Why Is Chipotle Having a Hard Time Finding Crew Members?

by Staff Writer on December 22, 2011

The fast-food restaurant Chipotle got in hot water this year with the feds for hiring thousands of employees who were not authorized to work in the United States. Now the Wall Street Journal notes that CEO Monty Moran is complaining that he cannot find enough employees to staff his restaurants, and is calling for immigration reform. But why is he having such a hard time finding workers?

After all, the U.S.’s unemployment rate has been hovering between nine and ten percent for ages, and when you consider underemployed and discouraged workers, some say that the real unemployment rate is more like 17 percent.  Then why is that a company that says its managers, who they mostly hire from within, can make upwards of $100,000 a year cannot find good staff willing to work their way up the ranks? Something doesn’t compute here, especially when there are people literally willing to work for free to get a shot at a job.

And remember how,  earlier this year, McDonald’s had a hiring day throughout all its United States stores that attracted one million job seekers? So how is it that Chipotle says it cannot find qualified workers? After all, they have much higher cachet when it comes to food service jobs.  Their company also seems very socially aware of issues like factory farms, and the obesity epidemic in this country, and you would think that that ethos would translate into how they treat their staffers, thus lowering turnover.

As a regular Chipotle customer, I have appreciated that they have friendly workers who serve quality food, albeit for considerably more than Mickey D’s or Burger King charges.  But I also noticed something go missing over the last few months – the tip jar. Like Starbucks does, Chipotle used to have a tip jar, for customers to give staffers a little something extra. It went away a few months ago at the Manhattan Chipotles, briefly returned, then went away, apparently for good, a short time later. Why? Tip jars are one of those things that seems to elevate the staff; most of the higher end quick food places have them.

Moran told the Wall Street Journal, “We’ve got a business to run and need great people,” he said. It’s always been our job to build the business up with the foundation of the very best people we can find. Period.”

Yet this free marketer ran to Congress complaining about how the country needs to change its immigration laws in order to accommodate him. The Wall Street Journal said that “he minced few words with those he met” when he visited lawmakers.. “He’s not a quiet, retiring guy,” says Sen. Michael Bennet. “He communicated that he had gone through a traumatic experience, an experience at war with how business and this country ought to work.” This, after his company got called out for a slew of immigration violations. Guess humility isn’t in Moran’s vocabulary.

Of course, it doesn’t appear that the Chipotle CEO did much introspection, including wondering what he could do to find and keep good employees. Because if you cannot find enough good people to work at cooking up burritos, running cash registers, and mopping the floors in this economy, where people are desperate to do anything to put food on the table, maybe you need to look at 1) increasing wages, 2) adding fringe benefits, or 3) increasing morale by making the place somewhere that people want to stay. A good start might be bringing back those tip jars.

Lisa Swan is a Feature Writer for the Compliance Exchange. She is also a columnist for The Faster Times and a blogger for Subway Squawkers. Her work has also appeared in the New York Daily News, Yahoo Sports, Huffington Post and the books Graphical Player 2011 and Graphical Player 2010.

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