Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My First Chipotle Experience

I had my first Chipotle experience today. It was one of the most stressful moments of my life.

My friends love Chipotle, and so they could not believe it when I told them I'd never stepped foot inside of one. They insisted I try it. Just once. It is delicious, they said.

Despite their glowing recommendations, I wasn't sold. I needed to do some research. I browsed the reviews of the nearest Chipotle location on Yelp. It earned four stars, which was certainly a positive.  But what stood out most to me in the reviews I read was this oft-repeated line: "You know what you're getting with Chipotle."

Not true. I didn't know what I'd be getting with Chipotle, because I'd never eaten at Chipotle. That's why I logged on to Yelp, so I could find out what I'd be getting with Chipotle. And the Chipotle critics hadn't been very Yelpful in that regard.

Fortunately, the official Chipotle website proved to be more insightful. It was there that I discovered Chipotle makes "food with integrity." Food with integrity, eh? Now Chipotle had my attention. I asked myself, Had I ever eaten tacos and burritos with integrity before? Sure, they contained ground beef, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes and tortilla strips, but did they have integrity? Did they have the quality of being honest and fair? Looking back, they probably didn't.

One more thing I learned from the Chipotle website: Its menu isn't long, but it's "long on options." I weighed all of those options as I stood in line at the local Chipotle later on. I could order a burrito or a burrito bowl. Or a crispy taco or a soft taco. And I could choose my own rice, beans and meat, and add guacamole, salsa and cheese, or sour cream.

In retrospect, I should have studied the menu more carefully before I left the house. I should have crammed for what turned out to be an elaborate fast-food quiz. Is Chipotle even fast food? Having me choose my own ingredients slows down the process considerably.

I waited until the last possible moment before placing my order. I settled on the first option that came to mind:  the burrito bowl. Dinner's answer to the breakfast cereal. I received my burrito bowl, paid for the meal, lifted my tray from the counter, turned around, and -- oh no -- the only seats available were at a communal table. I was not happy. I hadn't gone to Chipotle for a communal experience. On the contrary, I had hoped for the traditional fast-food experience -- sitting alone at a small table, preferably in a corner.

I suffered a terrible flashback to my first day of middle school, in September of 1991. It was my lunch period, and inside the cafeteria I purchased a meal consisting of a microwaved hamburger and tater tots. I entered the seating area, and suddenly I was surrounded by strangers, with limited seating options at the communal tables. I was too nervous and too unwilling to share my first middle school meal with a bunch of kids I didn't know. I sneaked my burger and tots to the school library and ate them discreetly behind a shelf of John Steinbeck books.

I was overcome by the same emotions as I stood in Chipotle with my burrito bowl, my chips, and my medium-sized Coke. But I was an adult now. I had matured. I walked toward the communal table. I walked toward the empty seats. I walked past the empty seats. I walked out the door. I walked two blocks to a public library. And I ate my burrito bowl and chips behind a shelf of John Steinbeck books.

After I finished my meal, I left my tray on a table and hopped on one of the available computers. I logged on to Yelp and left a review for Chipotle. I gave it three stars. I wrote, "I now know what I'm getting with Chipotle: food with integrity. Long on menu options but short on seating options."