Remember when Chipotle was the toast of the restaurant industry? They were the top “fast casual” joint, a place Millennials flocked to the same way their parents flocked to McDonald’s and Taco Bell. Families loved Chipotle too. The impression was that the food was fast, but it was also “healthier.”
That was before people started getting sick…
The brand endured a massive PR crisis, struggled through lost revenue, then started the long, hard climb back into the good graces of their somewhat lessened legion of fans. It had been months of “no news is good news,” then, another devastating headline. Hundreds of diners were reporting becoming ill after eating at a Columbus, Ohio area Chipotle. When the food at that location was tested, a bacteria that grows on food left at unsafe temperatures was found… and that was just the beginning of the bad news.
Once again, Chipotle faced a PR crisis. This time, though, there was precedence. People were beginning to think of the trouble as a trend. The company had to do something big, something bold, and something drastic to show disaffected and disgusted diners that they were serious about food safety.
Recently, Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol released this statement: “Chipotle has a zero-tolerance policy for any violations of our stringent food safety standards… We are committed to doing all we can to ensure it does not happen again.”
That, of course, would not be enough. After all, this was “again,” and customers were quick to let the company know that. In response, the company said it will take the time to “retrain the entire staff on food safety and wellness protocols…”
That certainly seems ambitious. Chipotle employs 70,000 people in about 2,450 locations. But, this time, “training” may not be enough. After all, Chipotle did the same thing last time this happened. Back in 2016, the company shut down all its stores to deliver a food safety seminar to employees at every location. Now, about two years later, here they are again.
It would be tough to fault customers who are thinking “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…” Even if they have never, personally, had an issue with Chipotle food, they may not think taking the risk is a great idea. Especially since there are so many other options out there. Since the success of Chipotle, the “fast casual” industry has exploded. There are popular chains and standalone diners catering to just about every taste, and these customers are happy to go elsewhere.
Going forward, Chipotle will have to offer customers more than another training day to get them to feel comfortable eating there again.