In February 2022, fast-casual Mexican-style food chain Chipotle opened its 3000th store in North America. As the news broke, the restaurant’s CEO, Brian Niccol, said he believed Chipotle could open 4000 more.
That’s a lot of beans and queso. In order to keep the cafeteria-style line flowing, Chipotle relies on its employees to prepare freshly sliced food, manage online and in-person orders, and perfect the art of rolling a burrito. To get a better idea of what goes on at franchise locations, Mental Floss reached out to several current and former Chipotle staffers to talk about what it's like to sling guac for a living. (Interviews were conducted via email or through a messenger service, and we omitted the employees' full names.)
Here’s what they had to say about medieval kitchen tools, rewarding loyal customers, and what happens when you swipe that bottle of Tabasco from the table.
1. Chipotle employees hate when customers order "soup burritos."
Rolling a burrito is an art, and most Chipotle employees have perfected it—even when ingredients are overflowing. But frustration sets in when customers order what’s come to be known as a “soup burrito.” Mindy, a Chipotle employee in California, tells Mental Floss that a soup burrito is one that includes an excess of liquid ingredients, making it hard to roll.
“An example of one is a burrito that has barbacoa, hot salsa, sour cream, and at times queso. Wrapping a burrito like that is very difficult and at times customers get annoyed we can’t wrap it,” Mindy says.
2. Chipotle employees aren’t supposed to serve quesadillas to everyone who asks.
Typically, quesadillas are an online-only menu item that customers can queue up in advance and isn't intended to be available on request while ordering in-store. Still, plenty of people do, and it’s up to Chipotle employees to decide whether to fulfill it.
“Chipotle's training videos do not tell us to serve it to every customer,” V, a former Chipotle worker in the Midwest, tells Mental Floss. “In fact, they'll tell us to say something akin to ‘It's a digital item only, but we'll make it for you this time.’”
An even more exclusive menu item, the Quesarito—a blend of the quesadilla and a burrito—was available at one time, but odds are you won’t be able to get your hands on it any longer. “It's too time consuming, uses extra cheese, and is a hazard due to it being really hot,” V says.
And speaking of job hazards ...
3. Parts of the job can be dangerous.
Love the oil-fried snack chips Chipotle offers? The food hot off the press? Be aware that some job tasks can prove hazardous in an effort to get the food in your basket. “I actually have a scar a little bigger than a quarter on my left wrist because I accidentally hit my hand on [the] press once,” Hannah, a Chipotle veteran of three years, tells Mental Floss. “The fryer constantly pops hot oil up and hits my arms and hands. I was once closing a portion cup with queso and it didn't close properly and splashed queso on my eyelid.”
4. Employees have to wear chainmail gloves to avoid mishaps.
While the occasional burn or hot oil splash is to be expected in any kitchen, Chipotle doesn’t take chances when it comes to chopping up fresh produce. Employees on cutting duty are expected to don chainmail gloves so they don’t accidentally slice a finger. “Chainmail cut gloves are a necessity,” V says. “They are very helpful, and penalties occur without them. Cutting fast without them is an unnecessary risk unless you are a showoff professional chef.” (One thread over on the Chipotle Reddit from 2018 claims the penalties for an employee getting injured while cutting without the gloves on include a $5000 fine for the store and a potential loss of job for the employee and possibly even the manager.)
5. Chipotle employees can have problems dealing with the marinade.
Some proteins at Chipotle come pre-marinaded, while others—like the steak—need to be prepped on location. But dealing with marinades can be tricky. “When I do dishes, the spicy stuff can be irritating to the nose as the capsaicin gets into the air,” Nate, a Chipotle employee in Maryland, tells Mental Floss. “The steak is one of our spiciest meats along with the barbacoa so that's the only real reason I can think of for it being irritating.”
6. Chipotle employees track portions very carefully.
Ever get the feeling Chipotle employees are being stingy with the proteins? That’s because they’re being watched. According to Emily, a Chipotle employee in Virginia, portion sizes are strictly controlled. “We do have a database that tracks portions,” Emily tells Mental Floss. “If we give too much, it will show up in the system at the end of the day and cause a loss of funds, so for general managers, it is very important. No one at Chipotle likes to do the smaller portions. I personally like to give a little bit more, but I try to stay close to standard.”
7. They have to deal with food (and Tabasco sauce) theft.
At Chipotle, burrito heists come with the territory. Because online orders are often within arm’s reach of the counter, they can end up missing. So can the bottles of Tabasco left on counters. “We only order so much [Tabasco], so when people steal them, it just makes it harder for other customers,” Hannah says. “Honestly, the bigger issue is people stealing online orders. Our pickup shelf is easy for customers to grab which is great so they can just take their food and go, but we have people steal food every single day and sometimes it's large orders we have to remake.”
According to Nate, online orders can go missing because third-party delivery services make a mistake and take the wrong order. “Our store policy is to just remake the order because we don't have time to fight with the delivery people about whether their order has been picked up by someone else or whether the ticket just got thrown in the trash accidentally or something like that.“
8. Chipotle employees hate when customers "zig-zag" the assembly line.
Ordering at the counter at Chipotle? Try to request ingredients in the same order they’re laid out. “The line goes in order of which food is applied but customers essentially zig-zag the line,” Mindy says. “This usually happens on the salsa part of the line. For example, it goes in order of salsas first, corn, sour cream, and cheese, and then guac and lettuce. Customers will ask for lettuce first then salsas and then cheese and then [ask] for fajitas that are over where the hot food is. It essentially disrupts the flow of the line.”
Mindy also recommends customers ask for their sides while ordering, not at the cash register. Because if you’re nice, remember that …
9. Some employees have the leeway to give customers free food.
According to Hannah, Chipotle has a service philosophy known as the “four cornerstones of hospitality” [PDF pg. 18]. Employees are expected to “be and look [their] best,” “be guest obsessed,” “surprise and delight,” and “make it right.”
Part of surprising and delighting is occasionally offering to foot the bill. Many employees have a budget—usually between $15 and $25 daily—that they can use to offer free food to customers. “I like to use them if the customer has a birthday, graduation, or if I see them all the time and I'm feeling extra sweet,” Hannah says. “It’s just a way of making a customer’s day a little better.”
While not all Chipotle locations have a budget—or may put them in the hands of management—employees can still reward customers if the mood strikes. “For preferred customers, I might ‘accidentally’ forget to ring in extra meat or guac or queso,” Mindy says.
And yes, employees get their own free meals—typically one a day.
10. Chipotle employees must attend Avocado Academy.
While not as well known as Hamburger University at McDonald's, Chipotle has an online curriculum named Avocado Academy designed to get employees up to speed on the best practices for food preparation and safety. “Avocado Academy is a program we have for training [and] orientation,” Mindy says. “There are videos of how to prep a new food we might have [and] every quarter we have our food safety training. The food safety training needs to be completed by every employee that goes over how to keep the food safe and the store clean.”
11. Chipotle employees are required to sample the food.
In order to make sure the food being prepared is up to Chipotle standards, employees are expected to sample the goods. “I do taste test,” Hannah says. “The only things I ever make are chips and hard taco shells so I'm pretty limited, but I try my chips every batch to check if the salt and lime ratio is good. The prep and grill people also taste test as well. Some stores don't always do that but technically it's required that we do.”
12. There’s a reason Chipotle employees don’t want to see breakfast burritos on the menu.
With fast food constantly vying for breakfast menu profits, it’s curious that Chipotle hasn’t yet offered a breakfast burrito option. A lot of employees hope they never do. “Chipotle doesn’t serve breakfast because the workday for morning prep already begins at 7 a.m.,” Mindy says. “They are cutting produce and preparing the food to be cooked for the entire day. If Chipotle were to serve breakfast, that means employees would have to come in at 3 in the morning or earlier to prepare fresh food.”