All 2,000 Chipotle restaurants in the United States are scheduled to close for lunch today so management can familiarize the entire staff with plans to right the chain after last month’s 36 percent decline in same-store sales. Officials haven’t revealed the substance of what they’ll say via webcast, but they have shared details about changes in policies and procedures, suggesting the topics that will be discussed.
Those adjustments will range from new compensation packages to prep adjustments intended to avert food safety crises like the E.coli and norovirus outbreaks that sickened customers in late 2015.
Here are some of the matters likely to be addressed on Monday, some in the general session, and some just with store managers.
New compensation incentives
Going forward, half of managers’ bonuses will be based on how their restaurants are scored by outside sanitation experts during quarterly audits. The other half will be determined by the managers’ efforts to draw customers back into the stores, co-CEO Monty Moran said in a call with financial analysts this week. He did not elaborate on how management will be expected to boost traffic, other than mentioning an emphasis on service.
Near-constant safety audits
In addition to the quarterly sanitation audits by third parties, weekly inspections of every restaurant in the system will be conducted by field leaders, Chipotle’s version of regional directors. “We are taking this expanded auditing program very seriously and changing incentives for managers and field leaders accordingly,” said Moran.
The chopped onions, jalapenos and cilantro used in the chain’s salsa and guacamole will be marinated in lime juice before being blended into the dishes. “This process brings out more flavor from these ingredients and adds another measure of food safety,” said co-CEO Steve Ells.
The staff will likely be given a sneak preview of Chipotle’s new ad campaign, “the largest in company history,” according to Chief Creative and Development Officer Mark Crumpacker. New messages will be delivered through billboards, TV commercials, print spots, radio ads and digital materials through June. “The creative for this campaign with one small exception does not mention food safety or the recent incidents,” said Crumpacker. “Instead, it reinforces our commitment to high-quality ingredients and great-tasting food.”
New prep processes
Tomatoes, lettuce and bell peppers will be washed, cut and otherwise prepped in commissaries. Avocados, citrus fruits, onions and jalapenos will be blanched in the restaurants as a “kill stage” to eradicate pathogens. Chicken and steak will be marinated in a different process, and completely apart from the prep of other ingredients, lessening the chances of cross-contamination.
A new website for the public
Chipotle will launch a new website on Monday that details all the food safety upgrades the chain is undertaking. The site is intended as a resource for concerned consumers.
Crew training will be intensified to make every worker aware of food safety protocols, Ells said.
None of the additional safeguards is a magic bullet, he told investors. But as redundant safety measures, he continued, they should elevate the perceived and actual safety of Chipotle’s food to a new industry standard.
The stores are scheduled to reopen at 3 p.m. in their respective time zones.