Chipotle consumers confused by, or unaware of, one-day closure

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The company's temporary shutdown to educate its teams about E. coli met with some resistance

NEW YORK — Although Chipotle Mexican Grill gave the public fair warning last month that it would be closing its restaurants nationwide at lunchtime on Monday, many consumers were confused and unaware of the closures.

At noon on Monday, hungry customers trudged through the snow in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood only to find the lights out and doors locked at the chain’s 7th Aven. Adorning the front door of a was a small printed sign making the public aware of the temporary closure.

"BRB. We're closed for lunch today to attend a meeting with all the other Chipotle employees. But don’t worry, we'll be back open at 3 p.m.," the sign read. "If we messed up your lunch plans, let us make it up to you: Visit See you soon."

That link leads customers to a page asking them to text "raincheck" to 888-222. Yet based on complaints on social media, the response time has not been satisfactory.

One customer who was baffled by the closure in Chelsea was Andy Grobengieser from Long Island City, who said he was not put off by the E. coli outbreak linked to the chain. However, when he saw that the restaurant was closed on Monday afternoon, he was "surprised," and his first thought was that the sickness had hit Manhattan.

"To just shut [the stores] down seems really weird," Grobengieser said. "I see a BRB sign, but I don’t know what that means."

He added that Chipotle should be more "front-facing" with the public, and have posters on their storefronts reassuring customers.

"But especially today, [Chipotle should have posters] saying, ‘Retraining in progress,’" Grobengieser said. "[Or the posters should say], ‘We care about our customers and want our employees to care about our customers, too.’ "

Chris Goodmacher from Brooklyn said he was aware Chipotle was closed today, but wasn’t sure why or for how long. He said he thought the chain was "discussing a food-poisoning issue."

Goodmacher added that the E. coli crisis had kept him away from Chipotle, but the decision to close its stores was a good step forward.

"When you are thinking about places to eat, the [E. coli] issue bumps it down the list a little," he said. "I think this was a good step saying, ‘We are going to shut down for a little while, make sure this issue is contained, and then come back with a really strong response.’ I think putting the brakes on everything for a little bit is a good idea."

Italy native Jacqueline Raji also did not know the chain was closed on Monday. She said she has not eaten there since the crisis began last year.

"I thought they had everything under control, but I guess not, since they are closed today," she said. "It is going to take a while to gain back my trust." 

Chipotle used its social media accounts to keep customers in the loop on Monday. The chain tweeted a play-by-play of the national employee meeting.

One tweet noted that Steve Ells, Chipotle founder, chairman and co-CEO, thanked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for its efforts and for declaring the E. coli outbreak over last week. He also apologized for the outbreak, and the company’s new food-safety program was discussed, according to the tweets.

The outbreak has decimated Chipotle’s share value. As of Monday morning, the chain’s stock was down 40% since the first reports of food poisoning came out back in October. Sales were down 14.6% in the fourth quarter.

The chain recently parted ways with Edelman, with which it had been working since 2008.  

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