What is “fast casual” food, really? To put it simply, a fast casual restaurant provides the speed and efficiency of a fast food chain and the quality of a traditional sit down restaurant. Its an innovative concept that’s been around for over 25 years but hasn’t caught on until the early 2000s. That was around the same time that I was in high school, and a new fast casual restaurant by the name Chipotle was built a mile down from campus. Everybody that could find a ride was there for lunch, and as soon as the word spread it became the most popular place to eat. These massive burritos had every hallway and classroom littered with aluminum foil wrappers and smelling like cilantro. I cant lie, I was a part of the Chipotle craze. I ate it, I loved it, and you couldn’t tell me anything was better.
But that was 2004, and this is now. In those subsequent eight years, the fast casual industry has exploded. Panera and California Pizza Kitchen are just a few of the chains that have gained popularity with fresh moderately priced food options while Chipotle…stayed the same. Even Chipotle’s direct competitors (Qdoba, Baja Fresh, Moe’s) have the sense to change it up every now and then. But no, Chipotle took the Steve Jobs/Tyler Perry route and decided to sell the same thing over and over again thinking the same clueless Stans would come back and buy. To their credit, they were absolutely right. Its hard to find a short line during lunch hours in any major city, but that does not mean what hey’re serving is quality. Its just the cheapest and the most available. You’re being given a huge tortilla stuffed with two meals worth of food and only get charged eight dollars, but it’s mediocre and everybody in their right mind knows it. For eight dollars, you can get a Large Sweet tea, two McChickens, and a Dollar French Fry twice. I don’t know Chipotle’s business model, but if all they food they serve is as ‘fresh’ as they say, they’re either losing money or somebody’s lying about where that meat really came from.
And then people have the audacity to believe Chipotle is a healthy alternative to fast food. There is nothing healthy about scarfing down a meal that can weigh up to a pound, but if you’re catching up with your friends, you’ll be looked at funny for suggesting Wendy’s. Staring too long at the Popeyes sign will have everyone talking to you as if you voted for Romney. Catching a quick lunch with one of your boss? Don’t you dare let them know all you want is four chicken wings, mumbo sauce, and some french fries with saltpepperketchup from the local carry out. Never mind that you’ll get the same amount of food at a comparable price, or your tastebuds are just feeling a bit ratchet that day. You have to eat the classy meal. Its the way to go!
Does any of this frontin’ make any sense to you? You all like Chipotle because it’s made to order, but so is Burger King. You prefer it because its good food, but its literally dozens of fast casual places that are better. Chipotle lovers dismiss Qdoba’s signature queso sauce as the only reason anyone eats there, but if I told you that Kareem was only a good player because of the sky hook I’d sound stupid. The reason everyone likes Chipotle isn’t because its fast, fresh, inexpensive, or head and shoulders above the competition. You like it the same reason people still eat at McDonald’s. Because its there. Now throw some queso sauce on that.