The Chipotle Assembly Line Nightmare

Rants3 Comments

chipotle

Dear Chipotle,

I am increasingly frustrated when I visit your establishment. I am a 15 year veteran of the place. I know exactly what to say and how to get through the line using the minimal number of phrases required to efficiently order my meal. However, sometimes your side seems like some Three Stooges skit taking place. Take tonight for example. I wish I would have just recorded the whole thing so you could see it from our side of the glass.

The mother in front of me was ordering for her and two teen boys. I think the boys probably have been there before but she seemed like a rookie. Now, this is fine. We need new blood to continue to grow the franchise. But I always get a kick out of the process. The lady was trying to order three burritos at once. Actually, one was a bowl but she kept calling it a burrito. Then she would tell them which different type of rice goes in each. Then which type of beans. The Chipotle worker behind the counter was in utter confusion. Turns out he was new on the job too. Finally someone told the lady nicely, “Ma’am, it is easier if you just order them one at a time”.

They were then trying to wrap their burritos and ripping the shells. This is another Chipotle classic screw up. Burritos are supposed to be shaped like tennis ball cans. You can eat those. Chipotle seems to have developed the football shaped burrito that nobody can eat. It is a spectacle. I haven’t eaten a true burrito there since day 1. Nobody wants their food to fall apart.

Chipotle seems to have pioneered this type of fast food assembly line. I mean it sort of happens at McDonald’s but you don’t see the magic happening. Here it happens right in front of you on display. Like a thing you participate in. However, when it breaks down, it almost turns comical.

Now, that lady had the end of the queue in a tizzy because something was going on with the salsa choice. I was now at the front of the queue where I told Mr. Newbie that I wanted a salad. He gave me a blank stare. Almost as if to say, “Sir, this is a burrito place and you want a salad?”. Now, any veteran knows this is on the menu. It even got put on the big board years ago. But he was dumbfounded. He asked the guy to his right in the queue what he should do. The guy pointed at the secret lettuce bin they keep behind them and the kid started filling the bowl. Then he just stared at me. The kid helping the newbie prods him along by saying “Ask him what he wants on it”. Then the newbie turns to me and asks “what do you want on it?”. Are you kidding me? Don’t you know the script here, kid.

I haven’t worked at Chipotle but I am pretty sure you could put an apron on me and I could fill orders. Bowl? Yes. Here or to-go. White or brown? Black or pinto? Was that double meat or half and half? I know the lingo. I think they got this kid off the street and put him behind the counter. He didn’t know what to ask. I know you can mathematically build 4,123,456 combinations of things off their menu but the questions are easy. Worse yet, each person helping you in the queue only asks you a subset of questions. Usually limited to about 3 things. Could it be simpler?

Now, as I am going through this comedy in slow motion, a problem occurs. One of those wicked faster workers appears at the front of the queue with a web order due at 8PM. However, it is 7:45 on my watch. But the order guy is standing there waiting. Oops, he came early. So the staff starts leapfrogging between me and the lady with the teens to hurry out this order. She starts enlisting the help of the other folks in the queue and this totally messes them up. The system is such that the worker asks the person standing on the glass directly in front of them what they want on the item in front of them. So they start asking me what I want on these tacos. The ones that are not mine. So you start pointing and learning what everybody in front and in back of you ordered because you have some fear of not getting your food right.

I start directing them about who’s food is who’s and they seem even more confused. There are like 8 tacos being made and 3 humans here. Total chaos. The system is broken. Each worker passing the item down requires them to sort of relearn everything about your order at times. I feel like I am repeating myself. With the salad, they slapped the foil cover on it but the marker guy wasn’t on task. So then it becomes the guessing game. Who’s is this and what is in it?

The manager was standing there and I felt annoyed. This isn’t the first time. I almost expect it every time now. So I decided to make a stink. Yep, I was that guy. In my older age, I do save these outbursts for when I actually give a shit. And it was tonight. It went something like asking her if she was the manager and if she manages. Telling her their line is a disaster and nobody knows what they are doing. The staff just looked at me strangely. Not in a way that showed that they had any empathy for the customer.

I asked the manager what meal I had and she didn’t know. I had to identify it. And by identify it I mean I had to pick it out of the bag they were packing for Mr. To-Go behind me. Now it was unmarked so I asked her what was in it and she didn’t know. She went to the cash register and started to ring it up. Thought this might be interesting given you don’t know what to charge me. I see zero dollars as amount due. She hands me my meal and wishes me on my way. A decent move, but not what I wanted.

I told her I wanted to pay but I was more after an acknowledgement that they are clueless. She said there is a new guy on the line tonight. He was that first dude, who never has eaten here I swear. I don’t get the training cycle. Can’t he just be on beans? All night your job is to ask “Black or pinto?” and you are done. Tomorrow you might step up to meats. Then salsas. Your career could be huge.

That was a lot of words to describe what was probably a five minute visit standing in line. I wish it was on video. We could play by-play commentate on it like a football team watching game tapes. But it is lost.

I will be back soon. It is a staple for me based on location. But I swear that if some of the other local smaller places (Big City Burrito) would open up next door, I would switch. Qdoba pulls the same crap from time to time but frankly not as much.

Have your team get it together. Sometimes the system works. But mostly, it seems to fall on its face. When you ask me what I ordered, I feel like you didn’t care. I already told ten people on your side of the glass.

Sincerely,
Me

  • Redonkulosity

    An urgently needed post on an important matter.

    All it takes is one noob in the assembly line, the right grizzled veterans to be on break, and an absentee manager who is off changing the fountain drink CO2 tank and Chipotle assembly comes to a grinding halt. Which is so bizarre since on good days they can make things speed right along, so long as you answer their questions correctly as your item moves from person to person.

    For those not in the know about Chipotle:

    Amateur tip: never tell the first person you encounter everything you want on your order.

    Pro tip: never tell any person you encounter _anything_ they didn’t ask about. It just delays them finishing whatever it is they’re currently doing; they’ll get to your next bit eventually.

    Semi-expert tip: they are supposed to slice the quesadillas for you after extracting them from the griddle. What, you didn’t know they made quesadillas? Well of course they do. And nearly any other combination of the foods they have on hand, so long as it doesn’t mess up their equipment (I’ve run into a ban on beans, though curiously not meats, as cooked-in additions to quesadillas). If they don’t slice the quesadilla, this is a sign your Chipotle is going to pot and slow service will be next.

    Expert tip: even if they ask you – and they will! – never tell anybody who is working on some part of your order already and who is not standing in front of the item to be applied next (beans, meats, salsas, other toppings) what you want next. Even the grizzled veterans don’t pipeline all that well, and they’ll just ask you to repeat the information when they get there, and in many cases during busy times your order will pass to somebody else who’ll just ask you again anyway.

    But yeah, keep the noobs out of Chipotle assembly until they can order like a pro. They should just watch a real Chipotle in action for a few days, and never be left alone to assemble anything until they’ve been on the job 30 days.

    • Your points are right on! We need to advocate 2 lines…noob & pro. Pro doesn’t even need to go to the glass.

  • nataleejean

    To quote one of the greatest movies made, “Hey, I started out mopping the floor just like you guys. But now… now I’m washing lettuce. Soon I’ll be on fries; then the grill. In a year or two, I’ll make assistant manager, and that’s when the big bucks start rolling in.”