Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. has had to temporarily close its doors at some locations or limit store hours because so many workers are sick during the COVID-19 pandemic, a phenomenon its CEO predicts will get worse in the coming months.
“When employees start coming down with Covid at these high percentages, it just makes staffing much more challenging than what it was six months ago,” Brian Niccol, Chipotle’s chief executive officer, said during an interview with Bloomberg News. “The coming months I think are going to be even more challenging from a staffing standpoint.”
According to Niccol, Chipotle has done a good job at keeping its employees healthy, with its infection rate “below the national average in a meaningful way.” But with virus cases soaring again in vast swathes of the U.S., some fast-food workers are bound to catch it even with increased precautions, like face masks and air purification.
The staffing challenge is just the latest problem for a restaurant industry already facing an unprecedented year. OpenTable has previously estimated that 25 per cent of U.S. restaurants may go out of business due to the pandemic’s impact as consumers opt to make their food at home -- though chains like Chipotle with robust delivery and pick-up businesses have weathered the storm better than their sit-down peers.
The chief of Chipotle doesn’t see this pandemic ending any time soon and has told his team members to be “prepared to be in masks and social distancing well into” next year. Still, he said, “my point of view is if we do the right things, it won’t be as far into ’21.”
Meanwhile, he’s trying to learn from 2020, including to be prepared for anything. Another takeaway?
“I do hope people keep washing their hands when COVID is over,” he said.