Chipotle, the famous fast-casual Mexican restaurant, ended years of burrito purism with a recent menu expansion. Along with the usual overstuffed Mission-style burritos, customers can soon order quesadillas, nachos, milkshakes, avocado tostadas, and salads.
Nachos and quesadillas at a Mexican restaurant? And they said innovation was dead.
Now, don’t get us wrong — we love Chipotle. They’ve been good to us, with those massive burritos providing the necessary fuel for countless meetings and creative work sessions here at BIGEYE. America may “run on Dunkin,” but our little corner of Central Florida runs on barbacoa burritos.
Yet this hasn’t always been a smooth relationship. For as much as we love Chipotle, it hasn’t always been easy to be a customer.
First, Chipotle was a victim of their own success, driving us crazy with those long cafeteria-style lines. Then the lines miraculously disappeared — but only because everyone was afraid to eat there following a multi-state outbreak of E. coli at Chipotle restaurants.
After a bit of crisis marketing (and the consumer’s natural tendency to forgive and forget over time) Chipotle began to bounce back — only to squander their newfound sympathy and goodwill with the disastrous rollout of their long-awaited queso dip. For years, Chipotle’s most loyal fans had begged for queso sauce; the product they finally got was a goopy abomination described as “dumpster juice” and “expired Velveeta.”
So, after all of these trials and tribulations, you can understand why the recent menu expansion was received with skepticism in our office. Will Chipotle finally be rewarded with a big win after years of setbacks?
With that said, we have a few ideas about how Chipotle should market the new menu and win back lapsed customers.
Marketing the new menu and earning trust and loyalty
As mentioned above, our office is full of Chipotle fans, so we’re rooting for the company. Here’s our quick take on their situation:
- Food safety isn’t the primary reason why sales slumped at Chipotle. Customer surveys showed that long wait lines and messy staging and eating areas have turned off more Chipotle consumers than food safety concerns. We believe Chipotle needs to reassure its customers that new menu items won’t translate into interminable wait times — or any added wait at all. This is a company that needs to put the “fast” back into the fast casual concept they helped pioneer.
- While food safety may not be the primary reason why Chipotle sales have flagged, it still certainly plays a role. The chain has tried numerous tactics for addressing this problem, including the announcement of “zero tolerance food safety protocols,” the distribution of free burritos, experiments with drive-ins, and now, a new menu. None of it has been quite enough to completely turn the ship upright.
- Chipotle’s marketing efforts can learn a lesson from Jack in the Box, which faced a far worse E. coli outbreak in the 1990s. Though Jack in the Box introduced many of the same food safety protocols (and slashed prices on its famous tacos) to help lure customers back, it was the 1994 rollout of the wildly successful “Jack’s Back” advertising campaign that truly revived the company’s fortunes. Perhaps, if the new menu isn’t enough to reignite interest, Chipotle (a relatively ad averse company) needs to do the same. As our favorite fictional ad man Don Draper once said, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”
Regardless of how Chipotles marketing approach turns out, once thing is certain: We’ll be lining up to try the new quesadillas and nachos — but we’re still not going anywhere near the queso.