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Recapping FEDA Conference Keynoter Jason Cochran

Jason Cochran, vice president of operations for Chipotle, discusses everything from lessons learned due to COVID-19 to the impact of the digital evolution on restaurant design and more in this recap of his presentation and conversation with FE&S’ Joe Carbonara during the 2020 FEDA Conference.

Q: How will what you have experienced and learned the past six or seven months influence the future of your company and its restaurants?

A: You must constantly keep innovating. At Chipotle we have a strong culture of testing and learning. We do it in a way that’s responsible in terms of our goals and purpose. Specifically, we are very focused on customer access to the brand. Over the past 18 months, enhancing digital access has been critical. We have a second makeline and call it our digital super kitchen. It’s in over 98% of our locations and it has influenced our Chipotlanes. Some call it a drive-thru but I would not refer to it as such because you don’t have the traditional speaker box. The Chipotlane connects the digital experience to the pickup of your digital order. It makes the process seamless. It’s simply a fast lane that has a pickup window. Thinking this way makes the guest journey frictionless no matter when, how or where they want access to our food. This leads to our digital powerhouse, which capitalizes on labor, speed and efficiency. Over the past few years, digital has moved from 5% of our business to greater than 25% of our business. And it has been critical during COVID, where we have seen in some restaurants, digital becoming 50% to 60% of our business.

Q: How does this digital evolution translate to space allocation and equipment selection?

A: What’s essential is the basics of industrial engineering, which leads to reducing things like steps and turns. The allocation of space will be more important moving forward. The modularity of the kitchen or equipment will be important, too. Equipment will need to be flexible, which leads to menu innovation. It’s about taking out the thought process of making a decision and allowing a team member to focus simply on execution. There will entrepreneurs and other startups who find other ways to solve customers’ demand for great tasting food. For us, though, it’s in the Chipotlanes. And while we’ve made progress, there’s still much to learn.

Q: What technologies should the supply chain focus on to support chain operators?

A: Three things come to mind. First, data is key. Leveraging insights on testing and innovation to applied learnings. Second, anecdotes and being nimble. Visit the restaurants and observe how they function. Understanding what problems to solve vs. simply conducting a transaction. And, finally, partnerships and networking. Work together on what we are seeing in the industry. It’s all about serving quality food to our guests and keeping the hot foods hot and the cold foods cold.

Q: When you think of your successful relationships with dealers and manufacturers, what attributes come to mind?

A: Integrity and transparency are key. Because of who we are as a brand and what we believe in, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. We collaborate with certain suppliers often about what’s happening out in the market. So, the relationship is not just about making a sale. We rely on dealers and manufacturers to be subject matter experts on the flow of food through a restaurant.

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