Just a short time ago, Chipotle was the darling of the dining world. This quick-service casual eatery had set a new standard for “fast” food with its sustainable and locally-sourced ingredients. Other restaurants, even higher end eateries looked to Chipotle as an example of what to become and how to make yourself an iconic brand in the food industry.
Chipotle was able to edge out the competitors and attract even the most discerning of self-described foodies, who loved the speedy service and relatively low prices, combined with the high-end ingredients.
You could visit Chipotles in cities around the country and find lines wrapped around the building as people waited for their grass-fed beef and pork, topped by organic veggies from farms in the area.
Now, that’s a different story. Chipotle has been struggling in the wake of many high-profile scandals, and they’re so desperate to turn it all around they’ve even been giving out free products to compensate. There’s a chance their efforts might not help, especially since new scandals seem to be hitting the brand day after day.
What’s interesting to note about many of these events is that they could likely have been remedied, or at least minimized, had there been proper employee training in place from the beginning.
We’ll explore some of these challenges and scandals, and how training could have impacted this very bumpy road Chipotle seems unable to get off right now.
Some of the first scandals most of us heard about regarding Chipotle had to do with patrons becoming ill with E. Coli and Noro Virus.
There were several separate outbreaks throughout restaurants in states all across the U.S. in 2015. The sicknesses forced the company to close 43 stores across nine states as a result.
At a single store in Boston, a whopping 140 customers became sick with norovirus, and back in 2014, there was a similar incident at a store in California.
As these situations first came to light on a national scale, the CEO seemed unwilling to accept responsibility, which is something we covered previously in a post. He felt the problem didn’t lie in the food or the safety and preparation techniques used by the company.
Soon, however, the CEO changed his tune as Chipotle seemed unable to escape the burden that came with these sickness outbreaks.
As a result of these seemingly back-to-back outbreaks that caused hundreds to become ill, at the start of 2016 Chipotle announced all stores would be closing for a day so every staff member could undergo extensive training and learn new protocols and policies. As a result, Chipotle also ended up giving away quite a bit of free food.
It’s pretty obvious here how training could have possibly eliminated this situation altogether. Not only were employees seemingly unaware of basic food safety standards, but they didn’t seem to be trained on how to handle their own illnesses.
Many of these diseases spread not necessarily because of tainted food, but because employees weren’t calling out sick and were instead coming to work, likely because they didn’t know the policies or what would happen if they were to miss work.
Proactive and ongoing training could have possibly eradicated this scandal altogether.
It’s also worth noting that closing stores for a day of intensive training may not be the best approach. Rather, it might have been more advantageous to create long-term training strategies that continue as long as an employee is with the company. A one-day intensive training session is only going to work well for current employees who attend, and it’s very possible that information can be quickly forgotten, and lead the company back into a similar situation.
Chipotle seems great at making sweeping gestures, but one would have to wonder if they’ll be able to maintain a strong level of consistency in their employee training.
It’s not just food safety plaguing the once meteoric success of Chipotle. In recent months, employee lawsuits have been piling up against the company.
Over the course of five years, Chipotle has been the subject of 115 federal employee lawsuits, which is more than three times what similar companies, Panera Bread and Starbucks, have dealt with.
There are thirty-five employee lawsuits still active, and most are regarding some form of discrimination or harassment.
Just last month a jury in Cincinnati ruled for three women, former general managers at three separate stores, giving them $600,000 in damages because of what the court found to be wrongful firing based on their gender.
One of the women was fired three months after going back to work following maternity leave.
Last September, there was a class action lawsuit filed alleging the Fair Credit Reporting Act was violated when applicants of the company were asked to sign a consent for a background check that was part of a general consent form. The law states employers must use separate forms when they’re asking for permission to obtain consumer reports during hiring.
Some employees in Los Angeles filed a complaint that store managers were creating a “sexually charged” atmosphere for female staff and customers. There were accusations of sexual comments, touching and inappropriate questions.
This again represents something that could have been avoided with more thorough training, including comprehensive sexual harassment training.
Just a few weeks ago a judge ruled against Chipotle in a case where a Philadelphia employee said the company broke federal labor laws. The employee criticized the company on Twitter and was then fired. In this instance, proper training on labor laws and how to handle firing properly, both at a federal and state level, may have prevented this from becoming a legal case.
Of course, there’s no surefire way to prevent some of the situations cited above, but it would seem Chipotle is being hit with an excessive number of scandals compared to competitors and similar businesses.
From the outside looking in, it would appear Chipotle was so focused on their unique model of locally-sourced food and their incredibly rapid rise to success that one important element went to the backburner: employee training.
Only time will tell if they’re able to recover, but one thing is certain, and that’s the fact that employee training should be at the top of the embattled company’s priority list going forward.