Is Chipotle Trying to be Taco Bell?

Chipotle Mexican Grill is introducing five new menu items along with a few other big changes for the quick service Mexican restaurant chain. These changes are a move away from the chain’s original burrito-focused concept and toward a more Taco Bell style.

The five new Chipotle menu items are quesadillas, nachos, Mexican chocolate milkshakes, avocado tostadas, and a salad with avocado-citrus dressing. The new items were unveiled this week at the chain’s test kitchen in New York City and will eventually be rolled out at stores across the country.

New Chipotle Menu
Chipotle

The new menu options are designed to appeal to customers looking for a smaller bite. Food & Wine reported that Chipotle’s test kitchen chef Chad Brauze introduced the new items by saying, “We wanted something snacky.”

Because the fast food chain has such an established process for its burritos, adding these new Chipotle menu items is a big change for the company. It means adding new equipment and procedures, not to mention adding more time in line while customers decide what they want. The chain does serve quesadillas now as an off-menu item, but they don’t have a dedicated process on the assembly line for it, which means it slows everything down.

In an interview with The New York Times, Chipotle Chief Executive Brian Niccol acknowledged that the chain already has the ingredients for the new menu item, just not the ability to make it quickly.  “We’re not built right now to make a great quesadilla,” he told the newspaper. “The worst-case scenario is the person in front of you orders a quesadilla.”

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However, Chipotle doesn’t have a great track record with these kinds of changes. Late last year, they started serving queso, but the cheese dip received at best lukewarm reviews. They went back and tweaked the recipe, giving the queso and better texture and taste. With the introduction of nachos, it’s clear why it is important to the chain to keep working on the queso.

The new milkshake seems to be a hopeful replacement to the buñuelos with chocolate sauce, Chipotle’s first dessert offering, which was also added to the menu last year but didn’t find traction with customers. It was taken off the menu earlier this year.

With all these new menu items, the question of Chipotle moving into Taco Bell territory is a natural one. Niccol was brought in this year after founder and CEO Steve Ells stepped down last November; Niccol’s previous job was CEO of Taco Bell.

The company is moving its headquarters from Colorado to California, as well as making a few other changes, including adding drive-thrus to some restaurants. The drive-thrus aren’t the traditional drive up and order process, though. You don’t order at a speaker or window; you have to order online or via their app, then you pick up your order by driving through the dedicated lane. It’s more like the curbside pickup process that some restaurants now have.

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