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Critics May Not Like The Idea Of A Chipotle Drive-Thru, But Customers Sure Will

LOS ANGELES, November 6, 2012 () – It’s been my experience that people either love fast food or hate it. There’s no in-between. Either you’re someone who appreciates the taste and texture of a McDonald’s Big Mac, or you’re someone who scoffs at the sight of the sandwich as well as the people who consume them.

So whenever a non-fast-food chain considers adding a fast-food element, alarms go off among these Big Mac haters. “You can’t add any such element,” they say, “because it will ruin the quality of your food and your brand, and your business will be ruined.”

That was the reaction by some industry officials after hearing the news that Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. was considering adding drive-thru service to some of its units after reporting slowing same-stores sales growth in its most recent earnings report. The problem, critics say, is that doing so would hurt the fast-casual chain’s food brand.

But here are some things that these critics won’t tell you:

1) They don’t go to Chipotle. OK, maybe they’ll go there once in a blue moon, but people who don’t like fast food in general are not going to be the main customers of any fast-casual chain like Chipotle. For most of them, places like Chipotle aren’t much of a step up from Burger King. They’re people who generally prefer to buy organic, make their own food at home and when they do go out to eat, frequent fine-dining restaurants rather than casual affair. So these critics are not Chipotle’s target audience.

2) Folks who do go to Chipotle tend to like fast food. And that means that a) they don’t care as much about food quality and b) they would likely consider drive-thru service to be a bonus! So you’re actually serving your target audience, not alienating them.

Starbucks began offering drive-thru service at a number of its units back in 2005. Was it a mistake? Numbers don’t lie: Last week, the company reported fiscal fourth-quarter earnings of $359 million and an 11% year-over-year revenue increase to $3.36 billion. Additionally, the company saw comparable store sales rise 6%, driven by a 5% traffic increase.

(In case you haven’t figured it out yet, no, it was not a mistake).

Offering drive-thru service can be a benefit for a non-fast-food chain. Critics may not like it, but critics aren’t the ones who are buying.

Nevin Barich is the Food & Beverage Analyst for Industry Intelligence Inc. Some of his best food experiences have come from his good friends at drive-thru service windows across the world. He can be reached at

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