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Like all great successes, there are many things that converge and conspire for a company's ascension to the heights of legendary status. In Chipotle case, I will suggest just a few.
The best quick service food concepts are built on elegant simplicity. There is a genealogy that starts from the original, 1921 White Castle up to 1948 In-N-Out Burger and through to 2011 Chipotle.
There is a dedication to high quality basic ingredients with no compromise on standards. When these companies created their food concepts, there was a purposeful constriction on food choices.
Company Owned And Operated
There is also another common ground to these companies: they only allow centrally controlled corporate owned locations. When done correctly, this allows for fine control of food quality and customer experience.
The above mentioned companies created an iconic experience that encompasses the entire experience from food quality and presentation, store architecture / layout. In the case of White Castle the company maintained an image of quality up to the 1960s where there was a great deal of changes to the concept and business model. In its epoch, White Castle was viewed far differently than the image it has today; it was your Grandpa's Chipotle in just about every way. In-N-Out Burger still operates in the same basic manner as they did in 1948 with very little change. Today Chipotle carries the same ethos and takes it to a much deeper level. There are many dimensions to this that one could never address in this venue; here I will address just a few points.
Chipotle's roots are built around the mission of "Food with Integrity". This concept is quite honest and resonates with the direction most people are moving towards. Organic, non frozen food with a concern about the respect paid to the animals and the land. This also goes directly to the health concerns most have for the foods they consume. This mission statement is genuine and resonates directly from founder Steve Ells. Each location reinforces that mission with phrases like "No Microwaves Here", etc. As simple as this may seem, it has a maximum impact.
The burrito has been around for quite some time in the American quick service food market. Clearly Taco Bell has taken this food to the mass market. Chipotle's Steve Ells was intrigued by the great burrito shops he found in San Francisco. He took this vision to Denver, Colorado in an old Dolly Madison ice cream store.
A Willingness To Break The Rules
There is a need to break the prior rules when creating a new food concept. This is not breaking rules just to break them; it is a rethinking of the entire process.
"Basically, everything I was doing was 'wrong,' "says the founder and chief executive of Chipotle Mexican Grill.
"They said: 'Well, no, people don't want to sit on plywood chairs at stainless-steel tabletops. You can't have every customer go through a line and customize the burrito.' The price point was too high, the portion size was too large, the spice level was too intense."
There are other things that play into the experience:
Iconic Product - When rethinking the rules it is important to find something new, perhaps exciting and iconic about the product and its presentation. Chipotle took the simplicity of the foil wrap and made it into a functional and iconic experience.
Have It Your Way - Custom tailoring in any business is irresistible. Having this in your food choices has the same impact. Chipotle wisely creates a palette of of options that the customer can build into 65,000 combinations!
Integrated Marketing - Everything about Chipotle has a marketing aspect, from the employees' shirts to the iconic foil covered burrito. Customer engagement marketing with info bytes printed on the drink cups relaying facts (e.g. "Chipotle is the No. 1 purchaser of fresh avocados in the US"). Even their trucks have funky, memorable marketing communications written on them.
Clear Branding Message - The Chipotle brand has a clear message: serve fresh, healthy, natural food in a clean and efficient manner at a reasonable price.
Architecture - Each location maintains a simple and direct design with a crisp and fresh feel to the experience. There is a purposefulness to accentuate a rather active, loud and dynamic feel to the experience. This is achieved by using highly reflective surfaces that amplify sound even when there are few people in the location. This dynamic experience makes the customer feel like "something is going on".
Corporate Social Responsibility Commitments - Chipotle recycles, and it buys naturally raised meats and locally grown vegetables. The company also is very active in local charities especially focused on hunger issues.
Customer Responsiveness - Write, call, email, tweet Chipotle and their response is virtually immediate.
A Path To Successes
In my view every single success and every single non-success yields great insight, with this, one can see a path to apply the underpinnings but not necessarily the exact method to forge a new path to legendary success.More questions on Quora: