Friday, April 25, 2008

Customers sound off

A rose is a rose is a rose, but restaurant customers come in ever-shifting varieties. Treat them right, even in a crisis, and they can be convincing apostles for a place or a chain, as Chipotle is learning from a consumer poll that’s being conducted on its handling of a food-safety situation. But burn ‘em and they’ll turn into town criers of a far different sort, as I was reminded by an e-mail, complete with a photo documenting the transgression, that was sent this morning by a disgruntled KFC patron.

“The picture I have attached is my first, and likely the last, purchase
 of what was supposed to be KFC's new Grilled Chicken Sandwich,” wrote Chris Donaldson of Westminster, Canada. “[It was] advertised at 
the ordering kiosk in the drive-thru as having a bulging piece of grilled
 chicken layered with a generous helping of lettuce and a slice of tomato.” Instead, Donaldson said, it looked like this:

He said he contacted KFC’s corporation operations, who put him in touch with the franchisee, who offered to give him a free sandwich the next time he’s in the area. Donaldson said he lives 30 miles from the store, and a free sandwich just isn’t enough of a draw.

“I appreciate the efforts by some fast food outlets to present a good fair-
for-the- money product, but this turn in my opinion with KFC has to be done 
properly and without ripping customers off, “ he wrote. He also lamented the chain’s discontinuation of Tender Roast non-fried chicken a few years ago.

Contrast that takeaway with the impressions consumers cited in a poll that’s being conducted by Kimberly Palmer, author of U.S. News & World Reports’ Alpha Consumer blog. The survey deals with Chipotle’s handling of a norovirus outbreak that was linked to its unit in Kent, Ohio, near the campus of Kent State. About 450 people were afflicted in the incident, according to local news reports. As we reported yesterday online, Chipotle is inviting victims to submit their medical bills for reimbursement.

“Imagine this: You go to a restaurant. The food makes you sick—so sick you need to visit the doctor,” writes Palmer. “To compensate, the restaurant offers to pay your medical bills. Does that leave you a satisfied customer?”

The posting includes an instant poll that readers can take to express their opinions of Chipotle’s response. Fifty-three percent said their sentiments were best expressed by the option, “It could have happened to any restaurant, and probably won’t happen again to Chipotle.” Another 31 percent said they’d be “a bit wary” but would eventually go back to the restaurant. Only 16 percent responded, “Medical bills or not, Mexican food would nauseate me forevermore.”


  1. Chipotle clearly gets it. I know that it is getting really hard to make ends meet with COGS going through the roof and a slumping economy. Everyone seems scared to do anything. But I am surprised that KFC would dish out stuff like that! Now is the time to win customers and make them feel like you care about them.

    That picture makes me sick to think that it actually went out to a paying customer.

  2. Chipolte food is great and fresh all the time. It seems that this cafe will do well and continue to grow even in the recession that is bound to hit every corner of this land. However; in the Dallas area, most all locations, the help is substandard to say the least. They employee rude Meixcan women and men who could care less about anything but hurring someone through the line and skimping on the servings. They seem irritated to slow down if a person needs some time to evaluate the ingredients they are getting. Since there is no contact on any of their web pages they don't seem to want to hear about any negative issues. One thing is very certain as money gets tight as it will the rude employees could cost a location to go under unless they address the real problem instead of just sluffing it off. RC Lewisville, Texas