Customer Experience, Company Culture Drive Chipotle to New Heights

Mexican fast-food chain Chipotle is reaping the benefits of an intense focus on its customer experience.

During the company’s April 17 first-quarter earnings conference call, Chipotle officials boasted impressive statistics:

Revenue soared 24.4%, to $904.2 million

Same-store sales increased a whopping 13.4%

Net income rose 8.5%, to $83.1 million

Steve Ells, Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer for Chipotle, said during the conference call that the company places a major emphasis on the customer experience.

“I am extremely pleased with our sales performance during the first quarter,” he said. “We ended 2013 with nice sales momentum and that momentum strengthened in first quarter as our restaurant teams continue to do a great job of delivering our customers who visited Chipotle during the quarter. What I’m pleased about is that our constant pursuit of creating an extraordinary dining culture along with the best people culture in the restaurant industry is resonating with our customers, and they’re rewarding us with their loyalty.”

Ells added that Chipotle’s “food culture” continues to focus on finding the very best ingredients with an eye toward sustainability, great taste, and preparation using classic cooking techniques.

“This allows us to constantly improve our already delicious food,” Ells said. “Our unique people culture is centered around hiring top performers who are empowered to achieve high standards and developing them to be the future leaders of the Chipotle. Although our focus and emphasis on these two key areas is not new. We are more confident than ever that building a strong food culture and a strong people culture is helping us change the way people think about and eat fast-food while leading to significantly better business results.”

Chipotle sped up service by six transactions per hour at peak times this past quarter.

“We achieved our fastest throughput ever,” Ells added.

Here are Chipotle’s “Four Pillars of Great Throughput”:

Expediters: The extra person between the one who rolls your burrito and the one who rings up your order.

Linebackers: The employees who patrol the countertops, serving-ware, and bins of food, so the ones who are actually serving customers never turn their backs on them.

Mise en place: What in a regular restaurant means setting out ingredients and utensils ready for use means, in Chipotle’s case, zero tolerance for not having absolutely everything in place ahead of lunch and dinner rush hours.

“Aces in their places”: A commitment to having what each branch considers its top servers in the most important positions at peak times, so there are no trainees working at burrito rush hour.

“The most effective thing we’ve done to speed up throughput in the last couple years has been to implement what we call the four pillars of throughput,” Ells said.

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