Chipotle is doubling down on free-food offers to lure customers back to its restaurants.
The company is launching a new rewards program that's tied to the number of times customers visit Chipotle per month.
Called Chiptopia Summer Rewards, the three-month-long promotion begins July 1, 2016.
Each month, customers can qualify for different status levels — called mild, medium, and hot — that come with different rewards.
For example, four purchases of at least $6 per month earns "mild" status and a free meal.
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The next status level is earned on the eighth visit and the "hot" status is earned after 11 visits.
Customers who earn "hot" level in all three months can earn up to nine free meals over the course of the rewards program, plus a $240 "catering for 20" bonus reward.
Chipotle said it's working on designing a permanent rewards program, and will use what it learns from "Chiptopia" this summer to inform the new program.
"We created Chiptopia to reward our most loyal customers who continue to support our efforts to cultivate a better world," Mark Crumpacker, chief creative and development officer at Chipotle, said in a statement. "While Chiptopia Summer Rewards lasts just three months, we will be carefully listening to our customers and using what we learn as we consider the design of an ongoing rewards program."
Chipotle has been spending millions of dollars since February on free-food offers, including direct-mail coupons and mobile offers, to encourage customers to return to its restaurants in the wake of an E. coli outbreak that sent the chain's sales plunging.
The outbreak, which sickened more than 50 people in 14 states, was declared over in February. But Chipotle's sales still haven't bounced back. The chain's same-store sales dropped 30% in the first quarter of the year.
Chipotle says the free-food offers have been driving up traffic, however.
"Free burritos — turns out it works," Chipotle CFO Jack Hartung said earlier this year. "It brings people into the restaurants."
Here's some more details on the rewards program from Chipotle:
To participate, customers can visit any U.S. Chipotle starting July 1 to pick up a Chiptopia card.
Customers then earn credit toward the various status levels for individual visits within the same month during which they spend a minimum of $6 before tax.
During each month of the program, a customer's fourth, eighth and 11th visit and entrée purchase triggers a reward for one free entrée and elevates the customer to a new status level.
Redeemed rewards also count as a purchase toward reaching the next status level. Thus, customers purchase four entrées in any month of the program to earn mild status; eight entrées (one of which can be the free entrée earned for the mild level) to reach the medium level; and 11 entrées (another one of which can be the free entrée earned in the medium level) to unlock the hot level.
At the end of each month, purchase totals reset to zero, and participants begin again the following month.
A maximum of one visit (with a purchase of $6 or more) per member, per day counts toward Chiptopia rewards. Purchasing multiple entrées on the same day does not earn additional rewards (for example, if a customer buys three meals at one time or in the same day it only counts for one visit, not three).
Customers who achieve the same status level for three consecutive months in a row will be eligible for Bonus Rewards.
Achieving mild status all three months earns one additional free entrée.
Achieving medium status all three months earns $20 in Chipotle merchandise at store.chipotle.com.
Achieving hot status all three months earns catering for 20 (a $240 value).
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