blazin' burritos

Inside Chipotle’s quest to be the fastest fast-casual restaurant

August 28, 2014
August 28, 2014

One of Chipotle’s biggest obsessions, along with the way it sources food and manages its employees, is constantly increasing throughput, the rate at which it serves customers at peak hours. The company can serve between 100 and 120 people an hour during peak lunch hours, and continues to up its average speed quarter after quarter.

That’s particularly impressive for a fast-casual restaurant that makes everything to order.

In an interview with analyst Brian Sozzi at The Street, the company’s co-CEO Montgomery Moran explains some of the secrets behind the speed. He says an intense focus on the company’s “four pillars of throughput” as having the most impact.

Chipotle has one employee serve as an expeditor who grabs drinks or chips to free the cashier to ring people up, a “linebacker” who restocks food and solves problems, obsesses about having enough of every ingredient ready, and has people particularly skilled at each position in place during peak hours.

“We have found that even if there are 100 things you could do to improve the throughput, 90% of the benefit you’ll get is contained within these four pillars,” Moran says.

But there are a few more things behind the burrito velocity.

The company’s beginning to put a bigger focus on mobile and online ordering, which now makes up 4% of Chipotle’s business. Having a separate line in the back of the restaurant devoted to filling those orders helps keep throughput extremely high during peak hours.

Another secret: An upgrade to the humble tortilla press. Moran says the new machines, now installed in most restaurants “heat the tortilla more quickly and evenly so it’s easier for our crews” to work quickly.

You’d think that the speediest teams and restaurants that do the best would get some kind of reward for being the fastest. Moran says Chipotle doesn’t offer financial incentives of that nature:

“The real incentive is when we rate field leaders at the end of the year, the No. 1 thing we rate them on is developing great teams and then, how well they are adhering to the four pillars of throughput. When they have great teams, they distinguish themselves very, very quickly as one of our very powerful leaders. Given how badly we need leadership in our organization, they become the big leaders. They are the ones who get the promotions, become team directors, and ultimately executive team directors.”

The motivator isn’t immediate cash, but the possibility of rising through the ranks. The company has a path where hourly workers can rise through the ranks of the restauranteur program and make more than six figures a year.

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