Society for Case Research Spring Conference MBAA

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Chipotle: Expect the Unexpected

The SARS-CoV-2 (“COVID”) pandemic of 2020 – 2021 critically strained the restaurant industry. State and local shelter-in-place mandates effectively closed many businesses for an unforeseen amount of time. As the US economy slowly reopened and restaurants were once again allowed to service customers, they were forced to change business practices since updated mandates initially forbade patrons from entering and eating inside any establishment. This new business obstacle led to the widespread use of curbside pickup for business that did not already have an established drive-through. Although curbside pickup enabled a restaurant to remain open, it put additional strains on both customers and employees. Customers were forced to pre order their food and employees were forced to continuously run food from inside the restaurant and deliver it to a customer waiting in a vehicle. As a fast-casual establishment, Chipotle did not have a drive-through. Chipotle did, however, already have plans to createChipotlanes, drive through lanes for pickup orders only. Customers would order online or through Chipotle’s application and instead of entering the restaurant to pick up their order they could remain in their vehicles as they would in any other drive-through. Chipotle’s decision to begin the Chipotlane rollout was fortuitous in timing. The COVID pandemic necessitated the acceleration of Chipotlane implementation. Specific questions asked by the authors include: Was the strategic decision to implement Chipotlanes a good decision? Did the mobile app give Chipotle an advantage? Do Chipotlanes dilute Chipotle's image as a fast-casual dine-in establishment?