Chipotle Mexican Grill has been a leader in using digital technologies to make the fast-casual dining experience even better, and it earned kudos for the creative ways it reached customers during the pandemic. For a recent episode of our Rise of the Data Cloud podcast, we sat down with Chipotle’s Zach Sippl, Senior Director for Data and Business Intelligence, who explained how digitalization is driving Chipotle’s strategy now and into the future. 

Chipotle has over 2,850 restaurants across the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and is known for its focus on fresh ingredients that are free from artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. Even amid the disruption of the pandemic, the company opened 161 new restaurants in 2020 and its digital orders grew 174.1%, accounting for 46.2% of all sales last year. 

Among the changes, Sippl told us, Chipotle introduced new store formats that make it easier for customers to order and collect food while remaining safely distanced. It also revamped its website and app to provide the best ordering experience possible, opened additional drive-thru “Chipotlanes” that provide a better pickup experience, and added new digital-only menu items.

“If you give people a great, easy experience, as I think Chipotle has done, then they keep coming back, and that’s what we’re seeing,” Sippl said.

Chipotle began its shift to the cloud several years ago when it realized that its on-premises infrastructure could not keep pace with the volume of data it was collecting and the performance it required. It also wanted a modern data platform that would support its growing analytics needs, both for day-to-day operations and for its advanced work in data science. 

After evaluating several options, Chipotle began implementing Snowflake early last year. It was drawn to Snowflake’s scalability, which makes it easy to scale up and down capacity as needed, and also its ease of use, Sippl said. “It takes a fraction of the effort to manage and administer Snowflake compared to some of our prior platforms, which is great for our teams,” he said.

An important use case has been supporting Chipotle’s customer rewards program, which drives engagement and loyalty. The company has been collecting more and more data from new customers that sign up, and Snowflake allows it to process that data in near real time to better understand its customers’ preferences and buying habits, Sippl said.

Snowflake has also become the “go-to platform” for Chipotle’s data science teams across the company. The ease with which it can scale up capacity means Snowflake’s Data Cloud can easily support the “high-horsepower needs” of those data teams, he said. “When you’re done, you can scale down again and you only pay for what you need.”

Sippl also discussed how Chipotle is making data available to more teams across the company, and how it’s implementing data self-service capabilities so teams can work more independently.

The COVID-19 pandemic taught businesses that they need to have a holistic view of their businesses so they can understand the impact of any disruption and react quickly, Sippl said. That means they can’t afford to have data silos; teams need access to a common repository of consistent, current data.

That model of shared, ubiquitous access will become more common moving forward, he said, and even business users who aren’t familiar with code will be able to make use of complex analytics.

Rise of the Data Cloud is a podcast hosted by award-winning author and journalist Steve Hamm. For each episode, Steve speaks with a data leader to learn how they leverage the cloud to manage, share, and analyze data to drive business growth, fuel innovation, and disrupt their industries. You can listen to more episodes here.