Chipotle's rain-check burritos may have just proven there is such a thing as a free lunch. The chain posted its first-ever quarterly loss Tuesday (the final tally came to $26 million in the red), and during the earnings call, executives were forced to acknowledge they'd overestimated the payoff that 25 million free burritos would have by just a teeny-tiny bit.
But as pros in situations like these, they tried to remain upbeat, announcing they'd already identified two new, hopefully more foolproof, strategies to lure customers back. The first is to put chorizo on the menu. The second is to introduce some sort of loyalty program — sort of the carnitas-and-guac version of Pavlovian conditioning. The executives outlined worrisome data they'd seen that suggests Chipotle is now hemorrhaging its "top, loyal customers." The number of people in this group who haven't stuck so much as a toe in a Chipotle for three full months is now 57 percent, up from 49 percent the last time they measured. The chain explained the rewards program would be temporary, aimed at getting people back in multiple times per week, and would hopefully give these erstwhile burrito-philes a reason to visit again.
Chorizo is cheap, so that idea is probably fine, but the loyalty-program thing seems trickier. And chief development and creative officer Mark Crumpacker told investors the program is still so early in development that he couldn't even offer details on how it might work. So here's one idea: Now that Starbucks reward-program members are all hacked off as well, make a classy-looking gold card that entitles customers to a free Starbucks drink after every tenth visit. Then everybody wins.
RELATED GALLERY: Hacks to saving money at Chipotle
Hacks to saving money at Chipotle
Chipotle will roll out its first-ever loyalty program
1. Ask for ‘half and half’ meat
You can get more for your money if you request that the server split your serving of meat into two varieties.
“When you ask for ‘half and half,’ the server tends to be generous on measuring a half serving,” said Kyle James, founder of coupon site Rather-Be-Shopping.com and a regular Chipotle customer. The end result is a bigger, more delicious burrito.
If you really want to super-size your burrito, ask for both white and brown rice, as well as black and pinto beans.
Dylan Grosz, an intern for the website ApartmentList.com, conducted an experiment to see which strategies would net more burrito at no extra cost and wrote about his findings. After ordering five burritos a day for several days, he found that Chipotle customers could get double the rice and beans, simply by asking for both types of each. Best of all, there’s no extra charge for these added ingredients.
It costs extra — $1.95, according to Chipotle’s online menu — to add guacamole to your burrito. However, there are other fillings you can get for free, if you know enough to ask. Grosz found that servers rarely ask customers if they want to add fajita veggies or chili-corn salsa, but these extras are free and can round out a meat-heavy meal. They also increase the overall amount of food you get at no extra cost.
Rather than ordering your burrito wrapped in a tortilla, get it in a bowl to net more food, James said. Ask for “half and half” meat and then, as the server fills the bowl with your favorite toppings, politely ask for a little bit more of each.
“Before you know it, your bowl will be huge and can often feed two average adults for under $9,” said James, who eats at Chipotle at least five times a month.
You can even ask for a tortilla on the side. Create the burrito experience on your own, with an even bigger burrito than you’d get by ordering one.
To avoid overeating and overspending, order a kid’s meal, said Ashley Eneriz, a contributor to the personal finance blog MoneyNing.com. The portions are generous and include two tortillas, three sides (such as meat, cheese and rice), a drink and fruit or chips. If the server says you can’t order the this meal because you’re not a kid, just request something else.
“As long as you are nice about it, then there won’t ever be any issues,” Eneriz said.
Chipotle occasionally offers special promotions on gift cards — especially around the holidays, James said. For example, one of the more common offers is a free burrito with the purchase of a gift card worth $25 or more. So, if you frequently eat at Chipotle, you can use the gift card yourself.
Sometimes, Chipotle hands out free food to its customers. For example, on April 16, the chain offered youth soccer players under the age of 14 a “buy-one-get-one-free” deal on burritos, bowls, salads or tacos. All they had to do was show up in their team uniforms.
The restaurant also offered free burritos to people in the wake of closing its stores for a day to train employees on the new safety measures. Follow Chipotle on Facebook or Twitter to learn about its latest promotions.
You can score burritos at a discount if you’re willing to dress up — not in a coat and tie but a costume. James said that, every Halloween, Chipotle offers a burrito for only $3 if you come in wearing a costume.
Typically, Chipotle has a theme that customers must adhere to in order to get the discounted “boorito.” So, be sure to check the fast-food giant’s website or social media pages to find out what the theme is before creating your look.
If you regularly eat at Chipotle, go out of your way to be nice to the servers.
“Being friendly to the staff is a really great way to score some savings,” Eneriz said. “You’ll get a bigger portion most of the time, and you’ll not only make the server’s life more pleasant but yours, too.”