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How the Chipotle Menu Has Changed over the Years


Chipotle opened its very first Mexican food restaurant in 1993 in Denver, Colorado. The company has been both loved and hated by the media and the general public alike. Over the years, they have been credited with essentially changing the face of fast food and simultaneously bashed for certain issues that they've had with regard to food quality, all of which ended up in the mainstream news. Whether you love them or hate them, there is one thing that you absolutely cannot deny. Over the course of several years since they first opened, their menu has changed a great deal. Much of that is an intentional reflection of the demographic that they're trying to reach. If you're interested in diving deeper into how the menu has changed and how that has had a deeper connotation for the culture within this particular company, then you've come to the right place. All you have to do is keep reading.

How it All Started

As previously mentioned, the first Chipotle restaurant opened in Denver, Colorado almost 30 years ago. When its owners first opened that restaurant, it would have been almost impossible to perceive how big the franchise would have grown or how popular it would eventually become. Over the years, it started growing by leaps and bounds. Today, you can find a Chipotle restaurant in even small towns across the United States. Moreover, it's important to realize that these restaurants don't just exist in the US. They can currently be found in the United Kingdom as well as Canada, France and Germany. It's interesting to note how a small restaurant that started in one location with only a few menu items has grown into something so large that's often thought of as one of the most forward-thinking franchises out there. Nevertheless, that's exactly what you have here. Despite the challenges that they have faced over the years, the restaurant has never really lost its main focus and that is to provide food that is delicious while simultaneously making sure that they're getting their money's worth. Granted, the menu has changed a great deal over the years, but that is one thing that has never changed. Hopefully, that fact will remain so for the foreseeable future.

The Original Menu

When the restaurant first started, there weren't that many items on the menu at all. As a matter of fact, there were only three main items that were on the menu, completed by some side items and certain variations that you can take on those main menu choices. As far as the main menu items were concerned, you could walk in and choose from tacos, burritos or fajitas. There really wasn't much else on the menu unless you were interested in adding some beans and rice or maybe a few tortilla chips here and there. It is worth noting that the restaurant was very much known for these gargantuan burritos that were so big, three or four people could divide them up and still have too much food to consume in one meal. As a matter of fact, that essentially became the restaurant's calling card. They became so well-known for these giant burritos that people were coming from different states in order to enjoy them. That's what initially got the franchise started, transforming things from only a single restaurant to a bona fide franchise that had locations all over the United States. Of course, it only stood to reason that as time passed and people's perspectives on fast food changed, the menu would have to change as well. One thing that always set Chipotle apart from virtually everyone else is that they didn't do things the same way that every other fast food chain did them, nor were they really like any other Mexican restaurant. Their focus was on high-quality ingredients and same-day preparation that made the food taste like it was both authentic and prepared at a high quality restaurant where you could sit down and be served. At the same time, you were in fact getting food from a fast food restaurant where it could be prepared in a matter of minutes and in most cases, you were getting a lot more food then you could realistically expect to get for what you were paying, especially when compared to a traditional restaurant. That being said, it started to become apparent to the executives at Chipotle that doing things the same way they had always done them wasn't going to be enough to keep customers coming back for more. That's when the decision was made to start changing the menu and they've been tweaking it ever since.

Setting the Bar

Whether they intended to or not, the folks at Chipotle set the bar very high during their initial years in business. As a matter of fact, it's a bar that they themselves have had trouble meeting at certain points in the past. The thing is, virtually every other fast food restaurant has had trouble meeting it, too. They accomplished this by becoming a fast food restaurant that didn't exactly feel like a fast food restaurant. The thing that set them apart was that they set all of the ingredients out and allowed people to decide what they wanted in their burritos or on their tacos without everything being stale and mundane. People could walk through and see what the ingredients were and tell the servers what they wanted as opposed to ordering a taco that came in exactly the same manner as every other taco that was ordered that day. This made the restaurant feel like it had a bit of a flair to it and thanks in large part to its assembly line nature, it actually allowed the line to move rather quickly, even during the busiest times of the day. Another thing that the restaurant did differently has already been touched on briefly, but it's important enough to talk about it again. They never used anything that wasn't of exceptional quality. If it wasn't a high quality ingredient, it wasn't used as a means of cutting corners or reducing the price so that they could get a bigger profit. That means that customers were paying slightly more for a burrito from Chipotle than they would if they went to Taco Bell and purchased a burrito. The difference is that the burrito tasted better, it was healthier, it was made from better ingredients and it was easily five or six times the size. All of these things worked in the restaurant's favor and people started coming out in droves to sample their products for themselves.

Current Changes to the Menu

If you're wondering about current changes to the menu, there are several. As a matter of fact, Chipotle has made the decision to change a great deal about its menu over the course of the last year. Much of it has been in response to the desires of customers. In addition, the restaurant started to realize that if they wanted to remain relevant with the type of competition that exists in today's world, they were going to have to start making some changes. As such, they've included a new type of salad menu, something that they didn't seem terribly interested in doing before. They've also added brisket to the menu, something that still shocks a lot of people when they come in to look at the menu. After all, brisket is not really something that you expect to see on a fast food menu that serves Mexican food. Throughout the entire length of their existence, they've largely stuck to things like ground beef, shredded beef and loads of chicken. It's only recently that they started serving brisket. It's definitely not something that everyone wants to try, but it has been a menu item that has gotten largely positive reviews. As a matter of fact, there are enough people that are buying it that it doesn't look like it's going to go away anytime soon. Truth be told, you might be surprised how good brisket on a taco would taste. It may not sound like the most natural combination, but it's definitely something that you shouldn't decide to avoid in its entirety until you've tried it at least once.

Additional Changes

Of course, there are also additional changes to the menu, not the least of which includes an entirely new drink menu that features items like organic tea and lemonade. Obviously, this is designed specifically to cater to those individuals who only want to put organic items into their bodies. They're not interested in things that are laden with sugar, sodium and all of the processed foods that you typically find in a lot of fast food restaurants. Chipotle has committed to making a healthier menu, even down to the beverages that are available. By the way, if you're interested in healthier menu options, you might want to try the chain’s cauliflower rice. Instead of the carbohydrate-rich traditional rice, this one is made extensively from cauliflower. Surprisingly, it tastes much the same, especially when it's covered in things like grilled chicken, onions and guacamole. The difference is that it's a lot healthier, as it doesn't have all of the carbohydrates and sugars that can cause someone's blood sugar to spike and stay there for hours on end. It's also a great option for anyone who's watching their weight. Last but certainly not least, the chain is now making freshly made quesadillas from handmade tortillas. You can get them with chicken or the aforementioned brisket. Either way, it's hard to go wrong with this option.

Changing with the Times

It's interesting to note that before Chipotle became a restaurant, the idea of it came to life because the soon-to-be owner couldn't afford to eat lunch where he worked as a chef. As a matter of fact, he would run across the street and eat a burrito at a small little restaurant and that's where the idea for Chipotle was born. If it hadn't been for that, this restaurant never would have come into existence in the first place. It only stands to reason that a restaurant that was born on necessity would change the way that it operates in order to ensure that it continues to be relevant for the current times that we're living in. As a result, the menu has changed over the years, but the idea of providing fresh, high-quality ingredients has remained the same. The only thing that has changed is providing more options than there used to be and making those options healthier for individuals who are extremely health-conscious and don't want to eat a bunch of pre-processed junk food. This practically ensures that Chipotle will continue to be a force to be reckoned with well into the future.

Granted, Chipotle has seen its fair share of struggles just like any other restaurant. There have been a couple of times that chicken or some other ingredient that had been sourced to them was contaminated and had to be thrown out, and these issues were widely publicized. For a short while, that made people question whether or not they wanted to eat there. Fortunately, those questions didn't last long because true to form, the restaurant chain was able to prove that they were doing everything on their end in order to ensure that such a thing didn't happen again. In addition, the restaurant was forced to weather the pandemic just like everyone else. The difference is that they tended to weather it just a little bit better than a lot of other establishments did, largely because they had a huge following before the pandemic happened. In addition, they've always been very good at forward thinking strategies when it comes to delivering food to people's homes or businesses, or even allowing people to order online and doing curbside pickup (even before the pandemic). All of these things will work in concert to ensure the continued success of the restaurant well into the future. Who’s to say what will be on the menu 10 years from now? The one thing that you can count on is that it will feature fresh ingredients that are healthy, well prepared and great tasting.

Dana Hanson

Written by Dana Hanson

Dana has extensive professional writing experience including technical and report writing, informational articles, persuasive articles, contrast and comparison, grant applications, and advertisement. She also enjoys creative writing, content writing on nearly any topic (particularly business and lifestyle), because as a lifelong learner, she loves to do research and possess a high skill level in this area. Her academic degrees include AA social Sci/BA English/MEd Adult Ed & Community & Human Resource Development and ABD in PhD studies in Indust & Org Psychology.

Read more posts by Dana Hanson

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