Would Chipotle Be The Same With Drive-Thru Windows?

To many Chipotle customers, part of the reason for going to the restaurant chain is that you get to watch your burritos and bowls made to order right in front of you, but the company apparently needs to bring in new customers and thinks that adding drive-thru windows might help.

Dartmouth marketing professor Kevin Lane Keller tells Bloomberg BusinessWeek that while adding drive-thrus may not seem like a big deal, making such a fundamental change to Chipotle’s established image could be the thin edge of the wedge, allowing in those aspects of fast-food eateries that Chipotle had deliberately avoided.

“You have to be careful of the death by a thousand cuts, where you’re making a series of decisions that might have little compromises” explains Keller, who likens the possible Chipotle changes — which also include a breakfast menu — to Starbucks’ decision to brew bagged coffee in its stores; a choice the company ultimately reversed. “You lose the experience.”

BusinessWeek reports that drive-thru lanes are responsible for 24% of fast-food sales in the U.S., which would seem to show that Chipotle has the opportunity to attract some new customers who don’t feel like going into the building for their burritos.

What remains to be seen is whether these new customers would have the same appreciation for the food as those who enjoy watching their meals assembled before their eyes.

Company founder Steve Ellis recently said that, of all the possible changes to his chain, he’s leaning toward adding a breakfast menu, but that drive-thrus and other changes are not “off the table by any means.”