what it's really like to work at chipotle

Chipotle has a reputation for ethically sourced ingredients and strong company values. It was one of the first national restaurant chains to commit to using local and organic produce, as well as responsibly raised meat, according to the company website’s "values" page. It also started recycling used plastic gloves into trash bags in 2018, and committed to diverting 50 percent of waste from landfills in 2020. Finally, at the bottom of the website’s values page, Chipotle states its commitment to the people who make each fast casual restaurant run, promising to support those "who live our values with real culinary training, career opportunities, and great benefits."

Some of that rings true for the people who actually work at Chipotle (hello, tuition reimbursement), but it’s not all love and happiness for every employee. Long hours and high expectations can take a toll, not to mention all the customers who complain about guac costing extra or order a quesarito during the lunch rush.

This is what it’s really like to work at Chipotle, from the good to the bad to the humorous.

Chipotle employees arrive long before opening, and leave long after closing

how long chipotle workers spend working

Former Chipotle employee Eryn Lampkin had some choice words to say about the workload at the chain when she wrote about Chipotle for Spoon University: "Life as a Chipotle employee is all day, erry day." More specifically, Lampkin wrote that, despite many Chipotle locations’ hours being 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., people who open the store come in at 6 a.m. for food prep and those who are closing "can leave as late as midnight."

That’s a lot of chopping, mixing, and grilling to start the morning, and a lot of meticulous cleaning to end the night. It’s caused some tension in the past between employees and the chain. The student newspaper for George Mason University found that some people who worked the closing shift had to stay regularly past midnight and on some nights until 5 a.m., yet they weren’t adequately paid for their time.

How early and late Chipotle employees work typically depends on how busy the location is. Still, in a thread on r/Chipotle, workers and former workers said that it wasn’t uncommon to have to arrive at least two hours before opening and stay at least an hour after closing.

Prep work for Chipotle employees consists of chopping lots of onions

If you’re thinking, "why are there so many hours of prep work involved?" then you should consider the many factors of shaping Chipotle’s fresh-cut meat and vegetables into your perfect burrito. One ingredient stands out above all others: onions. Lampkin wrote in her Spoon University story that prep workers are "chopping fresh onions non-stop." And yes, that means lots of onion tears.

"Sometimes, even while working on the food line outside of the kitchen, you’d feel your eyes start to water and burn," Lampkin wrote. "The smell clung to me and my belongings so much that now the smell of onions can still make me a bit nauseous."

The reason for all the chopping is that onions are used in pretty much every menu item. Chipotle lists more than 10 items that explicitly call for onions, including the fajitas, salsa, beans, and guacamole. Those items that don’t explicitly call for onions can have them added in as well, like the burritos, bowls, and tacos. Chipotle puts the total onion number at about 50 pounds of red onions chopped per day, as well as an unspecified amount of yellow onions. Chipotle’s onion mania makes sense, considering that one poll found that 87 percent of Americans like onions.

Chipotle employees do a lot of cleaning

Starting in the summer of 2015, people who ate at Chipotle experienced a string of illnesses. Norovirus, salmonella, and E. coli cases across the country were traced back to Chipotle, with more than 500 reported illnesses in the span of eight months, according to The New York Times. Clearly, something had gone wrong, and one of Chipotle’s solutions was to become extremely clean — even to the point of requiring workers to attend "cleaning parties," according to Business Insider.

One employee told Delish that, after the outbreaks, people would often walk in and ask, "Can I have a burrito, but hold the E. coli, please?" What they should’ve been asking is how much cleaning is really going on. The employee said that at the top of every hour, each employee washes their hands with soap and water and then uses hand sanitizer. Each used utensil is thrown into a sanitizing detergent mixture that’s replaced every hour as well.

Chipotle continued its cleanliness quest years after the first outbreaks with more food safety policies in 2018. Workers appear to appreciate the effort, as employees on Reddit have raved about the cleanliness. Still, the cleaning protocols are a lot to manage and contribute to all those hours spent working after closing time. One Reddit user reported that the daily cleaning checklist is impossibly long when you consider the floors, counters, tables, outside area, trash cans, bathrooms, soda machines, and more that all have to be cleaned.

Chipotle employees receive sick pay and paid vacations

Great work benefits and fast food industry jobs aren’t typically associated with one another. At Chipotle, however, workers receive some of the same perks that office workers get. Every employee, whether full-time or part-time, receives sick pay and paid vacations. Chipotle’s benefits page states that crew members get 24 hours of sick time (depending on each state’s sick leave laws), and up to 40 vacation hours a year start to accrue after one year of working on the job.

The importance of keeping employees healthy became all the more clear after the norovirus outbreak in Boston in 2015. The sickness was linked to a vomiting employee who returned back to work, according to Boston.com. By providing paid sick days, Chipotle isn’t just helping out the workers, but also customers and the company itself by keeping ill people away from the food. It’s not just time off, either. Chipotle has an on-demand texting service to connect sick employees to physicians via telehealth. According to Business Insider, the company has nurses call in and check on employees — though those same nurses are also checking to make sure the person who called in sick isn’t just hungover.

"The nurse validates that it’s not a hangover — you’re really sick — and then we pay for the day off to get healthy again," Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol said at a 2019 conference, as reported by Business Insider.

Chipotle offers tuition reimbursement for workers

Chipotle offers tuition reimbursement for both salaried and hourly workers as well, which is far above the type of benefit that the average fast food chain provides for employees. Students who work at Chipotle receive up to $5,250 a year for education, according to the Chipotle benefits page. Nation’s Restaurant News reported in 2015 that workers have to maintain a C average to receive reimbursement, and the classes have to be taken at an accredited college or university. The goal is to help recruit young workers who might stay with the company.

"We have a lot of folks who, if they realize they could make a career with Chipotle, would stick with us while they are in college and take advantage of our tuition-reimbursement program," JD Cummings, a recruitment strategy manager at Chipotle, told Nation’s Restaurant News. "They could find the path to restaurateur is an amazing path that they might not have thought of."

In 2019, the chain took it a step further with its debt-free degree program. An announcement about the start of the program noted that Chipotle would cover 100 percent of tuition upfront for 75 different business and technology degrees. For full tuition to be paid, workers have to be on the job for 120 days before having a choice to earn a degree from schools like the University of Arizona, Bellevue University, Wilmington University, and others through a partnership with the tuition help company Guild Education.

Chipotle employees report being underpaid and chronically understaffed

Chipotle expects a lot of work from its employees in return for providing those benefits like sick days, vacation days, and tuition reimbursement. According to Glassdoor, crew members are paid an average of about $10 an hour, which isn’t bad when compared to other fast food jobs — especially with the benefits. Yet the amount of work that’s expected from each person is a common gripe that Chipotle workers complain about.

One worker posted on the r/Chipotle Reddit channel that "you have to move at the speed of light on the line, on dishes, on anything to get out of there at a decent time." They added that the restaurant "is constantly packed and constantly understaffed." Another posted in a different thread that the pace of work "is just way too fast," and "the job is physically and emotionally draining." In one instance, the employee recalled a manager who was upset after they took 15 seconds to catch their breath and were told they weren’t "hustling."

It’s not a new problem. Workers and former workers have been struggling with the workload to pay ratio for years. According to a 2012 AOL story, an Ohio Chipotle worker left a review of the company on Glassdoor that read, "Full-time effort for part-time pay," while another Texas reviewer wrote that "the amount of pressure for a burrito joint is unheard of!"

Chipotle has a history of exploiting the hours of teenage workers

Despite the generous tuition help, it’s not always easy to be a young high school or early college Chipotle employee. In January of 2020, Chipotle settled a child labor lawsuit in Massachusetts and was fined $1.4 million, according to The New York Times. The case revolved around Chipotle locations in the state that allowed teenagers to work too many hours and too late into the night. Chipotle didn’t admit to any wrongdoing by accepting the settlement, but the state of Massachusetts estimated that the company had more than 13,000 child labor violations in the state between 2015 and 2019, making it the biggest child labor case in Massachusetts history.

In addition to the 1.4 million, Chipotle also agreed to pay $500,000 to fund a program to train young workers as well as child labor education and oversight programs.

The charges show just how much Chipotle relies on its young workforce. According to the settlement, 16 and 17-year-olds worked more than nine hours a day and more than 48 hours a week while in high school. It should go without saying, that it’s more than a little difficult to balance that much work with a full schedule (or even a half schedule) of classes.

It takes a long time to learn how to properly roll a Chipotle burrito

Chipotle’s burritos are packed like a New York City subway car. That’s all well and good if you’re a super hungry customer, but for the person whose job it is to roll that burrito, there are many ways things can go wrong. On Reddit’s r/Chipotle, there’s a long stream of posts about how to roll a proper burrito, how to tackle tough burritos to roll, and which burritos are lost causes. A successful Chipotle burrito roll can feel like magic, which is likely one of the reasons the Denver magazine 5280 made a video about proper burrito rolling technique in 2013.

In 2012, a former chipotle employee wrote on Reddit about how burrito assemblers were trained for a whole day during Chipotle’s onboarding. There are various approaches to getting it right. One way, according to a former employee who posted on Reddit, is to put the guacamole and sour cream at the back and the cheese or lettuce on the end and then push all of the ingredients together as you roll as if you’re trying to scoop under the tortilla. Wet ingredients like salsa, beans, and sour cream cause the most problems. Or, as one Redditor put it: "Ordering a burrito full of mostly liquids doesn’t mean a perfect roll every time."

Some burritos are simply lost causes. And for those, there is always another tortilla at the ready to try and try again.

Lots of Chipotle customers heckle about guacamole costing extra

Pretty much everyone who has gone to a Chipotle a few times is familiar with the phrase, "guacamole is an extra charge, is that ok?" Often, the answer is a frustrated yes and nothing further. For some people, however, heckling about guac is all too common.

Lampkin wrote for Spoon University that the most common response to the guac is extra notice is "that’s a little ridiculous, don’t you think?" or "you guys should really change that." It’s not going to change no matter how many snarky comments, though, and there’s nothing that the person filling your Chipotle burrito can do about that.

"We don’t want customers to be surprised by the added cost, so we tell people whenever they ask for it," Chris Arnold, director of communications at Chipotle, told Business Insider. "Not every restaurant charges extra for guac, so there may be customers who expect that we don’t either."

Instead of complaining, consider the true costs of guacamole. In addition to the pricy cost of avocados, you have to factor in the labor costs and the costs of all the onions, tomatoes, spices, and other ingredients. As a former Chipotle employee mentioned on Reddit, "smashing 8 bowls of avocados" in preparation for the full day to come can be an intense shoulder workout. Still, the "guac is extra" refrain has become a cultural touchpoint of its own, complete with t-shirts that read, "I know the guacamole is extra."

Guacamole isn’t the only thing Chipotle customers are rude about

People can find just about anything to complain about at Chipotle, whether it’s warranted or not. When a person asked "What was your worst experience with a customer" on r/Chipotle, workers and former employees responded with some horror stories. One man threatened violence because the location was out of Coke, while another felt he was getting skimped on food and asked a worker to weigh every portion or else he would speak with management. Others simply don’t understand the physics of how much a tortilla can hold.

Bad customers are a common occurrence, judging by the multiple r/Chipotle threads of customer stories. In another, employees described people who showed up early to pick up an online order and couldn’t wait until the correct time without heckling the staff for 10 minutes. One customer couldn’t choose between black and pinto beans, and ended up holding up a line of people out the door while yelling racial slurs at the employee. Some of the horror stories are borderline absurd, like the lady who put her purse on the counter by the register, pulled out a scale, and weighed her burrito bowl before asking for more lettuce.

Sometimes, however, the complaints aren’t about the food at all. One Chipotle employee described on Reddit how a man comes in and berates them "every time Chipotle’s share price goes down as if I’m personally responsible for it."

The quesarito is a headache for Chipotle employees

Just because something isn’t on the menu doesn’t mean people won’t order it. Yes, the world of secret menu hacks is just as alive at Chipotle as it is elsewhere in the fast food world. One common secret order is a major pain for employees: the quesarito.

For the unfamiliar, the quesarito is a regular Taco Bell menu item that consists of a burrito with a quesadilla wrapped around it. At Chipotle, the burritos are large and the kitchen is not designed for easy quesarito assembly. Still, the orders come in.

The main complaint is that quesaritos take a long time to prepare, which causes major issues during the lunch and dinner rushes. In response to a question on Reddit asking why employees have such disdain for the order, employees admitted that it’s fine when it’s not busy, just expect to wait. But then there’s the actual logistics of making one, since the hot cheese oozes out while the burrito is rolled. Or, as one person who responded to the question put it: "It’s literally like rolling hot lava, go to Taco Bell please they have them too. Besides it’s like 1800 calories, there are cheaper ways to kill yourself."

If you really want one, there’s a good way to order it, according to an employee: "Order a burrito, order a quesadilla, unfold your quesadilla and burrito at your table and plop em together. Rewrap to the best of your abilities."

Chipotle employees get free food on work days, and half off every other day

There are some extreme Chipotle fans out there who are down to eat a burrito (or taco, or bowl, or quesadilla) any time, any day. For employees, a free meal policy makes that a little easier. On the Chipotle benefits page, the company notes that workers "receive one free meal for every daily shift." That includes an entrée, drink, and side.

Employees and former employees have elaborated on the policy a little more on Indeed. Turns out it’s not as simple of a policy as it first appears. One person noted that it’s a free meal if the employee worked that day, and 50 percent off if not. It’s also only 50 percent off if the employee wants to take the food home with them. It’s also not an unlimited offer, and has to stay under $20, according to another worker who posted on Indeed. Also, as an employee noted on Reddit, a manager can restrict anyone who is consistently not finishing the food and throwing items away, and the discount only applies to the store you work at.