Chipotle Mexican Grill has a whole new way to spice up its burritos. The fresh fast food chain last week launched a new line – not of food products, but of cups and bags embellished with original short prose works by the likes of Toni Morrison, Malcolm Gladwell, Judd Apatow and Jonathan Safran Foer.
It’s all thanks to a brainwave by Foer, who was hit by a wave of frustration common to bookworms worldwide while dining on a Chipotle burrito one day. It was a fate worse than death: He was stuck with Nothing To Read.
Had he been in a Vienna coffee shop, he could have reached for one of those newspapers displayed on long poles and available for perusal by the cultured patrons. In a Tokyo sushi bar, a small library of manga could have kept Foer’s eyes occupied while he devoured his lunch.
Foer had a brainstorm and, he explained to Vanity Fair, he emailed Chipotle’s CEO Steve Ellis, whom he had met a few years earlier:
“I said, ‘I bet a shitload of people go into your restaurants every day, and I bet some of them have very similar experiences, and even if they didn’t have that negative experience, they could have a positive experience if they had access to some kind of interesting text.’”
Ellis agreed, and Foer picked a diverse group of writers to contribute the two-minute reads.
The ubiquity of smartphones – and the ready availability of all kinds of written content on them – means that Chipotle patrons aren’t necessarily counting on the restaurant chain to provide them with something to read, or show up as desperate as Foer was all those months ago.
Nor is it likely that this will somehow open up a new gateway to literacy to Chipotle patrons. Let’s face it, if a student is struggling in school, reading philosophical ruminations by likes of Michael Lewis in an essay on the side of a paper bag at a fast food restaurant probably isn’t going to alter much about their life.
What it could do, however, is help Chipotle Mexican Grill consolidate its brand as somehow distinctive and upmarket from that of other fast food or fresh food companies like McDonald’s and Burger King; Panera Bread, which also emphasizes fresh ingredients; or upstarts with niche concepts like Noodles & Co.
With the Cultivating Thought initiative, Chipotle is ostentatiously shunning vulgar commercial stuff like profits – while still making sure that its cups and bags will have a distinctive look if carried out on the street. Clever, clever, clever.
That alone may not win them an extra dollar of revenue, but to the extent that it tempts the kind of customer who thinks they’re somehow above dropping in to buy a burrito at a chain store – they’d rather head for that hole-in the-wall indie restaurant, or the local food truck – it’s a win-win marketing ploy. Oh, and an maybe even an additional outlet for writers in what is a tough era for traditional publishers?
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