Chipotle CEO Finally Responds to Outraged Consumers on Smaller Portion Sizes and Poor Food Quality

By: James Dorman | Last updated: Jul 18, 2024

Big portion sizes are part of what Chipotle is known for. Or rather, it’s what they were known for. Recently, they’ve been getting public attention for shrinking portion sizes coupled with rising prices. 

But Chipotle’s CEO is looking to combat this public criticism and salvage the brand’s image, insisting that portions have not gotten smaller. He even offers bizarre advice for customers to get more food.

Big Portions Are Part of the Brand

Chipotle is a specialty burrito and taco fast-food chain. One thing that’s known about their brand is that if you order a burrito or burrito bowl, you’re getting a big portion.

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A chipotle meal consisting of a salad-covered burrito bowl next to a take-away soda cup and a brown bag of chips. The meal is on a glass table in an outside seating area.

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Even Chipotle’s CEO Brian Niccol acknowledges the brand’s image is tied to generous portion sizes. In an interview with Fortune, Niccol spoke about how big portions are “kind of who we are.”

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Chipotle Has a Secret Menu

Like many fast-food restaurants, Chipotle has a secret menu that customers may not know about. One is the double-wrapped burrito, which is pretty much the same as their normal burritos except for the fact that you get two warm tortillas.

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A bowl of food from Chipotle with a wooden fork inside it.

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Other secret menu items include nachos, a burritodilla, a quesarito, and  fresh cilantro. If any of these take your fancy, it’s always worth checking them out.

Chipotle’s CEO Insists Portions Aren’t Shrinking

Speaking to Fortune, he refuted the claims that portions have gotten smaller, saying, “We always want to give people big portions that get people excited about the food.” 

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Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol sits with a chip in his hand.

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He says if people want to double-up their order, they need to pay for it, but he reinforced that Chipotle’s goal is to get people “really excited about what I believe is really delicious food.”

Paying More for Normal Portions

As people have to pay more for double meat, some have argued that they are essentially paying more to receive normal portion sizes that they previously didn’t have to.

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The outside of a Chipotle restaurant.

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One person asked for a bowl and only got two pieces of chicken. When they asked for an extra scoop to make it a normal portion, the server asked if they wanted double meat, which meant that the person would have to pay more. Some claim this is a way for them to up their prices without it seeming like they are upping their prices at first.

The Public Disagrees

His statements come off the back of months of angry customers taking to the internet to vent about Chipotle’s shrinking portion sizes.

A half-eaten take-out burrito bowl, with salad and meat filling the right side of the bowl, and remnants of rice and other small ingredients on the left.

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One user wrote on the Chipotle subreddit that the burrito they ordered using the app was “the size of a can of Pepsi. Never again.” This sentiment was shared by another user who wrote: “I used to eat Chipotle 2-3x/wk. I haven’t been in a year. It’s inconsistent, expensive and the portions are terrible.”

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Food Reviewers Say It All

Many social media users will review their food on apps such as TikTok and Instagram so that people who haven’t visited these restaurants before know what to expect.

The outside of a Chipotle restaurant.

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Popular TikTok food reviewer Keith Lee gave Chipotle a 2/10 rating. He said the food had no flavor, the steak tasted like frozen steak, and the peppers were too big and didn’t taste fully cooked.

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Give Your Server the ‘Look’

On the same subreddit, one user noted, “They skimp hard on digital orders. Portions are always bigger when the person making it has to look you in the eye.” This mirrors the CEO’s own strange advice for customers looking to get a little more in their burrito.

A person in a black t-shirt wearing clear plastic gloves portions filling into three tortilla wraps at a counter with boxes of ingredients lined up in front of them.

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Niccol said that those coming into Chipotle wanting “a little more rice” or “a little more pico” need only do as he demonstrated to Fortune — widen their eyes and slightly nod their heads. Apparently, if customers do this, then “usually our guys and women give them a little more scoop.”

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The Head Nod Doesn’t Work

When they saw the Chipotle CEO claiming that giving a head nod to servers to get more food works, they tried that advice, and it appears that it didn’t work as they had hoped.

The outside of a Chipotle restaurant.

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One social media user complained that they gave their server the nod like they had been told and felt they were given even less food than the already small portion sizes.

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Social Media Users Taking Things One Step Further

Even when people were unsure whether the head nod would give them extra food, social media users decided to use the platform to poke fun at Chipotle’s CEO for the suggestion.

A Chipotle burrito bowl on a wooden surface next to a cup of tea.

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Some users were using green screens of the inside of a Chipotle, ferociously nodding to the server and demanding they put even more food in.

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People Have Tried Their Own Methods to Get Bigger Portions

The public has their own way of trying to get the sort of portion size they feel they deserve. Some have taken to filming Chipotle workers as they prepare their orders.

Hand of a person holding a cell phone with the TikTok logo center screen as the app launches. They stand in a shopping mall, which provides a de-focused background.

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This “method” became particularly popular on TikTok, where influencers believed that by filming workers, they were getting more food. They encouraged others to try the same.

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This Tactic Is Questionable

Pressuring workers in this way is questionable, to say the least. Filming people against their will like this has left many workers feeling uncomfortable. Furthermore, it doesn’t necessarily solve the issue.

A crowd of people stand at a Chipotle counter in a food hall.

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If portion sizes are being more strictly controlled, this isn’t the fault of the workers. They will have been instructed to dispense portions of certain sizes. Pressuring, dehumanizing and humiliating them over a Chipotle corporate decision is unfair.

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Chipotle Has Responded to the Trend

Chipotle seemed to acknowledge and parody this trend with their own TikTok post, showing a crowd of people at a Chipotle counter apparently taking videos.

Large sign for “Chipotle Mexican Grill” on the side of a red brick building.

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Chipotle also released a statement saying there’s no guarantee that filming will result in customers getting more food. They also refuted the suggestion that they had in any way issued employees with instructions regarding being filmed and giving larger servings to avoid negative press. 

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Managers Told Employees To Add Extra Portions

Some comments on these videos of people filming Chipotle workers have suggested that managers have told employees to add more significant portions to those filming.

Navideños from Chipotle.

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While Chipotle has denied these claims, some employees have commented on the TikToks that they were told to do this, leaving many unsure who they should believe.

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Chipotle’s New Restaurant Closes Down

Chipotle is a widely known restaurant chain, and the hope was that opening a new fast-food brand would attract current customers as well as new and previous customers who may not have been to the brand in a while.

A plate of food from Farmesa. There is cauliflower, broccoli, and steak on the plate.

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However, this wasn’t to be. Its new brand, Farmesa Fresh Eatery, was only open a year before being shut down due to financial issues.

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Chipotle Has Been Hiking Prices

While Chipotle might try to refute the claims that they’re being more stingy with their portions, there is something else that cannot be argued — Chipotle has been hiking prices.

A green line graph on a computer screen, with the line spiking up and down with peaks and troughs as it moves horizontally across the screen.

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They first announced price increases in 2021, with subsequent increases in October 2023 and more increases planned for 2024, marking the fourth increase in recent years.

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Their Rationale for the Price Increases

Chipotle says these increases are to keep pace with inflation. Faced with increased costs for materials, particularly ingredients like avocado for guacamole, the chain needs to raise prices to keep its margins and remain profitable.

A pair of hands organizes coins into stacks. There are two stacks of equal size, one smaller stack, as a stack of pennies in the person’s hand about to be set down.

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Chipotle also announced it will be paying its employees higher wages. Price increases likely also serve to offset the cost of this pay rise.

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They’re Not the Only Fast-Food Chain to Raise Prices

Chipotle isn’t the only chain raising their prices. Other restaurants are similarly feeling the impact of increased costs and looking to boost revenue to offset them by increasing prices.

A McDonald’s restaurant at night with the “McDonald’s” sign and golden arches logo well illuminated.

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Taco Bell and McDonald’s have both raised prices in recent years, somewhat significantly. According to McDonald’s themselves, the price of a medium portion of french fries has increased 44% compared to 2019.

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Preferring Sit-Down Restaurants

The rise in food prices at fast food restaurants has left many people feeling that their money would be better spent at sit-down restaurants.

The inside of a sit-down restaurant with black chairs and white tables.

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Even though they might have to pay slightly more at these places, many loyal fast food customers now believe that it would be better to spend a little bit extra at a sit-down restaurant than pay for poor-quality fast food.

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Chipotle Has Seen a Growth in Sales

Despite most fast food chains that have been hiking their prices and seeing a drop in sales, Chipotle seems to be the exception. It appears to be one of the only fast-food restaurants to see growth in sales in recent months.

A piece of paper with a graph showing a sudden growth in sales.

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Some have suggested this is down to Chipotle ensuring their stay on-brand for their customers. However, this may not necessarily be the case because most of its customers have been complaining about food quality and portion sizes.

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Wanting Customers To Reach Out

Laurie Schalow, Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer, has requested that customers contact them if they feel that their food doesn’t meet the values that Chipotle promises with every food order.

The outside of a Chipotle restaurant.

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However, since there have been so many complaints about Chipotle’s food quality and portion sizes recently, some would argue that they shouldn’t have to do this and that it should already come as a guarantee.

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How Will Customers Be Compensated?

It has been suggested that customers should contact Chipotle if they are unhappy. Many have questioned what kind of compensation they will get for doing so and whether they will need proof that they had a bad meal.

A portion of nachos from Chipotle.

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However, so far, no one who works at Chipotle has clarified this, so customers may just have to try to contact them and see what happens.

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Some Have Complained

Some customers have gone as far as to complain to Chipotle’s customer service about the food they have received to see what it will get them.

The outside of a Chipotle restaurant.

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One customer got a buy one, get one free offer to be used within a month, free chips, and a guacamole reward. However, it isn’t known whether all customers who complain will receive the same thing or if it will differ per customer/store/area.

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Chipotle Just Represents a General Trend?

Chipotle has certainly gotten a lot of attention over its portion sizes, probably due to large portions being a part of its brand identity. Disgruntled customers have made a lot of noise, and the fast-food chain has ended up part of a strange social media trend because of it.

View of a large restaurant building at night. The interior is softly lit and on the outside of the building is a large, illuminated “Chipotle Mexican Grill” sign.

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But it may not be fair to single out Chipotle like this. Fast food chains are facing higher operating costs and need to find a way to remain profitable. Trying to be more conservative with stock while raising prices is the most logical way to do this. Chipotle may just be unlucky in that it’s very easy for customers to literally see in front of them that they’re paying more and getting less.

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