- Chipotle is turning to technology to grow sales, with mobile ordering, delivery, and even a digital drive-thru test in the works.
- The tech investments are changing what Chipotle looks like for customers and behind the scenes.
- We recently visited a location in New York City that has served as a test site for much of Chipotle’s new initiatives and saw how tech is crucial to the chain’s turnaround plans.
Chipotle is turning to technology as the struggling burrito chain enters a new era.
The chain basically invented the format that became a fast-casual classic: workers preparing food to order in a line, directly in front of customers. The low-tech, straight-forward preparation style helped make Chipotle a major success.
Now, after a two-year sales slump following an E. coli outbreak,Chipotle needs to find new ways to serve customers and convince them to return to the chain. To do so, the chain is turning to tech, with mobile ordering, drive-thru, delivery, and behind-the-scenes changes in the works.
These changes are transforming what it is like to dine at Chipotle. We recently visited a location in New York City that has served as a test site for much of Chipotle’s new technology.
Here’s what it’s like to dine at the Chipotle of the future – and what it says for the brand’s turnaround:
One of Chipotle’s biggest tech advancements is mobile ordering.
Mobile ordering is sweeping the restaurant industry, and it has been an option on Chipotle’s app for a while.
However, for a long time the process has been both time-intensive and confusing, according to Curt Garner, chief digital and information officer at Chipotle. Customers who placed mobile orders were met with wait times of up to 45 minutes. Then, when they showed up at Chipotle, they were left to wander around, looking for where their burritos were stashed.
“The last five feet in the restaurant were still confusing in many places. … It’s not clear in a Chipotle where you get your food,” Garner told Business Insider.
Now, Chipotle is both speeding up mobile orders and reorganising restaurants to make things more clear.
The chain is testing clearly marked signs to lead customers to mobile pick-up shelves. And, wait time has been cut down to 12 minutes. Mobile orders now account for 8.8% of the chain’s sales, according to the company, with a 40% increase from 2016 to 2017.
As tech evolves, Chipotle is also making some behind-the-scenes changes.
Chipotle is doubling down on its “second make line,” a burrito preparation area geared towards mobile, delivery, and even drive-thru orders.
When Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol joined the company in early March, he said that the second make line was one of the things that immediately stuck out as an opportunity to boost sales.
“One of the first things I uncovered was the second make line,”Niccol said. “I was just like, this is a huge … capability that we have not been taking full advantage of.”
Chipotle is investing in tech-enabled second make lines, allowing workers to clearly view all digital orders, from DoorDash delivery to mobile app pickup orders.
Screens for the tech-savvy make lines cost $US10,000 per restaurant and have been installed in about 300 locations. Chipotle plans to have them in 900 restaurants by the end of 2018.
With more orders going through the second-make line, it takes some pressure off the traditional line of walk-in customers.
At locations that have highlighted digital orders, Garner says that Chipotle has also seen walk-in sales increase – likely because customers aren’t scared off by a long wait. Plus, there’s a chance for people turned off by Chipotle’s rapid-fire assembly line to order in a different manner.
“There can be a little bit of peer pressure in the line,” Garner said. “You might not feel like experimenting as much because you’re worried about holding things up.”
In the final step of mobile ordering, Chipotle is now testing pick-up shelves.
Chipotle is still tweaking how the shelves work, with adjustments to staffing and digital screens showing which orders are ready. But, even in test mode, they represent a major change in how customers see the chain – and how Chipotle sees its business moving forward.
With the second make line and new tech, delivery is also slated to become a larger part of Chipotle’s business.
In early May, Chipotle announced that delivery orders had increased 667% since it launched its partnership with DoorDash on April 30.
Delivery and mobile are just the beginning. Technology means that Chipotle can finally launch drive-thrus — long an advantage that fast-food chains have had over the fast-casual restaurant industry.
Chipotle started testing drive-thrus at a handful of restaurants earlier this year. However, instead of ordering at the window, customers need to order ahead via the Chipotle app or on an online form.
According to Garner, Chipotle plans to continue to explore drive-thru as yet another way for customers to order.
“The places where we’re uniquely different are around our ingredients and our cooking techniques and the fact that we’re so highly personalizable … What to do with technology is to emphasise all of those things, all of those great characteristics,” Garner said.
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