"Shrinkflation" claims have hit Chipotle — and its customers are ready with their cameras

Chipotle squashed rumors claiming that customers who filmed store workers would be given greater portions of food

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published May 30, 2024 12:20PM (EDT)

Guacamole from Chipotle (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/Salon)
Guacamole from Chipotle (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/Salon)

Earlier this month, social media star and food critic Keith Lee took to TikTok to post a review of several menu items from Chipotle. In the video — which garnered over 16.5 million views — Lee is seen trying three separate “go-to” items including chicken tacos, a  chicken al pastor bowl and a modified steak quesadilla with corn and sour cream on the side. Lee, who has spoken favorably about the burrito chain in the past, had only disappointments to voice this time around.

“This is out of the ordinary for me, but I used to love Chipotle,” Lee said in his review posted May 3. “Lately, Chipotle has not hit the same, in my opinion. Is it still like that, or has something changed? I truly want to find out.”

Lee also complained about the lack of chicken in his bowl, saying Chipotle’s “portions been crazy low.” An online frenzy soon ensued with other consumers echoing similar sentiments and accusing Chipotle of “shrinkflation” — the practice of reducing a product’s amount while still offering it at its original price. Many flooded the Chipotle app with negative reviews — a tactic they hoped would compel the chain to fix their portion size issues. Others posted their complaints on TikTok, Reddit and other social media.

In the wake of the backlash, a sort-of trend emerged in which consumers recorded Chipotle workers making their order and then walked out mid-order if the portions seemed too small to their liking. Rumors soon began circulating, claiming that if customers filmed Chipotle workers making their order, they would receive larger portions per company protocol. Those who tested out this “hack” claimed they did indeed get more food while recording. However, Chipotle has since come forward saying the rumors are untrue and the “hack” is misleading. The company never instructed its employees to give more food to customers who film, Laurie Schalow, chief corporate affairs and food safety officer at Chipotle, told Forbes and NBC’s Today.

Specifically, Schalow told Forbes “there have been no changes in our portion sizes, and we have reinforced proper portioning with our employees.” In an email to Today, Schalow said Chipotle’s meals have always been “completely customizable,” meaning customers can “vocalize or digitally select their desired portions when choosing from the list of real ingredients.”

Despite the hate, Chipotle continues to showcase financial growth within an increasingly competitive restaurant industry. Per Forbes, Chipotle’s share price, which was up 44% year-to-date, “hit an all-time high” earlier this month, and the company had a market capitalization of $89 billion. Last year, Chipotle reported its total revenue increased 14.3% to $9.9 billion year-over-year, and comparable restaurant sales increased 7.9%. The chain opened 271 new restaurants, 238 of which included a Chipotlane, Chipotle’s own drive-thru lanes. Chipotle is expected to open between 285 to 315 new restaurants this year, according to a report from Restaurant Dive. Over 80% of those restaurants will include Chipotlanes, thus setting the path for Chipotle to open more than 1,000 Chipotlanes in 2024.

Much of Chipotle’s successes can be attributed to its restaurant strategy. Chipotle’s digital sales have remained strong. As explained by Forbes, Chipotle’s highest-margin sales are from digital orders, “so momentum on this front serves the business well for continued profit growth in the long run.” The chain’s drive-thru lanes and rewards program — which touts 40 million members and surpasses the number of members in Starbucks’ internationally lauded rewards program — also help new restaurants generate sales and margins.

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Similar to Chipotle, other fast casual restaurants like Sweetgreen, Cava and Wingstop have exhibited positive performance. However, the same can’t be said for major fast food restaurants. Chains like McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King experienced decrease in global sales due to high food costs and reduced consumer demand. Thanks to "fast-flation" — the term used to describe soaring fast food menu prices — a growing number of budget-conscious consumers now consider fast food a “luxury,” and are choosing to eat more meals at home instead of dining out. This, in turn, has forced fast food chains to cut back on menu prices in hopes of winning back their customers.

McDonald’s recently announced a limited-time offer, which includes a choice of either a McChicken, a McDouble or four-piece chicken nuggets, small fries and a small drink — all for just $5. Wendy’s soon followed suit and announced its budget-friendly breakfast combo meal, available for $3. Burger King is the latest chain to join the competition with a new $5 value meal.

By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.