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Chipotle mails millions of free entrée vouchers to end the emptiness inside

Did you ever think you’d live to see the day when Chipotle hands out free vouchers for entrées as a tactic to bring your business back to its restaurants?

For years we have all been so accustomed to waiting in line for at least 20 minutes at any Chipotle restaurant before we could even have our orders taken — the only time in our lives where 20 minutes was worth the wait. Why? Because the burden of waiting was outweighed by the glorious taste of a fat, stuffed, gloriously cheesy Chipotle burrito or a burrito bowl.

Now that is a thing of the past. Chipotle has suffered from a loss that may not be restored — the days of waiting 20 minutes for a burrito might be over for good.

Now Chipotle is mailing out vouchers for free food, and it sure looks like an act of desperation to me. Mark Crumpacker, chief creative and development officer, broadcast at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Consumer and Retail Tech Conference that Chipotle already has between 6 million and 10 million “free entrée” vouchers circulating across the country. Crumpacker states that these numbers are among the anticipated 21 million they plan to mail out as soon as possible.

Chipotle has been suffering in sales for the past year: In January alone, sales dropped by a whopping 36 percent, and in February — the month of the voluntary closures and Chipotle’s first free burrito voucher — sales dropped by 26 percent.

More: Another Chipotle restaurant closes, and the outbreak mystery deepens

I can imagine that sales have slumped because of the “eerie” emptiness in most if not all of its locations. However, it might be related to the free “rain check” vouchers Chipotle offered in February. Chipotle received about 5.3 million downloads for the “rain check” it offered during its temporary closure on Feb. 8, 2016. A smart tactic to try to bring customers back, but now there’s a second free voucher and possibly a third. It is highly questionable, considering the fact that one free “rain check” did not seem to be enough — three free entrée vouchers seems a little desperate.

What does this say about Chipotle? We’ve all heard the cliché “desperate times call for desperate measures,” but it may not always be successful when it relates to food. A company once so successful that both CEOs made roughly $28 million a year — which has now been cut in half due to the company’s lack of revenue — is now giving away food just to get our attention.

More: Chipotle’s one-day shutdown proves that it’s taking its food safety seriously

The real question is, why isn’t it working? Does the fact that there are no 15-minute lines have anything to do with it? Typically waiting in line for food is almost absolute torture — you’re tired, you’re hungry, and you just want to eat. However, waiting in line for Chipotle was a commonality among all of its restaurants, and we were always prepared for the wait. Seeing Chipotle without a line leaves a feeling of discomfort and can even turn most people off.

Yet the bigger turnoff people are talking about is that Chipotle has yet to enlighten its customers — the former and the faithful — of the real reasons the sudden virus outbreaks among its chains have been happening. Several Chipotle locations have been temporarily closed down due to virus outbreaks — like the recent norovirus outbreak at the Billerica, Massachusetts, location — and still, representatives can’t explain the source of the outbreaks.

The solution to bringing Chipotle customers back should not be bribery; it should be information. If Chipotle customers had more information on what is really going on with its restaurants, it might make us listen and eat.

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