Today is morning two of the Restaurant Leadership Conference, the annual meeting that attracts more restaurant leaders in one place than anyplace on the planet. I joined to be surrounded by smart people engaged in debate about consumer metrics, consumption trends and what the food business will look like five and ten years from now. Instead, I have been surrounded by envy, excuses and intoxication of the burrito. More specifically, the industry’s fascination with Chipotle.
Please don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing essentially wrong with getting ‘naked in a bowl.’ And a little extra protein and a dollop of guac can make any day better. And as a marketer, I respect their commitment to quality, their willingness to ignore research on what is important to their target’s wallet, and yet really listen to what is important to their target’s heart. Their growth is earned and they deserve respect.
Interestingly, it is not respect I hear in the hallway chatter; I just hear excuses. Everyone has a reason why they can’t have that kind of growth, how their customers are different, how their operations are tougher, how their food costs are bigger obstacles and the like. Can we stop the parade for a moment? The fine folks at Chipotle did not invent electricity. They did not walk on the moon. And despite their end line, I don’t buy that they have any more integrity than any other good company. They did not pioneer Fast Casual as Boston Market did. They don’t face the competitive pricing pressure as Firehouse Subs does. They do not get outspent in the manner Little Caesars does. And yet all of these concepts are growing quickly as well.
What they do exceptionally well is think and behave like a leader. They did not wait for others to show them it can be done before they had the courage to try. To me, that is the greatest lesson for these restaurant leaders – or any business leaders – to learn.
So, screw Chipotle. The sooner you stop chasing them, the sooner others will be chasing you.