The changing landscape of American fast food can be summed up with this one word

If Chipotle CEO Steve Ells is concerned about copycats, he doesn’t show it.
If Chipotle CEO Steve Ells is concerned about copycats, he doesn’t show it.
Image: AP/Mark Lennihan
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Chipotlification. Coined by the Washington Post this week, it’s the perfect term to describe a certain burrito chain’s pervasive influence on quick-service restaurants across the United States.

Chipotle’s success has spawned dozens of copycats: Washington’s District Taco is “the Chipotle of tacos,” according to the Washington Post; New York’s Desi Shack is described by reviewers as “Chipotle, South Asian style;” and Piada Italian Street Food, a chain from Ohio, is La Dolce Chipotle.

These Chipotle-influenced eateries are clean and modern, and they let customers build their own meals from limited menus by choosing unique combinations of protein, veggies, starches, and condiments. Chipotle wasn’t the first quick-service food chain to offer this style of service—orders at Subway and Potbelly Sandwich Works work the same way—but it was the first to do it with food that’s perceived as high-quality, authentic, and fresh. So Chipotle gets the credit for ushering in a golden era for fast-casual dining—and a tough time for traditional fast-food joints like McDonald’s.

The upheaval has been such that seemingly no business story about a restaurant in either category is complete without mentioning the Mexican grill. Curious about why Taco Bell’s parent company, Yum Brands, is launching a build-your-own Banh Mi shop, for example? It’s a one-word answer, now.