Chipotle is closing its restaurants next month - but only for one day

The Mexican food chain will shut its doors for one day to meet with employees and discuss its response to E. coli outbreaks.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is closing its restaurants at lunchtime on February 8 to discuss what the chain is doing in response to the E. coli outbreak linked to its locations, which it has been dealing with since October.

At the meeting, Chipotle leaders will thank employees for their hard work during the crisis, discuss the food-safety changes the chain is implementing, and answer questions staffers might have. All of Chipotle’s US restaurants will be closed for lunch and reopen at 3 pm that day in each time zone.

"We have been sharing information with [employees] on a regular basis, but thought it would be great for them to hear directly from our leaders," Chipotle comms director Chris Arnold told PRWeek via email, when asked why the chain decided to take this strategy.

Chipotle responded directly on Friday to several confused Twitter users who thought the chain was closing for good in February.

Chipotle announced at an ICR conference on Wednesday that it is planning a marketing campaign in February, including a direct mail push, to bring customers back to its restaurants. Chipotle also said CDC officials met with its executives last week.

The decisions came after it revealed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing earlier this month that, following a new round of illnesses recently tied to the chain and "related national media attention," comparable restaurant sales dropped by 37% for the week of December 21. Restaurant sales were down 30% for the full month of December.

Chipotle said it expects sales to dip 14.6% at established locations for the fourth quarter of last year, marking the first drop since the company went public in 2006.

Chipotle also said in the filing that it received a federal grand jury subpoena as part of a criminal investigation tied to a norovirus outbreak this summer at a restaurant in Simi Valley, California.

The subpoena, received in December, required Chipotle to produce a broad range of documents. At least 53 people in nine states have been afflicted by an E. coli outbreak associated with the chain, according to reports.

On the comms front, Chipotle has been ratcheting up its media relations efforts to spread the word about steps it is taking to mitigate the risks of food-borne illness. Last month, Chipotle also posted a letter from co-CEO and founder Steve Ells about the food-safety initiative to its website and linked to it on the chain’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Ells also apologized in an NBC interview to all customers who fell ill after eating in its restaurants and promised to enforce strict food-safety practices.

Chipotle is also updating a FAQ page, set up in November, with news pertaining to the crisis. The portal was last updated on December 21.

The chain recently parted ways  with Edelman, which it had been working with since 2008.  

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