Why don't more people drink beer and margaritas at Chipotle?
The last place I think of for Happy Hour is Chipoootle. Maybe it's the ambiance, maybe it's the high schoolers running around, hell, most of the time I forget that Chipotle even has booze. A lot of you forget too, as evidenced by an overwhelming amount of comments to a margarita toast picture I put up on Instagram last week:
Chipotle's Alcohol Sales Are Bad
It doesn't come as a surprise, but Chipotle's overall alcohol sales are sluggish. They spend money on alcohol licenses nationwide to house Patron and Sauza tequilas for margaritas, along with a host of different bottled beers, but it's curiously void of any marketing towards that booze.
An industry report claims the alcohol only makes up 2% of the brand's overall sales which seems really low, even for a brand where the focus is more on the food than the booze options. Why do they even serve alcohol? Why is it not taken advantage of by Chipotle's customers? We figured the best way to answer the question is to try to have a happy hour of our own there and see what the lack-of-fuss was about.
Night 1 - Happy Hour At Chipotle
5:40 pm: Me and my roommate Matt waiting for Foodbeast Marc & Sean to arrive. We are very, very sober.
5:58 pm: Matt and I take a selfie. We're dressed like a couple of schmucks eager to unleash upon happy hour:
6:05 pm: The boys show up, and Matt and I run outside to meet them.
6:07 pm: Before hopping in the car, Marc laces Matt and I with hidden microphones. Here is Matt looking like Joaquin Phoenix from Her:
6:10 pm: We only have two mic packs for our adventure, none of which are going on fellow Foodbeast writer Sean. He is stoked:
6:20 pm: Marc, Matt, Sean, and I hop in the whip and make our way to happy hour.
6:21 pm: Marc starts rolling the camera in the car.
6:22 pm: Matt asks a great question, "Alcohol licenses are expensive. What is their purpose at all these Chipotle locations if they're not promoting the drinking side?"
6:23 pm: Sean gives us some poignant commentary: "I get hammered at happy hours. So. It's happening."
6:24 pm: Sean doesn't have a microphone on him, so it doesn't matter much what he says anyway.
6:25 pm: We arrive. Marc hops out ahead of us to secure a table.
6:30 pm: We're here for an authentic happy hour. Drinks and finger foods only. Quesadillas. Nachos (do they make those?). Good times. No burritos, that's entree shit.
6:32 pm: The line here is long. We recently wrote about some Chipotle locations being eerily empty after all those health scares, this is not one of those locations.
6:33 pm: Matt is still all smiles, despite the line of local high schoolers and parents cruising through after work. Hmm...maybe Chipotle doesn't want to promote a culture of drinking at their restaurants.
6:38 pm: We get to the front of the line, I order for the group. A "chicken quesadilla and a nachos," please.
6:39 pm: No nachos at this location, quesadilla is still a go.
6:39 pm: I crane my neck up at the menu board to get our alcohol order rolling. We try their house margs with Sauza tequila to get the ball rolling. Hell, we have all night to get drunk, let's get our pace on.
6:40 pm: I order four house margaritas ($4.79 each, what a fuckin' deal).
6:41 pm: The eyes of the girl taking my order become like a deer in headlights, as if I just asked for all the money in the register. She looks around behind the counter, unaware of what to do next. She looks back over her shoulder at the barren margarita mixing station, a makeshift stainless steel bar table with bottles of Patron and Sauza. Had she ever taken a margarita order before?
6:42 pm: "OK, i'm gonna need four IDs, please." -- The cash register lady, we'll call her CRL moving forward.
6:43 pm: We fork over our IDs. I try to diffuse the unnecessary tension, "Can I order beer too? Just so we don't have to come back up again?"
6:43:49 pm: CRL: "Uhm, yeah...well, you have to finish your margaritas first. You can pay now, and we can bring them out to you in waves. You can only order two drinks at a time."
6:44 pm: I should have taken this as a red flag. Instead, I felt like I just got some premium bottle service at my local Chipotle. "Sounds good! 4 Dos Equis also!" I drop a few dollars into the tip jar. Damn, I've never tipped at a Chipotle before. Am I cheap ass?
6:45pm: It's amazing what alcohol does to my gratuities...and I haven't had a sip yet.
6:46 pm: We find our seat. Quesadilla appetizer time:
6:50 pm: The quesadilla is finished. Damn it. Was trying to pace myself.
6:53 pm: Margs roll out. Things looking good. I start thinking happy thoughts. Like when my mom would pick me up from middle school on the last day before a long holiday weekend. I'm warm inside. We cheers to the happy hour.
6:55 pm: The margaritas are fucking delicious. Is it the $4.79 price tag? Is the margarita actually that good? The margarita is that good. Each one is made with tequila, triple sec, lime and lemon juices, as well as an organic agave nectar for sweetness.
Matt and I talking about the quality of these Chipotle margaritas...but little do we know what's next...
6:59 pm: We sip our margs down to the plastic, just in time for CRL to bring us the round of beers we ordered. At this moment, I was pretty in love with our CRL. Something about being the caretaker of my inebriation keeps me warm inside. I throw her a Shaka:
7:05 pm: We get down on the beer. Not drunk yet. A few more rounds of margs + beer, we'll be in a good place — hell, we might even break our happy hour rules and start creeping off menu. Maybe we get a burrito? This is how happy hours work, right? You start on the happy hour menu, and as you start lathering your insides with delicious alcoholic beverages, you start getting bold. You start calling audibles. You start ordering non-discounted entrees. To be clear, nothing we ordered was discounted.
7:10 pm: CRL comes back around to check on her boys. We're good. Marc jokes, "Can we order shots of Patron?"
7:11 pm: CRL goes to ask her manager about the Patron shots.
7:14 pm: CRL returns as the grim reaper to our Happy Hour. "No, we can not serve you shots. Also, we can't serve you anymore alcohol."
7:14 pm: Wait. "We're cut off? What's your policy?"
7:15 pm: CRL meekly responds, "Actually, I don't know. I can go ask the manager?"
7:15 pm: The manager overhears the conversation and makes her way to our table.
7:23 pm: Manager lays down the law: "Our policy is two drinks maximum, per customer."
7:23 pm: But, ma'am, I've made this beautiful dress for my beer bottle. Does it count for anything?
7:24 pm: It counts for nothing.
7:25 pm: Our happy hour is ruined, and for the moment, we believe that this is why no one drinks at Chipotle...they simply don't let you. 2 drink maximum. We are jaded for the night, so we go our separate ways.
Day 2 - Trying Again, The REAL Happy Hour
Back at work.
11:00 am: I begin calling all local Chipotles, even a few in other states to gauge their respective alcohol serving policies. Most locations I learned served beer + margaritas, some just served beer, but of the 10+ locations I called, none of them had a 2-drink limit...except the one we went to the night before.
Marc and I looking at the new Chipotle location, hoping they don't cut us off at 2 drinks like the last joint.
11:55 am: Marc and I to go to a location we verified had no limit. We bring Foodbeasts Chris and Rudy along for the ride, because if all goes to plan, we're gonna need them to drive us back.
12:15 pm: OK, the Chipotle we just showed up is damn near empty. Is 12:15pm not Happy Hour time for anyone else?
12:20 pm: The bros at the register are way more fun than the gals at the last place. They let us order beer and margs at the same time, understanding the thirst. We also order up a chicken fajita bowl we hope will suffice as a makeshift nacho platter:
12:22 pm: Out come our Modelos ($4) and Patron Margaritas ($7.15). I don't think I've drank this cheap, at a restaurant at least, since I snuck in my own booze back in college.
12:24 pm: We empty out a Chipotle basket to setup a beer bucket:
11:30 pm: Marc and I finish the Modelos and the first round of margs. The Patron margaritas aren't as delicious as their house margs. Save yourself the couple of dollars on that one.
11:33 pm: I head back up to the register for another round of margs and beer. I decide to skip the food line. Not because I'm a badass, but because there's no one in line for food.
11:35 pm: I drop some green into the tip jar and thank my dudes for their service. I go Pacifico over Corona on this round, mainly because I overheard that Corona bottles might be getting recalled over glass particles in them and I'm not taking any chances.
11:37 pm: Look at Rudy. He lets me know we have a meeting at 12:30 pm we need to be back at the office for:
11:40 am: Enough of Rudy's sobering face. As I finish my beer, I spot two more margaritas being chauffeured out to our table. I was drunk earlier, but I forgot to mention I also put in an order for Margaritas so I wouldn't have to get back up again.
11:46 am: I'm imagining my mom reading the above marg cup out loud in her Lebanese accent, "Wleh, Marguhreeeeet-tuh"
11:47 am: Damn, Chipotle actually built out their own cups for these margs. How come they don't advertise them?!
11:56 am: Our table is starting to get crowded. Our waiter asks to clear it, but I tell him I'm gonna do it later after I take a picture of it.
12:05 pm: Oh, a chip.
12:15 pm: I stumble outside. It feels like I've been drinking for hours. It's still overcast, but whatever sun is peeking through the clouds has my eyes burning. I throw my keys over to Chris to drive us back to the office:
12:25 pm: The car ride. I'm drunk.
12:30 pm: I see Wendy our parking attendant. She asks where we just came from, I lean out the window and tell her that today is a good day.
12:31 pm: I realize I didn't answer her question, "Happy Hour!" I squeal.
12:40 pm (late to the meeting): Now back at the office, I hop into our ad meeting.
12:36 pm: I wonder if Geoff catches on that Marc and I are a little buzzed.
12:37 pm: I giggle.
12:37:42 pm: Rudy tells Geoff that "Happy Hour went well," so our cover is blown.
12:38 pm: I try to take notes in the meeting:
They Don't Want You To Drink At Chipotle, But You Should
There are some extreme factors working against Chipotle building up a culture of casual drinking at their restaurants, but our consensus is that you should. Here's why:
Cheap drinks, above average quality. Not many places you can get a quality margarita for roughly $5 - $7 at any time of day.
You're still at Chipotle, so if you like their food, it tastes even better once you've been drinking.
The tip culture isn't currently published at Chipotle, so even a smaller cash tip is much appreciated by their staff.
No drinking on the patio. Drinking inside is kind of a buzz-kill. I'm a huge fan of patio drinking.
Some locations, like the first one we went to, cap you at 2 drinks for the day.
You're still at Chipotle.
The ball is in Chipotle's court to decide how important their alcohol program is to their bottom line. Based on their last reported alcohol sales figures, dollar-for-dollar, alcohol is not backing out for them the way it could. Based on the lack of alcohol-driven communications between stores and our mixed, inconsistent experiences from location-to-location, it's no wonder so few people try their booze. Chipotle also doesn't seem to care.
That's not to say there is no value in having booze remain an option for Chipotle-goers in-the-know, even if the cost of having alcohol licenses are high. While brands like Taco Bell are still trying to bring booze to just a single-digit number of restaurants, Chipotle is a prime example of a fast-casual chain that's been doing it for years with no buzz.
Beer and margaritas exist, Chipotle doesn't promote them hard, but they're very much worth your money if you're looking to drink.
Who wants to go to Happy Hour?!