This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … Chipotle.
I hate Chipotle. That’s right, I said it. Go ahead, point your greasy burrito finger me. Hurl aspersions my way in all your green righteousness. I know it’s the cool thing to like Chipotle, what with their free-range chickens and their antibiotic-free cattle and locally grown, organic vegetables. I’m all for that. I wish every restaurant and grocery store in America shared that philosophy. But once you get past feeling good about yourself because you’re patronizing a business that actually seems to give a shit about the quality of the food they use, Chipotle is incredibly overrated. The whole experience of going there just sucks.
Let’s start with the manner in which you have to order your food. It’s a bit ironic that the restaurant that cares so much about the cows they slaughter treats its customers like, well, cows. You have to walk a path of zigzagging metal bars much like cows do on the way to the slaughterhouse. Thanks for making me feel so welcome. Most Chipotles are packed from open to close, so this means always being crammed in with other hungry livestock (a.k.a. “the customers they so care about”), never a pleasant prospect for a people-hating crank like myself.
At least this affords you the opportunity to take in that beautiful Chipotle decor, which has all the ambience of a Greyhoud bus station men’s room, what with those stainless steel walls and the cold, ugly plastered floor. Perhaps they just can’t find free-range flooring tile and some latex paint that doesn’t include antibiotics.
As you get close to the spazmoid who takes your order, a pressure that should never exist in a fast food restaurant begins to build. Because this person completes just the first stage of the food creation process (the heating of the wrap and the slopping on of the meat) he can often service customers beyond the one standing just in front of him. This means you have to be ready for him to take your order even though you are three or four people back in line, which means you must shout your order to him over the heads of other customers.
I know I’m not yelling out White House nuclear codes, but I still don’t like loudly sharing this information with other diners. I’m not trying to bang the order-taker, but I would appreciate at least a smidgeon of intimacy when placing my order. I don’t eat at McDonald’s, but if I did, I don’t think I’d be comfortable shouting out “Two Big Mucks” from four deep in line. When I go to a real restaurant, the server doesn’t stand two tables away while I shout what I want. But at Chipotle, your order becomes part of the public domain.
Of course, because the place is packed and the kitchen is in a frenzy and there are 37 customers in line and the goddamn metal walls create the acoustics of a battleship hull, the order must be repeated three times. Loudly.
When you finally get to the portion of the process where they build your food (and yes, they build it, they do not “craft” it, as their website alleges), the enjoyment factor of eating out continues to deteriorate. These harried speed demons must be paid only for the time in which they do not have a ladle in their hands, because they slop the ingredients into your tacos/burrito/bowl with a level of finesse and care that would get you fired from a prison commissary. How can a company sell the idea of quality food when its employees treat the food like Jackson Pollock treated paints?
I understand that every fast food restaurant in America treats its assembly line food this way, but the difference with Chipotle is that they do it right in front of you. They don’t even create the illusion that their food is carefully constructed (I’m sorry, “hand-crafted”) by fast but meticulous kitchen staff. They just sloppily and furiously scoop it into your tacos then shove it to the right with severe disdain. Even the workers don’t want to look at the messes they create. I mean craft.
But the stress isn’t over yet. Because Chipotle is always busy, the orders start to jumble up near the cash register, and you are under more pressure to make sure the beleaguered register kid knows which food belongs to which customer. You and the two people in front of you and the person behind you begin a series of pointing and hand gestures that a deaf person could probably construe as a signing of War and Peace. “Those two are mine … no, not that one … but yeah, those right there … wait, no … that’s yours, right … no that one …” At Chipotle, you basically become part of the staff.
The Chipotle irony continues at the cash register stage with the presence of the tip jar. Let me get this straight – I’ve worn myself out waiting in line, ordered my food in a frenzy and identified my food in a state of panic, and now my drained ass is supposed to tip for this participatory privilege? Instead of a tip jar, they should have a bowl of complementary Xanax pills.
This test of endurance and fortitude might be worth it if the food was delicious, but it’s not. Their soft taco and burrito shells turn into rubber by the time you free them from their aluminum foil steam bath. The use white rice, which, compared to the more substantial and nutritional brown rice, is about as flavorful as … white rice. And like the rest of America, they overcook their chicken. I’m not a fan of salmonella, but most restaurants and home cooks need to cut their chicken cooking time in half. We’d all be treated to moister, more succulent chicken, not the dried out carcasses served up at Chipotle and everywhere else. And do they use any other spices other than salt and pepper?
Even if the food tasted better and I didn’t have to walk a task-laden gauntlet to get it, I’d still have to endure the irritation caused by the Chipotle customers, a highly hate-able species who delude themselves into thinking they are eating healthily (“It’s free-range! It’s organic!”) then order extra meat, extra cheese and always – fucking always – extra sour cream. What could be a fairly healthy burrito of meat, peppers, beans and salsa becomes a caloric onslaught that probably wreaks more internal havoc than a supersized Number Four meal at McDonald’s.
I’m done with Chipotle. I applaud their devotion to clean, local and organic, but I can’t stand anything else about the place. I’m done with their whole exhausting system. Why not just lose the staff and let us create our own food? I’m done with the overrated food. How about considering the spice rack. I’m done with being herded among obese, greedy customers whose wheezing instructions lead to eight-pound burritos. How about reducing your rotundity by foregoing the word “extra” before every item you request.
Perhaps I should utilize the “Talk to us” feature on their website and share my concerns directly with them. That might prove more useful than this angry column I just banged out. I mean crafted.
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.