If you haven’t heard by now, Chipotle is going through a bit of a rough patch. It all started back in August when a norovirus outbreak hit a Chipotle in Simi Valley, California leading to 234 documented cases of the illness between customers and employees. Chipotle is now under fire after a new lawsuit was filed alleging that the California store tried to “conceal all evidence” of the norovirus outbreak before contacting public health officials.
However, their problems don’t stop there. Now as they battle a lawsuit, they must also face an E. Coli outbreak that has affected 9 states across the East and West coast. The E. Coli outbreak has stirred up a lot of controversy in the news as customers debate if dining in the fast casual restaurant is worth the chance of exposure.
Recently, online satire website gomerblog.com published an article stating that American’s would rather die from E. Coli than not eat at Chipotle. While the headline is extreme, this article brings up a great point about the food culture of Americans. Despite all the coverage Chipotle has received, there is a side to this story that has received little attention. What do these outbreaks and store closings mean for employees? We wanted to find out.
Spoon: How long have you been working for Chipotle?
Anonymous: This month it will be seven months.
Spoon: What position do you work?
Anonymous: I’m a cashier.
Spoon: Has your shop been affected at all by the E. Coli scare?
Anonymous: No, I mean sales-wise yes, but we haven’t actually had it in our store. I work at the busiest store in my state so we usually make upwards of 10 grand a day, but lately, it’s been, I don’t even know, I remember one day we only made 3 grand.
Spoon: Do customers come in and ask if your store is safe? E. Coli free?
Anonymous: Oh yeah. At least one person a day. We get, you know, the fourteen-year-old boys who ask, “Oh, like, do you guys have E. Coli here?” Ha, obviously it’s like, no, we don’t, we would have gotten shut down by now if we did.
Spoon: Have there been any protocol changes since the E. Coli outbreak?
Anonymous: Yes, oh my gosh, there are actually so many things we have to do, which is another thing we’ll be talking about on February 8th, at our company-wide meeting. There was this one week where literally each day after we closed down we obviously had to clean the restaurant but then we had to clean it again. Like water and bleach and stuff. We had to go over everything with hot water, bleach and then hot water again. It was ridiculous.
Spoon: How do employees feel about this scare? Is this something you guys talk about?
Anonymous: Yeah we do, I mean, a lot of them have been joking around like, “Oh, we need to start looking for other jobs.” But come on guys, we’re good, you know? Some of them have really freaked out about it because our hours all got cut so a lot of them aren’t too happy about that.
Spoon: What were your previous hours and what have they been cut to?
Anonymous: My hours personally? Well, I used to work overtime, like, 42 hours a week. I cut my own hours this semester though because I’m in school, but everybody else who was working the same hours as me is working around 20 hours a week now.
Spoon: So this is part-time for you while you are in school? What are you studying?
Anonymous: I’m studying photography, so I need a lot of time to do homework and stuff.
Spoon: You mentioned February 8th and the company-wide safety meeting; besides this event, have you guys had any internal meetings with your GM to talk about the situation?
Anonymous: We haven’t all sat down and talked about it, but we have discussed it. In the morning shifts, we’ll go over procedures and make sure we know what’s going on. We do talk about it though, so that everyone is aware of what is happening and what to tell customers.
Spoon: Have there been any changes in staff? Have you stopped hiring or had employees quit?
Anonymous: No, we are still hiring that I know of.
Spoon: So enough with grilling you, what’s your go-to order at Chipotle?
Anonymous: Hmm, my go-to, let’s see, I usually go for a steak bowl with white rice, no beans, mild salsa, sour cream, cheese and then guac because it’s free for me.
Spoon: Oh my gosh, you get free guac as an employee?
Anonymous: Like all of our meals are free, yeah.
Spoon: Is there anything that customers do that you get really agitated with?
Anonymous: Some people come in and they act like they are super hardcore Chipotle eaters. They’ll come in and say like, “I want the regular tomatoes you keep in the back.” Or they will call some of our salsas incredibly long names that I’ve never heard before.
Spoon: So self-proclaimed Chipotle experts?
Anonymous: Right, those.
Chipotle stores across the nation will be closed February 8th from 11 am to 3 pm for a mandatory meeting to discuss the past months and future steps for the company. Though the store has been hit hard this year, they are planning on releasing a new marketing ad in February to try and get customers back in stores. If you want to learn more, check out what Chipotle has to say on the issue.