People going to Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants used to expect to stand in long lines before it was their turn to pick out the rice, beans, meat (or no meat) and other fixings they wanted in their overstuffed burrito and bowls.
Now they can expect to wait for those lines to return again to Chipotle, which is a healthier alternative to fast-food hamburgers and fries. The E. coli outbreak and other incidents that hit Chipotle last year severely affected the company’s sales.
Customer loyalty long ago disappeared in the highly competitive restaurant industry. Fast food chains like McDonald’s have struggled to maintain sales, and so have other restaurants.
Any little thing can cause people who eat out to go elsewhere.
E. coli, however, is hardly a little thing. The illness can cause abdominal cramping, diarrhea that may change to bloody stools, gas, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and fever.
That and the fear of that would be enough to keep people away. Chipotle sales for February were down 26 percent, a recovery from January sales being down 36 percent, The Associated Press reports.
The restaurant went public recently with new food safety measures to try to reassure customers. It also is trying to entice people to return by offering free stuff.
People — particularly millennials and college-age students — love free stuff. Last month Chipotle offered people a chance to get coupons for free burritos.
It worked somewhat. But free stuff and promotions to get the word out cut into the bottom line.
Until the customer traffic with the long wait in serving lines returns and becomes a staple again at Chipotle, the restaurant will likely have little choice but to continue to entice people with more giveaways.