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Chipotle zeroes in on its need for speed

The burrito chain is now tying manager and crew bonuses to how many burritos and bowls can be made every 15 minutes.
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Photo: Shutterstock

Chipotle Mexican Grill has a need for speed.

With business booming both on-premise and via digital channels, the burrito chain this week said it is so laser-focused on throughput that it is now tying manager and crew-level bonuses to how many burritos and bowls can be sold every 15 minutes.

“We know throughput, a foundational element of convenience that our guests value, is an opportunity for us,” CEO Brian Niccol told analysts this week.

Speed improved during the first quarter, once the chain laid out throughput goals to “better drive performance and accountability,” Niccol said, according to a transcript from financial services site Sentieo.

Last July, Niccol noted that Chipotle’s operations were slow and rusty because of the pandemic.

“We still have work to do to get our great throughput model back in place,” he said at the time. “It’s been, geez, well over a year since folks saw lines. And, for some of our employees, it’s the first time you’re seeing lines.”

If there weren’t lines at Chipotle then, there are now. In-store sales are up 33% over last year. Systemwide sales grew 16% during the first quarter, to $2 billion, and same-store sales are up 9%.

Restaurants are now staffed at 85% to 90%, which is higher than before the pandemic when locations were about 80% staffed, he said.

The Newport Beach, Calif.-based company said last month that it had partnered with Miso Robotics to test out an artificial intelligence-powered tortilla chip cook named Chippy, in an effort to potentially ease labor pressures.

During Chipotle’s best times, restaurants were able to sell “in the low 30s” total entrees every 15 minutes, Niccol said. Now, though, the burrito chain is trying “to get back to those mid-20s,” Niccol said.

“So, still a lot of headroom for where we can grow from here,” he said. “So, lots of work to do, lots of opportunity, though, with it.”

Chipotle is in the process of launching a new scheduling tool, to help ensure that the right workers are staffing the right stations at all times, the chain said. The tool offers forecasting via real-time information to project what business will look like in the coming week for more accurate labor deployment.

Right now, the most crucial restaurant job is that of the expeditor, Niccol said. That’s the person who is “in between the last phase of making your bowl or burrito and getting the cash,” he said. “And if the team isn’t deployed correctly, then sometimes that’s the spot that doesn’t get the right support. And as a result, it kind of slows the line down.”

Having an experienced person in that role is key, he said.

“We’re working hard on having great throughput with great culinary,” he said. “And the good news is, there’s a lot of room to grow in both of these things.”

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