Restaurant Reputation Management 101: Chipotle…Again!

Chipotle restaurant

Image via Operating hours

Just when Chipotle lovers finally felt safe to head back to their favorite fast casual spot to grab a burrito bowl, things have gotten worse for the brand…much worse. Fresh off the October of 2015 E.coli outbreak, reports of over 50 people nationwide contracting the foodborne disease have surfaced  across 9 different states with the most recent occurrence popping up in Boston . Rigorous testing has been underway since the first instances came up, but scientists are stumped as to what may be causing the contamination. To make matters worse, Chipotle continues to appear in the news due to the lawsuit brought about by their investors. The lawsuit alleges that Chipotle failed to disclose quality control issues to investors following the initial E.coli outbreak. Investors who purchased stock in Chipotle between February 2015 and January 2016 are seeking damages, as Chipotle’s stock has plummeted over 35% since the E.coli news first hit in October. To put the icing on the cake, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, along with the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, has subpoenaed Chipotle as a part of a federal criminal investigation stemming from reports of E.coli at a Simi Valley Chipotle location.

Where does this leave the former poster child of franchise success moving forward? You’ll get two different answers, depending on who you ask. Throughout the entire E.coli situation, Chipotle’s faithful following has stood by their side. This young crowd of burrito lovers feels that “unless someone dies, I’ll keep eating at Chipotle.” For the more fair-weather Chipotle guest, the appeal of Chipotle’s “food with integrity” mission that made it an attractive lunch spot for the health-conscious crowd has been downgraded significantly.

Industry professionals have a much less optimistic outlook, not only for Chipotle’s business model, but to other franchises and food-based establishments who are looking to jump on board the “locally sourced” train. When a franchise like Chipotle sources ingredients from local farmers and growers, the integrity of how the food is grown is no longer controlled, and each different vendor’s methods of growing, harvesting, and transporting may not be able to prevent contamination, as displayed by the Chipotle outbreaks. The foundation of Chipotle’s success was based around the freshness of their food, and has been imitated in almost every other food service industry, from pizza, to subs, and even convenience store food. However, now the public sees that fresh ingredients can possibly make you sick, the consumer trust level and desirability for these locally sourced meals, has diminished.

Luckily for Chipotle franchisees, the brand is too large to completely fail. There is a significant amount of ground to regain to return to its glory days, but with a faithful following, and endless supplies of college students who love burritos, Chipotle will eventually right the ship and reestablish its place in the fast-casual market.

But what if a food contamination outbreak occurs at a family owned restaurant or a small, regional franchise? Shutdowns can be costly to a restaurant of any size, and a bad reputation locally is much harder to shed compared to a national issue like Chipotle. To ensure that your restaurant business is able to properly respond to an outbreak of E.coli or other foodborne diseases, it’s vital to be carrying the proper restaurant insurance. Business Interruption Insurance will give your restaurant the ability to close for cleaning, have all proper testing and permitting done, as well as cover operational costs during the closure. For more information on business interruption insurance and other ways to protect your restaurant from a foodborne disease outbreak, contact Restaurant Programs of America at 844-358-2296.