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music friday: amber benson, “under your spell”

the cost of eating at chipotle

I ate at Chipotle for the very first time after seeing this video:

OK, so I like Willie Nelson. You go to Chipotle’s, you can feel good knowing the animals you eat have been treated properly. You know the food is fresh, you know the food is good for you.

Dinner for two was $20. No tip, so that’s out the door for three crispy steak tacos, one burrito bowl, and two small soft drinks.

Now, $20 is less than we pay when we go to Juan’s Place, so I can’t exactly say that Chipotle is overpriced. At Juan’s, we’re at home (if you don’t believe me, look at my picture on the wall), we’ve gone there for a few decades, everybody knows everybody, they’re always throwing in something special for free. It’s the kind of place, the kind of atmosphere, the kind of people where you are glad to leave a big fat tip, so even if the food itself wasn’t more expensive than Chipotle’s, the tip pushes it over the top. Still, Juan’s isn’t that expensive … maybe $35 tops for two big plates of food with plenty of leftovers to take home for later, bottomless drinks, great atmosphere and service.

If we go to Taco Bell, we spend $15 at the most for enough food to more than fill two stomachs. There is no service to speak of, the food is only marginally “Mexican”, and god only knows what went into the food before it appeared on our plate. If you can bring yourself down from your high horse, you’ll find that the food tastes good … that’s the evil secret of fast food, they know how to make it taste good so you want to come back for more, whether by adding sugar or salt or fat or whatever.

So, the question is, what was I paying for when I spent $20 at Chipotle? The food was healthier than the food at Taco Bell, although I don’t know if it’s healthier than Juan’s. Some would argue that the smaller portions at Chipotle are a good thing, since Americans eat too much, but that kinda goes out the window when you’re hungry two hours later and have to eat again. The service is no better or worse than the service at Taco Bell, which is to say there is no service beyond taking your order and handing you the food.

You are spending $5 extra over Taco Bell to feel better about yourself because they were nice to the pigs before they killed them. I can see why that’s worth it; I try to buy organic (not natural) meat, myself, even though it costs more. What surprised me on my first visit to Chipotle, though, was that the entire experience was far closer to Taco Bell than it was to Juan’s. If I’m going to spend more than a Taco Bell’s worth of money, I’d just as soon go visit my friends at Juan’s, where the food is good and the people are better. I’m sure the people at Chipotle are nice. I’m just as sure that they won’t still be working there 30 years from now, greeting old friends.

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