We have posted in the past on how the burrito-chain Chipotle has increased the rate at which it moves customers through its restaurants, or as an article on Quartz terms it, its burrito velocity (Chipotle continues to refine the science of burrito velocity, Apr 21). The numbers are pretty remarkable.
Over the first three months of 2014, the US Mexican-food chain saw an average increase of seven transactions per hour at both peak lunch and dinner hours—12 to 1pm and 6 to 7pm, respectively. On Fridays, one of its busiest days of the week, Chipotle fielded 11 more customers per hour at lunchtime on average across its stores, a roughly 10% increase. …
Some of Chipotle’s fastest restaurants currently run more than 350 transactions per hour at lunchtime, which equates to a ludicrous near-six transactions per minute. The nationwide average is currently somewhere between 110 and 120, according to Moran. But they’re getting faster, and faster, and faster.
So how do they accomplish this increase in speed? As a different Quartz article lays out, there are “four pillars of great throughput” behind burrito velocity (How Chipotle is going to serve burritos faster, and faster, and faster, Jan 1).
“Expediters.” That would be the extra person between the one who rolls your burrito and the one who rings up your order. Her job? Getting your drink, asking whether your order is for here or to go, and bagging your food.
“Linebackers.” The people who patrol the countertops, serving-ware, and bins of food, so the ones who are actually serving customers never turn their backs on them.
“Mise en place.” What in a regular restaurant means setting out ingredients and utensils ready for use means, in Chipotle’s case, zero tolerance for not having absolutely everything in place ahead of lunch and dinner rush hours.
“Aces in their places.” A commitment to having what each branch considers its top servers in the most important positions at peak times, so there are no trainees working at burrito rush hour.
The first two of these are really about committing to having adequate capacity in place (see also our recent post about the value of slack in managing operations). Providing fast service is fundamentally about having sufficient capacity to absorb fluctuations in demand. Extra staff to fetch drinks or replenish supplies keeps those who spoon salsa or roll burritos from stepping away from serving customers. (Note that Starbucks similarly employs expediters to help speed people through at busy times although there they also serve to lock people in by getting orders before they reach the cash register. See here.)
It is worth noting that Chipotle’s production process really supports this arrangement. The assembly of burritos is broken down into distinct steps (heat tortilla, spoon rice and so on) that can be grouped together for one person to do during slow periods or split between multiple workers during busy periods. Thus it is easy to scale up and down the line over the day (assuming that workers are crossed trained). That suggests something about how Chipotle can afford to be so quick during peak periods. Things are easy at peak times because everyone is busy and earning their keep. Off peak, the workforce on the front line can be scaled down and refocused on preparing for the next rush — which is where mise en place comes into play. Getting everything prepped ahead of the rush is in part using inventory to shift labor/capacity in time.
A final point. Part of why this works for Chipotle has to do with how they manage their workers — beginning with an aces in places approach — but also by developing and holding on to good workers and managers. Yet another Quartz article explains how Chipotle has developed a program to identify and cultivate good workers (How Chipotle transformed itself by upending its approach to management, Mar 20).
In 2005, the US company underwent a transformation that would make its culture as distinct as its food. As more than 1,000 stores opened across the US, the company focused on creating a system where promoting managers from within would create a feedback loop of better, more motivated employees. That year, about 20% of the company’s managers had been promoted from within. Last year, nearly 86% of salaried managers and 96% of hourly managers were the result of internal promotions.
Fundamental to this transformation is something Chipotle calls the restaurateur program, which allows hourly crew members to become managers earning well over $100,000 a year. Restaurateurs are chosen from the ranks of general managers for their skill at managing their restaurant and, especially, their staff. When selected, they get a one-time bonus and stock options. And after that they receive an extra $10,000 each time they train a crew member to become a general manager.
Note that this is a way to instill store managers a greater sense of ownership in their stores. Chipotle doesn’t franchise so it is counting on managers to build the local business. The restaurateur program is one way of rewarding good performers and keeping them in stores for an extended period.