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A Passion for Restaurant Operations

Islam Ahmed shares his experience in the restaurant industry and his passion for running great operations. He discusses his time with Chipotle and what he believes has contributed to their recent struggles. Tommy gets a little bit of a different perspective from a less seasoned restaurant industry evangelist.

Check out the podcast below:

My Non-Scientific Prediction that Chipotle’s Sales are Still Down

The title says it all in this blog post, this prediction, some could say a safe one, is based on nothing but my experience last week.  I live in Denver and happened to be grabbing lunch on Evans Ave over by my alma mater the University of Denver.  There on Evans Ave is a shrine to big burrito lovers everywhere the original Chipotle store.

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One block away, one block closer to campus, is a local Colorado burrito chain, Illegal Pete’s.  Illegal Pete’s is a Chipotle clone; they might disagree with that description, but they sell the same size and style burritos that Chipotle made a staple in American cuisine.  Illegal Pete’s claim to fame is that they mix up the burrito ingredients before rolling it up.

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I agree that this isn’t the greatest picture of the Illegal Pete’s store, but I wasn’t trying to capture the store front I was trying to capture the line out of the door.

Something that you can’t know from these photos, you would only know if you had eaten in these restaurants is that the original Chipotle is small.  The distance from the door to the counter is maybe 15 feet.  It seats maybe 30 people.  As an example of how small this restaurant is, they have a storage room in their basement and a trap door in the floor that they raise to go down and get dry storage items.

In contrast, the Illegal Pete’s is much bigger the line area is two or three times bigger than that of the Chipotle, and it has a full bar.

I’ve lived in the University of Denver area for about nine years total in my life.  I’ve eaten at both these restaurants countless times.  In my experience before the Chipotle issues last year, I never saw the Illegal Pete’s that much busier than the Chipotle.  As I said before this isn’t a scientific study of guest counts or sales, this is just my experience.

I love Chipotle; they are a Colorado restaurant company success story, so is Illegal Pete’s.  I want Chipotle to get better and get back to where they were.  I would be surprised if their sales have gone up all that much since last quarter.  I like the rest of the industry are curious how long it will take them to get back to where they were.

If you are interested in running better restaurant operations and driving sales.  I invite you to check out our restaurant checklist, inspection, and reporting app; the OpsAnalitica Inspector.  Click here to watch a short two-minute overview video.

Feds Subpoena Chipotle’s Documentation

The Denver-based chain was served with another subpoena on Jan. 28 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California requiring Chipotle to produce documents and information about the company’s practices at all restaurants system wide. click here to read full article 

I don’t think you have to be a legal genius to see what the government is trying to do here. My guess is that they are going to try and show that Chipotle wasn’t operating safely and that it was a system wide problem.   

By subpoenaing documentation across all restaurants it is pretty easy to build a case where the numbers look bigger than the percentage.  When you have 1,755 restaurants, NRN Top 100 Unit Count June 2015.  If each of those locations missed 1 temp log a week that is 91,260 missed temp logs in a year.  

Do you even know if your restaurants are doing their daily checklists? If you don’t have an automated system how could you?   

How many temp logs does your chain miss in a week?  Even if you did them all you are bound to have lost a few from soda spills and misfiling.   

What is even worse is if you get a bunch of those documents back from the restaurants and they are incomplete, or appear to be pencil whipped.  That would be direct proof that you aren’t doing your due diligence as a company.  If the government can prove that management knew that the restaurants weren’t all operating safely and wasn’t doing anything about it, there is your Ford Pinto case.   

Anyone that follows OpsAnalitica knows that we have been harping on this stuff forever and a day because it matters.  

Here is the crazy thing, if Chipotle was an OpsAnalitica client and they conducted all of their checklists and inspections on our platform, they could pull a report and send it off.  

Restaurant safety goes beyond training, culture, daily checklists.  A large part of it is documentation and record keeping.  You can say you are safe all day long but can you prove it.   

There is a reason that one of the 7 HACCP principles is record keeping and documentation.   

We are committed to helping you run safer restaurants.  From our white papers, to our platform, to our new managed service license.  We will help you run the safest restaurants you can and do it in the most efficient way possible.   

Click here to download our free guide, 7 Tips to Faster Better Line Checks.

Food Safety Concerns Among Consumers Increase

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Just this week I came across the above graphic and an article out of QSR Mazazine citing a national study that showed 74% of consumers expect better food safety. The same study also found “that while a slight majority (53 percent) of U.S. consumers say that their level of concern about food safety has stayed about the same in the past few years, 46 percent of consumers say their level of concern has increased and only 1 percent report it has decreased”. Click here to read the full article.

Now more than ever, thanks in part to the Chipotle situation, there’s  a lot of scrutiny on the restaurant industry. When such a great, popular, well trusted brand can have issues the sentiment is that it can happen to anyone. And it can.

Multi-unit operators need to be able to know that every location is running safely, every shift. For a single unit operator it’s easier because they are at their location, in person, every day, for the most part. When you have 15 locations spread out across town or 100 across a region of the country or thousands throughout the world you can’t possibly be at every location every day. Therefore, you need to rely on a very well trained staff to execute in the manner they were trained. The easiest, most efficient manner to manage these expectations is through checklists with follow up. You need to inspect what you expect.

Every restaurant chain in the world has access to their register and customer service data for every location at all times, but very few have access to their daily operations data such as temp logs or know for sure that every location completed a full line check before each meal period including staff/FOH readiness, refrigeration temps, holding temps, quality tasting, checking for FIFO, and any other chain specific items related to food safety and guest experience. That is ridiculous, that is very, very important data which when monitored correctly will reduce foodborne illness outbreaks.

In the franchise system world it’s even more important. Consumers, for the most part, don’t understand that it’s Tommy that owns these 10 McDonald’s if they get sick at McDonald’s their are going to go after corporate. Tommy will be in trouble too, but the news story is the large chain got someone sick. It doesn’t matter where it happens either. If someone gets sick in Seattle the brand will suffer in Florida as well. Food safety is important stuff which we all know, but in today’s world information travels at light speeds and spreads like wild fire. Food safety has to be a priority and needs to be managed constantly.

The number in the above graphic isn’t exactly chump change. This is going to draw attention to consumers and thus government officials to try to get this number down. Stay ahead of the curve and start managing by checklists now. It’s not a decision you will ever regret.

Click here to get our list of 8 Daily Must Do Checklists for Restaurants delivered to your inbox for free.

Keep on Inspecting!

Chipotle’s Woes Could Happen to Any of Us

A couple of years ago I met with a Chipotle Director to show him the Inspector app of that time.  My hope going into the meeting was that he would have been so blown away that he would have walked us into the VP of Ops office.  

He didn’t, full disclaimer, he wasn’t officially speaking on behalf of Chipotle when he decided not to bring it to his bosses, we were just two guys having dinner. 

The reason I’m even recounting this to you was his reasoning for not wanting to bring it to his bosses.  In his opinion, the culture at Chipotle was not about checklists. Chipotle’s culture is based on the belief that if you hire the right people, train and empower them than you don’t need checklists.   

I agree with their philosophy on hiring great people and would argue that checklists are vital to all industries but especially to the restaurant industry. 

Checklists provide focus, and when checklists are completed thoughtfully and followed-up on, they drive safety and consistency in operations.   

Chipotle’s CEO officially apologized this week and said that the controls they are putting place are going to make them the safest place to eat in the country.  Here is a link to a Slate Article Chipotle is So, So Sorry for Sickening all Those Students. 

The last paragraph of the article states that Chipotle is planning on more audits, which is a good thing.   

The only way to ensure that you are running safe operations is through consistent daily checklists and inspections of your locations by your employees.   

I would like to give you, for free, our 4 Daily Must-Do Steps to Safer Restaurants white paper.  It details a model of for the kind of self-inspection program you should consider implementing in your restaurants.   

Get your copy of the 4 Daily Must-Do Steps to Safer Restaurants by clicking on the link.   

If you are interested in starting a daily self-inspection program in your restaurants in 2016, you should know that there is still time.  We can get OpsAnalitica implemented in most chains within 1 business day.   

Click on the schedule a demo link to see the platform in action or if you have any questions give me a call or send me an email any time.

Tough Year for Chipotle

It’s been a tough year for Chipotle. From pork supplier issues to a salmonella outbreak in Minnesota, a norovirus issue in California, and now the latest e coli outbreak in the pacific northwest closing some 43 locations.

Now you can’t blame all of these issues on Chipotle. The pork supplier was a case of Chipotle sticking to their guns on responsibly sourced ingredients, but it still cost them a good amount sales. But it will pay off in the long run with their ravenous fans.

The food-borne illness outbreaks, however, are completely opposite issues. This is bad press for the king of the hill. You have to wonder if there is something broken in their processes or supplier selection. Just in passing I’ve heard from a few different people, not in the restaurant industry, that quality has gone down recently. All this points to something that isn’t working as it should.

It’s interesting because we talked to Chipotle a while back about our solution. The response we got was that the culture at Chipotle doesn’t allow for checklists and follow up. Their philosophy is that if you hire the right people and treat them well they will do the right thing. This is absolutely true. To an extent.

The issue is that everyone is different and has had different life experiences. This brings about a different view of the world for everyone. So thing that you as the business owner know are important may not seem as important to your managers. If left to their own discretion they will not focus as much on the things that you want them to as they will naturally gravitate to ares they think are most important and where they feel they can add the most value. How much you pay them will have zero influence. They might just do what they think is most important better.

This can leave your operations somewhat vulnerable. If you are paying a couple extra bucks more than the competition you will attract better talent for sure, but you still need to have defined processes and inspect what you expect.

The reality is there are real consequences in our industry for getting someone sick. Just take a look at the ex Peanut Corporation of America owner and CEO. He was recently sentenced to 28 years in prison. Granted he was blatantly negligent and knowingly shipped tainted product. But the bar has been set. Food safety has to be taken very seriously.

Having a repeatable, documented process is the only way to minimize these outbreaks. A strategy around consistent daily execution will help you run safer restaurants all around.

Click here to check out a recording of our webinar, Setting Up An In-House Self Inspection Program.

US Pig Farmers Question Chipotle

I don’t anything about this “feud”, but found this blog from the Minnesota Pork Producer Council President on Minnesota Farm Living website very interesting.

A while back we posted about Chipotle cutting off their pork vendors for not meeting their guidelines. This cost them revenue in some of their locations as they didn’t have enough pork being produced to keep offering pork in all their locations. But they still stuck to their guns and I’m guessing it paid dividends with their fans.

This blog is interesting as it relates to antibiotics and US Farmers vs a particular UK Farmer that Chipotle has apparently entered into an agreement with going forward. Again, not being an expert in this field it’s hard to say what’s right and wrong. Of course Minnesota Pork Producer Council has an interest in promoting US (specifically Minnesota) pork sales and would naturally be upset seeing the business go overseas.

It would be interesting to hear the full story, but not sure that will happen. There might be other factors in play that drove Chipotle overseas vs here in the US. I have to imagine that the shipping costs have to add some costs, but on the flip side Chipotle is a huge account so I’m sure any producer is willing to work with them at some level.

I have posted the full blog below and it’s linked above. We would love any insight or knowledge if you have any.

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I read your recent announcement on your new supplier of pork for your carnitas and I couldn’t help but ask myself what you have against U.S. pig farmers. Your article discusses how your new pork supplier, Karro, a company from the United Kingdom, follows European standards that allow for antibiotics to be administered when necessary to keep an animal healthy. Karro does not give pigs non-therapeutic doses of antibiotics for growth promotion. Your comments go on to state that as a result, some of the pork Chipotle purchases from the UK comes from animals that were treated with antibiotics under veterinary supervision.

That same practice is followed here in the United States by America’s pig farmers. In fact new rules are going into effect that will make it illegal to use antibiotics for growth promotion that are considered medically important. These antibiotics will need to have a veterinary prescription before they can be purchased.

I found the next statement on your website interesting. “But this does not mean that antibiotics are present in the meat. All animals treated with antibiotics (both in Europe and the U.S.) must undergo a withdrawal period before they are slaughtered, which means that meat from a pig treated with antibiotics will not contain antibiotic residue, just like meat from an animal that was never given antibiotics.” All these years you’ve been saying that your pork is better because it comes from farms that never fed antibiotics, but now that you have a supplier that can use antibiotics, you’re admitting there will be no residue and it’s the same as pork from animals never fed antibiotics. It would appear that you have changed your message to fit your situation.

I was also concerned when I read through the chart comparing “conventionally raised” pork to Chipotle U.S and Chipotle U.K. On the topic of using antibiotics used to treat illness it was listed as an industry standard for conventional pork, but it’s prohibited by Chipotle U.S and used only when necessary by Chipotle U.K. Please tell me what I’m supposed to do when my pig gets sick. Not give it medicine to make it better? Let it get sick and die? All your early discussion of humane treatment seems to be a bit hypocritical if I can’t treat a sick animal with medicine.

At the top of your website is the phrase “Food with Integrity”. Given the examples I listed above, it makes me wonder how Chipotle defines integrity. It makes me question who Chipotle uses as a source of industry information. I know many farmers who treat animals humanely and give them antibiotics only when they are sick and keep their pigs in the barns to protect them from freezing temperatures and scorching heat. Those farmers live right here in the U.S. Chipotle, have you taken the time to talk to them?

Integrity means your actions match your words and I’m sorry Chipotle, but that’s just not the case with you anymore. Your actions seems to change depending on the situation and then the story changes to match the situation. You say there’s not enough pork raised in the U.S. to meet your standards for “Responsibly Raised” meats. If you want your animals raised a particular way, there’s your choice to help differentiate your company. However, don’t insinuate that the farmers who use a different production practice aren’t treating their animals humanely. If you want to buy pork from another country that’s your choice. However, as a consumer I prefer to support restaurants and eating establishments that support and promote U.S. agriculture.

You see Chipotle, I like Food with Integrity too and you just don’t have it.

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