Chipotle is Food On Demand’s next Outstanding Operator

The fast-casual is being recognized for its innovation, consistently implementing new technologies and digital-forward formats to streamline operations. 

With over 3,300 restaurants today and no signs of slowing down, the brand is positioned for continued growth.

Haris Khan, vice president of operation services at Chipotle, said the goal is to grow 10 percent year-over-year and to double growth in the next five to seven years.

Amid anticipated expansion, scaling accessibility remains top of mind for the chain, which is why the company is leaning heavily on Chipotlanes. 

Haris Khan, VP of Operation Services Chipotle

 Elevating the digital experience

Chipotlanes were introduced in the U.S. around 2019, as digital order, drive-thru, pickup lanes. 

“Chipotlanes continue to demonstrate a stellar performance. They have higher volumes, skew more towards digital—and that comes from order ahead, which happens to be our highest margin transaction,” said Khan. 

Customers order ahead and arrive in the Chipotlane for a quick handoff. The pickup lanes are also used by delivery drivers from services like DoorDash and Uber Eats.

The fast-casual touts a user-friendly ordering experience for delivery and pickup via its mobile app. The chain utilizes technology to provide “smarter pickup times” and order tracking for customers and drivers. 

“One of the things that we have done is really take a look at our smarter pickup times, our methodology of how orders are coming in, and the frequency they are coming in,” said Khan. “We’ve aligned that to be more in tune with what the team members can handle based on volume and deployment.” 

In addition, the chain leverages customer data and analytics to understand guest preferences and offer personalized deals. It also works to introduce new menu items and marketing activities that combine brand-building efforts and transaction-driving promotions. 

This is reflected in its loyalty program, Chipotle Rewards. The latest promo includes partnering with Strava, a digital community for athletes. Chipotle created customized wellness challenges on the Strata app, awarding winners with free “Lifestyle Bowls”. 

Automation lends a hand 

Moves to streamline ordering are also echoed in back-of-house operations, by embracing technology to simplify team member experiences. 

“Over the last year-plus, what we’ve been looking to do is not necessarily eliminate the human element, but to reduce mundane, repetitive tasks so that our team members can focus on the guest,” said Khan. 

Chipotle’s Digital Makeline by Hyphen.

Chipotle is currently testing a digital makeline built by Hyphen at its Cultivate Center in Irvine, Calif. The system automatically builds online bowl orders by moving along a conveyor below the makeline as it dispenses ingredients. Meanwhile, employees roll burritos and assemble various menu items on top of the line. This offers advantages such as increased capacity and improved precision.  

Khan also highlighted the progress of the Autocado, a device that automatically cuts and cores avocados. 

“On a daily basis, our team members are cutting and coring hundreds of avocados, as our guacamole is made fresh every single day,” said Khan. “What if we were able to reduce the complexity and those repetitive tasks of the same old standing and cutting and pitting…and replace that with more time allocated to preparing the guacamole itself?” 

Khan relayed the goal is to install these technologies in new restaurants if the footprint and layout allow. But adds that the idea is to implement them in not only new locations, but to create a consistent environment throughout the balance of the enterprise. 

“If we’re able to do so for all restaurants, future and current, that’s the angle we’re going to take,” he said. 

Investing in regenerative agriculture 

Outside of the off-premises side of things, Chipotle is also looking at innovations beyond the four walls of restaurants and guest-end. 

The fast-casual recently invested in Greenfield Robotics through its $50 million Cultivate Next venture fund. The company focuses on making regenerative farming more efficient with the latest advances in AI, robotics and sensing technologies.

Greenfield Robotics autonomous farming robots.

With the funding, Greenfield Robotics will continue its efforts to build out its fleet of autonomous agricultural robots that cut weeds between rows of broadacre crops. It will also aid in developing iterations of the robots, including micro-spraying, cover crop planting and soil testing. 

The investments, “are something that speaks to who we are at our core,” said Khan. “As we think about leaning into our team member journey, knowing what those impacts are going to have on the guest journey…it’s ultimately going to provide an incredible elevated experience for all those that touch Chipotle—and now we are taking it a step further beyond that, through levels in areas of our supply chain.”  

The Outstanding Operators Program is highlighting 20 innovative brands taking creative paths to success with all things off-premises. Winners receive a $1000 charitable donation to the organization of choice and will be recognized on-stage at the 2024 Food On Demand Conference. Register today!

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