Chipotle is in hot water for this shady business practice

They say change is inevitable. Well, for some customers at Pittsburgh-area Chipotle restaurants, that old truism isn't so true any more, since change is the one thing they're not getting along with their burritos. We mean change as in money, since anyone paying for an order in cash better have the exact amount to the penny, otherwise they run the risk of getting shortchanged. This isn't happening at just one location, either — according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, one customer in Hampton, Pennsylvania paid for an order totaling $15.51 with a $20 bill and received just $4 back, while another customer in nearby Pine paid for an $8.72 order with a $20 bill and got $11 back. Wait, that doesn't make cents! Or does it, for Chipotle?

So what's going on here? Are the cashiers deliberately stealing from the customers? It's just a few cents at a time, true, but it all adds up, especially if there are a lot of cash transactions. Fox News reports that total consumer losses might add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. As it turns out, though, the cashiers themselves are likely not to blame, and they are not the ones pocketing the proceeds, either. In fact, they may just be following orders from management.

Chipotle is now being sued by its customers

A class action suit is being filed in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania on behalf of the Chipotle customers who've made an involuntary "donation" to the company above and beyond the upcharge for guacamole. According to Attorney Frank G. Salpietro, who represents the claimants, Chipotle's "keep the change" policy seems to be "top-down." He says that the company will probably try to claim the nationwide coin shortage as an excuse, but explains "that doesn't give Chipotle license to line its own pockets during a pandemic," particularly since it disproportionately affects low-income customers who may be more likely to use cash (via KDKA).

As the lawsuit alleges, what comes out of the pockets of "consumers who do not have, or do not wish to use, credit cards results in a tax-free cash windfall to Chipotle" (via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). Not to mention, it's deceptive business practice not to state the lack of coins before a transaction takes place, but only disclosing the "no change" situation after the customer has already paid.

How Chipotle could be handling the coin shortage instead

So what should the restaurant be doing if it just cannot come up with sufficient coinage to make change for each cash-paying customer? Salpietro suggests that the restaurant could always try rounding the price of the food down, though we suspect if there's any rounding going on it will more likely be in the opposite direction. Another approach would be to issue a credit in the amount of the change due that customers could use towards their next purchase, a practice that's been adopted by Kroger stores in response to the 2020 coin shortage.

Chipotle could even take a page from Chick-fil-A's playbook and try offering, say, free guacamole for anyone paying in coins, which would generate some goodwill with customers, as well as much-needed currency. There's a right way and a wrong way to deal with a coin shortage — too bad it's taking a lawsuit to (hopefully) divert Chipotle from the latter track.