My Experience at the nightmare that is the Santa Monica Chipotle.

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santa_monica_sean's picture
Average: 4.4 (9 votes)

So, I used to be one of the grill cooks at the relatively new Chipotle in Santa Monica. Now, I had actually quit working there months and months ago, and at first I was so infuriated by how much of a piece of crap that place was I had this massive rant prepared, but then I realized that I just don't care enough about the place to put in that much effort. Then after some time and a bit of thought, I decided to at least let folks here know just how bad the place really was/is, but without writing a novel length essay about it. As a disclaimer, I will say that I quit months ago, so it is entirely possible that the idiot manager we had there got fired and things have improved, but I would seriously doubt it.

Anyway, let's get started. My experience started when I saw a craigslist ad announcing that a new Chipotle was opening up in Santa Monica, and that they were looking for cooks and crew members to come work there. Being that I was unemployed and I had more experience in food service than any other field, I went for it. The manager seemed kind of cool, he said how they have a different philosophy than other restaurants and really liked to promote 'sustainable' food production or some bullcrap like that, he also talked about how they 'do things different' from all the other restaurants in the business. Little did I know that for him and the rest of the moron's who run Chipotle 'different' actually meant WRONG. I'll explain that in more detail later.

So, I got hired, and went to the orientation with all the other employees who also got hired. At the orientation they had various people who would explain different aspects of working there. There was a station for cleaning products, one for HR related issues, one for chopping vegetables; all pretty standard stuff. However there was one girl who was in charge of teaching us about "the philosophy of Chipotle" or some such crap like that. She talked about how her manager one day ordered her to 'volunteer' on a farm(I guess the folks there don't know what the meaning of the word 'volunteer' is) I should have had alarm bells going off right there and then, but I was just too glad to have a job.

So we went through training, and everything seemed to be going well, we all seemed to have learned our stations alright, and we were all feeling good about things. I was a little put off by the excessive enthusiasm that they wanted us to have for things ("everybody... ONE TWO THREE, CHIPOTLE!!!!!") as I have worked for other companies that had similar mentalities about things and it too ended poorly, I have a rule that you should never work for a company that places too much emphasis on everybody being positively thrilled to be there all the time, it's unnatural and unhealthy.

Once opening day came and went, things quickly went down hill. About a week or two after the opening day our kitchen managers and service managers finally showed up after not being there for a single day of our training. Now, I didn't think that they needed to be trained in anything, they clearly must have known the procedures, otherwise they wouldn't be managers. However, they didn't know a single thing about how we were trained, so when we started doing things EXACTLY like we were trained to, they would start criticizing us on how we would do things. This was frustrating to say the least, as we had spent the previous couple weeks trying to get proficient in doing things a certain way, and these guys show up and tell us that effectively we have been wasting our time. This was only compounded by the fact that people from corporate who were there during training suddenly pulling a 180 and telling us to do things the opposite way from how we were trained. I guess it was just too damn hard for these guys to get everybody on the same page as far as procedures go, I mean you would think that that's what the purpose of those couple weeks of training was supposed to be about.

The kids who worked the line(the part where they put all the fixin's on your burrito) and cash register were quickly revealed to be the true weak spot in the store. The managers were always working with them to keep things from going completely to hell. They would never call things when they needed them to be put on the grill, only when they ran out completely, so if they ran out of chicken, it would be a good fifteen minutes before they would get any more. Same thing goes for stuff that prep makes, so if they ran out of guacamole, we would have to wait for a prep cook to make a batch of guacamole on the fly(a process that can take AT LEAST 15-20 minutes even if the prep cook is really fast).

Now, did our genius managers seem to care too much about this? Hell no. Sure I would hear our GM make a casual mention that some kind of notice had to be given before running out of a product, but that was it. Now, I had worked at two different restaurants before Chipotle, including one other grand opening, and any other GM would have been practically blowing a gasket after say... THE SECOND MONTH of this kind of crap going on. Not at Chipotle, I guess making customers wait around twenty minutes for their guacamole just didn't matter. The solution that management finally settled upon for this problem was making grill in charge of checking the line's supplies for them, effectively making us do their jobs for them. Not that we didn't already have a ton of stuff to do, considering that every single thing that had to be cooked at the store had to be made on grill, and there was almost always only one grill person to do all of this.

Of course these same kids didn't do too well on other areas of communication either, and again, management didn't help on that measure yet again. They would hardly speak up when making a call sometimes, so even if they did make the proper request for chicken or steak or whatever, we wouldn't hear it. To compound this, they wouldn't listen for a response. They would ask for a batch of rice and not listen for a call back, and then they wouldn't check on the table behind themselves to see if their requested item had been delivered. So sometimes they would shout "I need rice!" not listen for the call back, grill would make the rice and put it on the table and give it to them with the announcement "here's your rice!" Five minutes later they would call for rice again, and often times it was busy and so grill might not think it was odd that we would run out of rice so quickly, and so we would deliver yet another batch of rice, right next to the other pan full of rice that was never grabbed. Also, if for whatever reason the single grill person working there at the time happened to be away from his station for some reason and didn't hear the request, nobody would know about it, and so of course we would regularly run out of things.

We were also told on day one that "everyone does dishes" meaning that while prep was in charge of dishes for the most part, everyone was to pitch in and tackle some dishes so that we could avoid running out of clean dishes. Of course again, those kids on the line NEVER pitched in to do any dirty dishes. So we regularly ran out of clean pans and utensils all the time. In stead it effectively became grill and prep's job, even though they were the two hardest and busiest stations in the whole store. Needless to say, service suffered as a result. It's kind of hard to put out a batch of beans if you don't have a clean pan to serve them in.

Of course management alleviated this by DOING NOTHING. By the time I had quit working there almost six months later these were still problems, granted it wasn't as bad as when we first opened, but was still a regular problem.

For the most part management was completely incompetent. I learned that our GM had almost no restaurant experience, having only worked as a manager of a Starbucks prior to coming to Chipotle, and even then he had less than a year with the company before opening his own store in Santa Monica, this included the time he spent training to become a manager. At any other restaurant I've worked at, that's not even enough to get an assistant kitchen manager position, much less run a whole freaking store. Now, being that Santa Monica happens to get massive tourist traffic, from all over the world, you would think that the top brass at corporate would have put someone with a little more experience in charge, but apparently not.

Managers would show up late for their shifts all the time, sometimes hours late, and to opening shifts too. So I would come into work some mornings and have to sit out on the patio for over an hour or longer for the opening manager to come and open the store. They would have a hard time even considering paying us for the time we spent waiting for the store to be opened, even though it wasn't our fault that being on time didn't matter to them. Of course we were still expected to get all of our opening stuff done on time.

The schedule was regularly messed up, and I don't just mean that we would have too many people scheduled or somebody would be scheduled to come in later than they should, I mean that there wouldn't be the bare minimum number of people to run the store. We would be missing a closing prep guy, or a swing shift grill person, leaving massive gaps in the schedule which required people to stay hours late, or come in hours early or come in on their day off to fill. This also led to various other slow downs or screw ups as we would be short handed.

Of course it wasn't helped by the fact that the schedule would always be posted late. I'm not talking like two days after it was supposed to, I'm talking like a day or two after the schedule had already started. So the new schedule starts on monday, we would get the schedule posted on tuesday or wednesday, we'd just have to call in the night before to find out whether or not we were supposed to come into work the next day. Granted, this problem was somewhat lessened by the time I had finally quit, but still the schedule was getting out on saturday or sunday(it was supposed to be out I believe the tuesday or wednesday before).

To add insult to injury, even on weeks when the schedule was ridiculously late, our GM would rather spend time climbing up to the ceiling on a ladder or crawl under the counters to clean every freaking nook and cranny of the store, we're not talking basic sanitary issues or anything like that, we're talking spots which nobody would notice ever and which have no effect on how clean the food is unless you manage to jam a chicken breast into these spots and then serve it to a customer. You see, apparently keeping the store cleaner than an operating room was more important than not forcing the employees to keep their whole lives on hold while they wait for the next weeks schedule to be posted.

We would regularly run out of or come damn close to running out of various food products all the time. This was apparently because corporate didn't want us over ordering food so as to save money. Of course this doesn't explain why other surrounding stores always seemed to have extra cases of chicken or avocados or whatever to give us when we ran out.

We were not allowed to clock in even a minute early, again because apparently corporate wanted it that way. So I could be getting killed on grill, and my replacement could be a half hour or hour early, and yet all he could do was sit there and stare at me while I bust my hump trying to play catchup. And management wouldn't help me out either, because apparently corporate wanted the managers to sit in the office and watch us get clobbered on the security cameras rather than help out on the line. The only good manager we actually had would actually get in trouble for helping out on the line because again the idiots at corporate would rather the managers act like police men than actual managers.

Oh, and there were also the security cameras, they were everywhere, every inch of the store was covered by security cameras which were supposed to be watched all the time by management to make sure we were doing our jobs right. I love working for a company that takes inspiration from 1984 for their business model.

Finally, there was the system we had set up to do everything. We cooked chicken on a flat top grill. For those that have no experience in a kitchen, just about every restaurant out there will use a regular gas flame broil grill for cooking chicken. The reason for this is that flat top grills will only cook whatever is physically touching the grill surface, which is fine for things like crab cakes and burgers which sit nice and flat on the grill. However a piece of chicken is not that flat, and so we often spent a lot longer cooking chicken than we were supposed to because it would always cook unevenly. This would also prove to be unsafe as well as inefficient. Since you could temp a piece of chicken to be overdone, and yet there would still be cool spots in it. And thanks to the need to get things done quickly, we would often times not be able to check every signle piece of chicken we cut for cold spots before serving it. Of course we do things differently- er I mean wrong at Chipotle.

Every restaurant out there that dices and slices their own vegetables in large quantities will usually use special machines that work kind of like those things people use for slicing up hard boiled eggs. This would allow the prep cooks to prepare an entire days worth of lettuce or onions or whatever in ten or fifteen minutes, not at Chipotle. Nope, in stead we would cut everything by hand, so dicing lettuce; a job which should take a total of fifteen minutes, takes anywhere from forty five minutes to an hour depending on how much we had to do.

We washed the dishes by hand, all of them. Even though we probably went through twice as many dishes from the kitchen than a regular restaurant(making up for the lack of dining room dishes), which you'd think would necessitate use of a dish washing machine, but no. Seriously, I think that the folks at Chipotle corporate just wanted to do things the hard way because it was 'different' not because it had any effect on food quality. Which is a really stupid way to run a business.

The pay sucked, I made a lousy $10 an hour, which though not the lowest wage in the food service industry is in my experience considered about mid level for an experienced line cook(and this is in New Jersey where I'm from which has a lower cost of living mind you). This however was probably the highest non-management wage in the entire store. The kids who worked over on the cash register and the line only made about minimum wage or little better. This of course explains partly why they sucked at their jobs, you get what you pay for, and they weren't paying for much.

To compound this, pay checks were often times a lot lower than they should have been. People would regularly report being sometimes several hundred dollars short of what they were supposed to be. A friend of mine who worked there had this problem, management fixed this by again DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. To this day I still don't think he ever got that money. We were supposed to get either something called a "pay card" or direct deposit rather than a paper check. This was supposed to kick in right about the time we opened up, this never happened. I later learned that it was because our GM filed the paper work wrong(or not at all). Again, management resolved this issue by DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Things got especially bad one week when we came in one payday expecting to receive our pay checks, only for them to not be there. we later learned that apparently the checks were being mailed out directly to our home addresses from corporate headquarters in Atlanta. This led to our checks showing up in the mail often times on saturday or monday. And of course, no one told any of us about this ahead of time, and our GM didn't seem to care enough to call anybody about this, I had to figure this out on my own by calling the regional offices in Sacramento in stead.

Finally things got to their breaking point when my GM pulled me aside for a review and complained how I didn't have the right attitude, how I just didn't seem to care. I finally came clean and told him just why my attitude sucked. I told him that I got no impression from him or just about the rest of management that they cared, so why should I. I cited most of the things I mentioned here, and of course he offered me nothing but excuses for why he couldn't do his job right(he at least had the integrity not to bulls**t me on why he and the other managers were regularly so late, rather he didn't address it at all). About a week later he sent me home early with a similar criticism because I didn't clean up a puddle of water right away, nevermind that at the time I was washing dishes because we were out of 3rd pans again and that once I finished that I got right to cleaning up said puddle.

He cut my already too low hours down to 15 a week, so I came in on my next scheduled day, I went in, got a free burrito, and left a note in the tip jar telling my GM to go F**k himself and then went home.

On a related note, I found the indoctrination required for advancement in the company bordering on cult like levels. The people who moved up were ALWAYS happy to be there. They were incredibly excited about the food and the "philosophy" of Chipotle. Granted, they didn't require you to move away from your family, or shave all your body hair or anything that drastic, but as jobs went, it was really kind of creepy.

So, it looks like I wound up writing a really long rant anyway, but whatever. This was my story of the nightmare I had while working for Chipotle. I don't begrudge people who like the food(I actually liked it myself TBH), although I don't begrudge you if you hate it either, I happen to be pretty lax in my tastes in food, so that in no way means that Chipotle is good by any conventional standards, it just means it is palatable.