Chipotle Gets Dinged By Social Consumers

By Paul Barron, CEO/Founder of DigitalCoCo, Foodable WebTV & the Restaurant Social Media Index

We are often asked what most impacts sentiment scores in social media. In all cases over the past three years, it has been service that impacts sentiment the most — however, with recent price hikes from Chipotle, we are seeing some interesting issues arise in social consumer sentiment.

Foodable WebTV Network

Foodable WebTV Network

You have to remember that social media barely existed in our last period of restaurant industry challenges in 2008. In fact, Twitter and Facebook combined had less than 100 million users compared to the 1.5 billion the two share today. These platforms have given the digital consumer a new megaphone to use when they choose to display dissatisfaction with restaurant brands. The more alarming number here probably is 71% — the percentage of increase we have seen in restaurant consumers using social to engage with brands when something goes wrong. In Q1 of 2014, we began tracking a new metric we call Social Guest Satisfaction (SGS) scoring in the Restaurant Social Media Index. This score is a new model used to review a social consumer’s activity over time related to what level they are engaging with brands on issues and for what reasons.

This SGS Score has shifted considerably over the past ten days with Chipotle, and pricing issue was the key problem area. In fact, Decision Set was impacted most by consumers that compare Chipotle to more of a fast food option vs. fast casual. This is a very interesting point, as fast casual has been looked at over the past several years as a huge value for value option. Chipotle is faced with rising costs, but also a customer base that has a certain expectation of great value from the brand.

In our SGS Score, Chipotle dropped from an 87.6 Value Score to a 59.3 over the past two weeks, and the Decision Set Score dropped from 69.2% to a 47.6% of consumers that said they plan to choose Chipotle over other competitors. We think this may be just a knee jerk consumer reaction and could correct over some time, but the reality of pricing is here to stay in social guest satisfaction, and all brands need to consider pricing as a new science if they do not already. Brands need to consider social as the biggest revelation of push-back from consumers we have seen in the RSMI history since 2009.

The new SGS Score is comprised of five scoring areas: Value, Intent to Return, Referral, Decision Set percentage and Sentiment roll-up from our food, service and brand tracking. We think this SGS Score could become a new area for consideration by brands to determine next steps in brand growth strategies.