Ensuring consistency on all levels


During the past few weeks, I’ve eaten at two different Chipotle restaurants. In case you aren’t familiar with it, Chipotle is a fast casual chain that sells tasty burritos, tacos, etc. Generally, the food is very consistent from one location to the next. But one thing surprised me: the amount of salsa you get in a container varies widely between stores, even though the containers are exactly the same size. And when I asked why this happens, the store with the half-full containers gave me a strange answer: that’s just how big their ladle is.

So, despite all their efforts to offer a consistent experience at each site, the chain apparently has different size serving equipment in some locations. If I had to guess, they probably have a stringent auditing process in place for things like store design, cleanliness, and quality of food. But when it comes to less obvious things like the exact amount of food that you get with each order, things might be a little less cut-and-dry. Perhaps store managers are free to purchase certain supplies from local vendors, so they don’t have to call the corporate office when they need more serving spoons, for instance. In any event, I don’t think anything devious is at hand, but rather, there’s a lack of controls over seemingly inconsequential aspects of the store experience.

Granted, this sort of variance may have little impact on customer satisfaction or profits. Heck, it took me a few months to notice the difference. But I wonder what other things might be escaping their usual quality controls. Now that I think about it, you tend to get less chicken, but more peppers, at one of the locations. The next time I’m at Chipotle, I’ll have to fill out a comment card, and see if they make any changes to get things consistent again. And for other businesses that are seeking consistency, my advice would be to look not only at the final product, but also at the tools and process that are being used to create it. Sometimes, even the size of a spoon can make all the difference.