Hey Chipotle, I Really Don’t Care You Invented the Modern Burrito!

by Marcus Sheridan

This post is a little bit of a change-up from the norm of what’s found here on The Sales Lion, but I promise you that if you are at all interested in marketing, customer service, and running a business; its teachings are applicable to you. So just stick with me for a second and I promise to eventually get to the point…..But first, what do you say we talk BURRITOS??!!

I’m what Malcolm Gladwell would call a ‘Burrito Maven’. And what exactly is a Burrito Maven you ask? A Burrito Maven is someone like me who knows every made-to-order burrito shop within 150 miles or so of his house. A Burrito Maven is someone who could eat burritos every day, twice a day, and still consider another for a midnight snack.

And since the burrito boom of the early 2000s, I’ve been to every burrito shop imaginable, well at least in the Virginia area of the United States. Yep, you  name it and I’ve been there.

  • Chipotle……Check
  • Moe’s Grille………Check
  • Baja Fresh…………Check
  • Salsarita’s………..Check
  • California Tortilla……….Check
  • Qdoba……..Check

When I say I’ve been to all these places, I’m not referring to one-time shopping. In fact, I’m sure I’ve been to Moe’s and Chipotle at least 50 times each over the last year or so, which brings me to the point of this little post.

When it comes to burrito places to eat, I truly am a maven in every sense of the word. And because each of the restaurants do certain things well and fall short in other areas, I’ve many times concocted in my silly brain the perfect burrito shop, complete with the best attributes of all these modern burrito chains.

Because I see the world from a business owner’s and marketer’s perspective, I decided a while back to send Chipotle an email and let them know my thoughts regarding their operation/menu. The following is a succinct summary of the feedback I gave their customer service department in an email.

Pros:

  • Chipotle, bar-none, has the best flavor and food quality of any of the burrito shops. Their chicken is amazing, lettuce is always crisp, corn salsa is the bomb, and cheeses are the freshest.

Cons:

  • What’s the deal with no Salsa Bar?? Although they make good salsa, they don’t offer an open salsa bar. In fact, the only condiment on the floor is Tabasco Sauce. Compared to Moe’s Grille, who has the greatest salsa bar in the world, (well maybe not the world, but their tomatillo is off the charts) Chipotle isn’t even close.
  • Why not desserts?? Despite the fact that I stay away from the sweets, the occasional post-burrito oatmeal raisin cookie does have its shining moments. How hard would it be to add cookies to the menu??
  • Two bucks for chips?? Without a salsa bar?? Are ya kidding me? Just do like everyone else and charge me a little more so you can throw in the chips.

Nothing Like Maven Feedback

Now I know some of you may be wondering why I took the time to write Chipotle and tell them what I liked and didn’t like about their menu. But that’s just what mavens do and as a business owner I always appreciate it when customers take the time to give me feedback and offer suggestions. Considering my business is imperfect, constant customer feedback is my greatest gauge on current weaknesses as well as possible improvements.

But Chipotle’s response to my concerns is what spawned this article. In a nutshell, this is what the customer rep said in his reply:

  • Thanks for writing this letter
  • We don’t offer a salsa bar because of health codes.
  • We don’t offer cookies because we’ve never thought about it.
  • We don’t give free chips away because we want to offer quality chips.

Frankly, I was perplexed by this guy’s answers. I mean, why does just about EVERY burrito shop except Chipotle offer a salsa bar? Does every other restaurant fall under a different health code? This made no sense to me.

‘We’ve never thought about cookies’…..What?? Are you telling me a multi, multi-million dollar restaurant chain hasn’t thought about adding a product that almost all their competitors sell and is obviously a great way to increase the company’s sale amount-per-customer ratios??

‘Want to offer quality chips’….I don’t know about you, but I’m here to say that a homemade tortilla chip is a homemade tortilla chip. I mean, isn’t a chip nothing but a salsa carrying vessel anyway?? The idea that their chips were that superior to me was crazy, but I guess they just feel like they can make more money that way, which in reality I have no problem with, I’d just rather the guy tell me that was the real reason.

Say What???

Truth be told, the customer service guy didn’t raise my eyebrows too much with these statements. Essentially, he was giving me politician-like responses and although I’d handle things differently, it is what it is.

Where I was most alarmed with the gentleman’s response though were with the closing words to letter. Basically, this is how he closed the email:

Keep in mind Mr. Sheridan, we did start the modern-day burrito shop.

In other words, this guy was telling me that because Chipotle spawned the burrito revolution that it meant I didn’t really know what I was talking about and their business model was obviously superior to their competitors.

As you can imagine, my thought was, ‘Who the heck does this guy think he is????’ Just because a business invents something doesn’t mean they receive any special rights or privileges.

Now granted, Chipotle did start the burrito era that has managed to bring me great joy over the past 10 years or so, but that doesn’t mean squat in terms of their future success. In fact, if you don’t believe me just talk to companies like JC Penny’s, K-Mart, Ford, etc, etc.

I can’t possibly imagine me telling a customer (I own a swimming pool company), “Ma’am, I appreciate the fact that you might think there is a better way to install your swimming pool based on new methods of other companies, but considering we’ve been doing this the longest that means we’re the best and you therefore don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Yeah, that would go over really well.

Big Business Pride Cycles

This is what I just don’t get about some businesses, small and large, that reach the top of their industry. They feel that because they’re the originators and innovators of their field, it gives them the natural right to disregard customer feedback and accept the idea that their competitors might be doing something better.

When it comes down to it, such actions are just a form of pride and will eventually not only stop the growth of a business, but also cause them to be surpassed by their smarter and more customer-centric competitors. So my point here is to never allow your pride to hinder your ability to truly listen to customer feedback as well as observe what your competitors might be doing better than you currently are.

Our Challenge

In this modern information age, a company’s ability to adjust on the fly and recognize consumer trends/wants is the absolute key to staying competitive in the market place. So always stay on the cutting-edge. Listen. Analyze. Be humble. Just by doing these small things your business will continue to grow and reach any heights you desire.

Questions? Comments? Want to talk burritos? ;-) As always, your thoughts are welcomed and appreciated below.

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