Chipotle: The Restaurant Model for the Millennials

One thing I was most looking forward to in going home for Thanksgiving break to Minnesota was eating at one of my favorite restaurants, Chipotle. Chipotle, not local to Minnesota, can be found in most cities across America but unfortunately not Walla Walla. Chipotle is a successful restaurant chain and is stated to be worth a whopping 12 billion in 2013. America, as of 2013, is blessed with 1400 identical chipotles through out the country serving roughly the same, unchanged menu.


Though a chain, Chipotle provides a superior experience and quality of food than fast food restaurants such as McDonalds and Taco Bell. Chipotle opened a new market to the restaurant industry known as “fast casual.” Fast casual, currently the fasted growing restaurant category, is a market for consumers looking for a higher quality experience and price than McDonald’s but a lower price and shorter amount of time than a sit down restaurant. Fast casual chains provide consumers with high quality food they know and trust with a sophisticated ambience with a price appropriate for their market. Even though a hamburger off McDonald’s dollar menu is less than my $7 Chipotle burrito bowl, Chipotle’s meat is organic and they source locally- plus Chipotle tastes much better. Fast casual chains are held at a higher standard for taste and ingredients, making them the perfect choice for health conscious consumers. Many of them, such as Chipotle, also open the market to vegan, gluten-free and vegetarian consumers that fast food restaurants are unable to adhere to. Panera and Qdoba are other fast casual restaurants that have followed Chipotle’s model. Chipotle’s creator, Steve Ells, has opened another fast casual chain known as Shop House. Shop House shares Chipotle’s interactive, healthy eating experience but with southern asian cuisine such as curry and meatballs. Shop House has been steadily expanding to other locations following the success of Chipotle. Steve Ells claims that any type of food could fit into this model and it is the future of the restaurant industry.


Steve Ells attributes much of Chipotle’s success to the brand name they have created. Chipotle is intentionally synonymous with a certain set of values in order to reach the desired customer base. Chipotle refers to its cuisine as “food with integrity” due to the sustainable and organic sources from which they get their food. The company buys more naturally raised meat than any other company in the world. This creates many social positive externalities for the company, such as providing jobs for these farmers and creating healthier, more sustainable consumers.


Ells proudly markets the Chipotle brand through different mediums than traditional fast food restaurants like McDonalds. Since their menu has been virtually unchanged for the 20 years they’ve been open (only adding the vegan option of sofritas), they do not constantly have to pay for advertising to promote new products. Instead of spending the majority of their advertising money on TV commercials like other chain restaurants, Chipotle has turned to more unconventional methods for attracting consumers. Chipotle focuses heavily on social media and entertainment for advertising. Chipotle recently started its own scripted web series “Farmed and Dangerous” to display the dangers of industrial farming. The hope is that it will be picked up by a major TV channel to further promote the unconventional brand that is Chipotle. One of Chipotle’s most successful marketing tactics is their Cultivate Festivals that have been held in many major American cities. Cultivate Festivals provide a free version of the popular music festival experience. The Festival is a celebration of organic farming with free music, food, and seminars about the hazards of industrial farming.

Work Cited:

Inside: Chipotle. Bloomberg Television, 2013. Film.


5 thoughts on “Chipotle: The Restaurant Model for the Millennials

  1. This is a really interesting market to look at. After reading this blog, I began to think about a few things about this market that Chipotle targets. In society today, there is this constant need to get things done quickly, hence the ever growing market for fast food restaurants, but at the same time some people want to eat organic and healthier. Over the next few decades, what will more restaurants like Chipotle do to fast food restaurants like McDonalds and restaurants that are cheaper but are not nearly as healthy? I also wonder if this is the future for restaurants and how these “fast casual” chains will effect “sit-down” restaurants that fast?


  2. I think the success of Chipotle may relate to what psychology professor Barry Schwartz calls the “paradox of choice.” This refers to the phenomenon which explains that when “people are confronted with too many options, they’re likely to experience anxiety, regret, and even paralysis.” Thus, at a restaurant like Chipotle that, as you noted, has not changed its menu in decades, people do not have to worry about what they’re going to order, they can simply order from the few simple options that they like. Thus, it becomes a reliable choice for groups of people that may be indecisive about what they want to eat, or something parents can easily turn to with picky children. That may help to explain Chipotle’s widespread economic success.

    my information about the paradox can be found here:


  3. Just a side note: I completely feel that “paradox of choice” thing. I get total anxiety about having so many options in a restaurant or other eating establishment.
    Based on all these pros to Chipotle that people are presenting, I wonder how long it will take to get as many Chipotles as McDonald’s restaurants in the US. And if “fast casual” restaurants run restaurants like McDonald’s practically out of business in the future, would that be such a bad thing? Because Chipotle is still more expensive than fast food chains like McDonald’s or Burger King, would the closing of such fast food chains, if it were to happen, negatively impact people and families who have come to rely on them based on the fact that they are very fast and very cheap?


  4. I am curious to see what the companies process is in deciding where to put these chipotle restaurants. I’ve heard rumors of one coming to Walla Walla, and I think from an economic standpoint this would be very worth their while. As you mentioned Chipotle does a good job of getting advertisements out there because its such a popular eating joint throughout the nation, there has already been a lot of buzz around the Whitman Campus. I would be careful making arguments that Chipotle is “better tasting” than McDonalds, an academic blog is no place for personal input and plus McDonalds is much more economically efficient and I don’t remember seeing a “play place” in the last Chipotle Ive been to.


  5. jaffeas says:

    Chipotle has definitely perfected walking the fine line between options and simplicity. Everyone feels catered to, while the restaurant can focus on making high quality food in bulk. But because of their organic food and other business practices, their food will always be slightly more expensive than the alternative. For people that can afford to buy their burritos, Chipotle seems like the best of both worlds, but for many it is just not an option.


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