk in too long. It is absolutely embarrassing to see managers from either our store or other stores running around almost every day I work, borrowing a half case of this, or a couple sleeves of that, or a bag or two of something else.

A lot of these systems I felt like would be in place are not in place as well. They have fantastic training videos and checklists and guides to reference, but in practice there isn't much that seems to make those things hold much validity. The hold times on products are never strictly enforced, even when food quality is obviously deteriorating. How we measure and cook our rice is absolute insanity to me. Measuring rice with flat and rounded third pans and using measuring lines on the side of 10 gallon rice cookers (In our case sitting on a cart being held up by a third pan...) is absolute insanity to me, when I consider that Chipotle had a net income last quarter of about 121 million dollars. Is it really that hard to get a gallon measuring cup and a scale?

I also agree with most of what is said on this site about the culture being complete bullshit in practice. I had a manager tell me that only managers can empower people. I didn't even really know how to respond. It showed such a massive misunderstanding on how humans create feelings that I didn't even address it. Trying to tell me that I do not have an impact on whether or not I feel empowered, and that my fellow employees don't have an impact on whether or not I feel empowered, but her telling me how good of a job I do and how much they want me DOES make me feel empowered... well I mean what do you say to that. I understand the idea between all of that, but if that is going to be the main focus of your entire corporation, you better be accurate with it, and it better actually mean something. That doesn't seem to be the case.

I feel that a major cause for this is a combination of their labor rate, their hiring choices, and their promotion choices. I don't disagree with each of them individually, but when you look at the big picture you see a problem. They hire people at a base rate just above minimum wage, with almost no one having an opportunity to start higher. This attracts a certain type of person with a certain level of background skills and knowledge. Of this, they only hire people with the "13 characteristics", half of which are synonyms of each other. These people are typically energetic, outgoing people, that can communicate well as well as enjoying hard work and learning. Thats fine, but some people that come off that way are really big fakes. They can play off knowledge and understanding very easily by repeating key words and memorizing important points, but when it comes to seeing the big picture and understanding cause and effect relationships along with the finer intricacies of WHY certain things are important and being able to extrapolate those things to other areas... well often times that's not there. And its even more dangerous now because the person everyone thinks does have this deep understanding of the whole is very good at communicating and is outgoing and also generally thinks they know what is going on.

These are types of people that are getting promoted into GM and Area Manager positions. People with very little big picture knowledge of the food service business. They can't necessarily go into an operation look around and pick out a dozen things that average employees wouldn't even notice are issues that are issues. They can't necessarily communicate effectively the real meaning of why certain things need to get done, and because employees are "empowered", they may think they can change a process without realizing the effects. They can't necessarily look at the big picture and say yes, this is how the process is supposed to be, but given my unique circumstances of this operation, in order to achieve the standards and goals that Chipotle wants, I need to pull a couple levers to achieve that. Or maybe they feel they realize the need for some adaptations, but don't quite understand the complete cause and effect chain.

PS: The chicken... I'll start on the chicken another time.