What Nonprofits Can Learn From Chipotle

I was in a fast-casual Mexican restaurant the other day, Chipotle, and while in line I was thinking about how the concept developed by this and other brands applies to service delivered by a nonprofit. First, I researched the difference between fast-casual and full-service restaurants (more traditional model) for this article. The definition of a traditional, full-service restaurant is “restaurants that encapsulate the old-fashioned idea of going out to eat.” The question I asked is, “are nonprofit organizations encapsulating the old-fashioned idea of serving members the same way they were served 30-50 years ago?” 

The challenge of the traditional, full-service, restaurant concept is that it takes time and costs more money. A famous restaurant in New York did a study on dining times and found that, on average, it takes 90 minutes and up to three and a half hours to eat a meal. On the high side, these are the upscale restaurants serving 9 courses or more, so we will err on the side of 90 minutes to two hours. Given the fast-pace of society and the desire to satiate our appetites when convenient and in the time frame we would like, fast-casual restaurant concepts are booming. People just don’t want to spend that much time sitting in a restaurant.

In a recent Washington Post article (February 2), the market for fast casual food has grown by 550% since 1999! Millennials, the age group of 18-34, are also making up the biggest demographic of the “fan” base of this model because they are finding themselves more strapped for time and money but want quality food with quality service. The Millennials and generations behind them are our future members. This is already forcing shifts in our nonprofit models. Let’s examine how we can translate this into our nonprofit organizations by examining two areas and how they relate to nonprofit organizations:  

Time– Time is an issue in every transaction we make in life and will not change but only be more focused with more demands placed on it. One of the main reasons someone doesn’t attend a live nonprofit conference or meeting is the time and cost factor. The fast-casual model of dining is focused on providing an experience where the diner receives exactly what they want from a select menu of items, which allows the food to be prepared right in front of them quickly and at a lower cost. The same time and cost factor we just identified in the traditional restaurant model is fixed in this model. How do we recognize this time factor by offering different modalities of interaction from our members? Is there a way for them to build their experience how they want it and then consume what they selected on their terms?

Versatility – Chipotle has a total of 7 menu items, which includes their kid’s meals. That is it! What Chipotle has done is assembled 7 related products and uses a select number of ingredients interchangeably in each one. This offers Chipotle great versatility in adjusting its menu and doing it quickly based on customer needs. Consider our nonprofit organizations and how many “menu items” are offered. Are we able to make adjustments in a nimble way based upon our members’ needs? If we can make these adjustments quickly, doesn’t it make your nonprofit less vulnerable to competitive threats? Think about it, if your nonprofit organization can make adjustments to customer needs quickly, it will keep your competitors steps behind.

Time and versatility is and always will be essential in how nonprofits do business with their members. The question is, where do you see your organization moving and how will it make adjustments to satisfy the demand for “fast-casual” consumable services in your organization? Also, membership demographics are changing and the U.S. Census Bureau is now projecting that Millennials alone will surpass the projected 74.9 million Boomers (51 to 69) in 2015.  We have a shift in behavior and in demographics that cannot be ignored and can be capitalized on by nonprofit organizations. What will your nonprofit model look like in the next 10 years to position or maintain it as thermarket leader?