Monday, January 25, 2016

Revisiting the battle of burritos

News item: Chipotle will hold an all-employee meeting Feb. 8, closing its doors to the public while engaging executives and workers in real time on issues stemming from its recent food-borne illness crisis.

Not a bad idea. A food safety crisis crippled Chipotle's business for the fourth quarter of 2015, with mysterious outbreaks in the Pacific Northwest and New England. A month ago, I praised the upfront, take-responsibility approach of co-CEO Steve Ells, who went on network TV news shows to publicly apologize for the restaurant chain's problems.

Getting all employees on the same page, even for an hour, reflects Chipotle's commitment to following through on its promises. And the move has potential PR benefits, as the employee meetings demonstrate that the chain is taking serious steps to address its problems.

Will this persuade me to visit the Chipotle eatery in my town? I've only eaten at one Chipotle, years ago, before the chain's rapid growth. And it didn't make enough of an impression to lure me to other Chipotles afterward.

At the same time, I'm wondering if other fast-food chain restaurants might benefit by holding all-employee meetings of their own. Most organizations appreciate the value of employee engagement efforts, and face-to-face meetings are a proven tactic. 

One hurdle: you'd need to close your doors for an hour to hold all-team meetings. And do so more than once a year. Which means turning away consumers in search of hot breakfast burritos or Egg McMuffins. 

But, when I read about hourly employees coming to blows at a nearby Taco Bell, I'm thinking that closing the drive-through window for a one- or two-hour chat would be in the best interests of workers, management, the organization's brand, and consumers.

Because the fast-food business is struggling to keep health-conscious consumers as it is. And no one wants a breakfast crunchwrap prepared by an employee with an axe to grind.