The Great Chipotle Debacle: Influencer Culture Run Amok


Two months ago, in one of my bi-annual visits to Chipotle Mexican Grill for my gluten-free veggie bowl I encountered a catastrophe. Could my eyes have deceived me? Was there less in the bowl than in my previous visits? Was it nostalgia that misled me into believing that veggie bowls from days of yore were far more bountiful than the one I encountered? I was deeply concerned. 

It depressed me to think that one of the belly-filling guarantees in our nation’s life was no longer such. Had America gone to hell in a handbasket? What was next? Hershey bars manufactured in China? What to do, what to do? 

But I need not have worried. Younger, more facile, and certainly more obstreperous minds were right on the skimpy servings scandal. To quote The New York Times, “Tik Tok users had devised a variety of viral tactics…including walking out without paying…and filming workers.” Bless you, Gen Z.

Drew Polenske, an “influencer,” led a Tik Tok charge to give Chipotle negative ratings on-line and encouraged his followers to walk out if their portions weren’t big enough. Given the use of Tik Tok, perhaps this is a Chinese conspiracy to disrupt our lives and turn us against one another.

Another influencer, Los Angeleno Drew Francis, who is also a model, videoed his food being prepared. Dissatisfied by the portion of beans, he said to the server “appreciate you, bro,” and walked out without paying. The video is entitled, “Couldn’t let him disrespect me with the protein.” He had over 114,000 “likes” as of mid-June. I would think that an Influencer/Model would have had far better things to feel disrespected about, starting with being an Influencer/Model, but somewhere buried in all that narcissism and pettiness was a point. 

Chipotle’s chairman said there was no portion-size-suppressing going on, though they had raised their prices four times in two years. Francis believed that at those increased prices he should be getting more food. The poor guy obviously wasn’t off the runway long enough to learn capitalism 101. Costs all along the supply chain including labor dictated at least some price rise, though I too was surprised in my last visit how much my bowl now cost. It’s not that people with a legitimate beef with a company shouldn’t complain, it’s how they do it – and for what.

I am by nature a skeptic. I question authority, I question religion, I question just about everything, and I certainly question the motives of corporations. I don’t believe in a nationwide Chipotle conspiracy against consumers to make profits soar by serving less.  To confirm this belief, my wife Joan and I went to a local Chipotle near our home in Santa Fe. Having 11 of them in New Mexico may seem counter-intuitive, as the state is the epicenter of Mexican-American cuisine provided by independently owned restaurants of all sizes, shapes and price ranges — but here they be.  

We got in line and ordered two veggie bowls. Our server was an older gentleman who transferred to Santa Fe from Chicago to be with his daughter. He showed me how food was supposed to be layered so that a bowl could be properly filled. When asked about portion complaints he suggested that this was usually due to poor training of servers.  I have been going to Chipotle for many years in many locations – there are now 3,400 nationwide – and if I feel I have been given short shrift on the food I ask for more. I have never been denied. What I eat there is good, nutritious, unprocessed food and its prices compare favorably to similar Santa Fe eateries.

Our perfectly fine Santa Fe veggie bowls. They were take-out. After a long drive home the guacamole is a bit oxidized

The internet is the perfect vehicle for airing out grievances large, small, and imagined. The Chipotle “debacle” is a good example. Rather than addressing the corporation directly by asking them about the issue, organizing a boycott or an email campaign, or simply not patronizing them, the unhappiness is directed at the low-wage workers who work the front lines or bad-mouthing the restaurant online. I wonder if any of the Influencers or Tik Tokers simply requested they have a bigger portion rather than videoing or exiting in a huff leaving food behind that had to be tossed out. It’s an unfortunate and entitled view of the world.

Being a Gen Zenior, influencers seem more than a bit silly to me. I am amused and perhaps a bit befuddled by their success. Of course, the idea of convincing other people about things they may not need or never gave a thought to is not uniquely a 21st century practice. Shakespeare was talking about them in the 1600s. Influencers are behaving on a personal level. The more clicks you get with real or spurious information, the more the possibility that sponsors may ask you to push their product; the more product to push the more money you make. Successful influencers are self-motivated, self-involved, ambitious, and canny. Like all marketing tools they score with many of those least likely to need or afford their services. 

Non-influencer Tik Tokers, and their more loquacious cousins, YouTubers, are often also focused on clicks for potential advertisements and fall into two large categories: look what I can do and look what I saw. They can be self-indulgent, childish, funny, informative, mean-spirited, thoughtful, and inspirational. Shamelessly, I admit to watching cat videos and “fails,” those videos that revel in the stupidity of homo sapiens. It is humbling to watch them and see yourself in some of these escapades gone south.

The 1968 quote misattributed to Andy Warhol, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” does presage the internet. So many are trying for “fame,” and yet so few succeed. It’s the ultimate narcissistic indulgence, the 21st century version of seeing your name up in lights on a Broadway theater marquee. You become both ephemeral and immortal, forever present on the internet – should you remember to click “save” or send your masterpiece to the “cloud.”

The internet is an almost inconceivably cluttered marketplace full of 15 minutes of wheat and chaff. So much of it is complaint, indulgence, entitlement, victimization, egomania, and self-righteousness. Our culture encourages this behavior, inflating it rather than moderating it. The issues of Chipotle’s portion sizes and prices may be legitimate, but it isn’t really about that. It is about imagined slights, and the need to rectify them. 

A final note: In addition to watching cat videos and fails, I also feed that exemplar of internet indulgence, my own website. However, I do not take advertising or promote any product, unless of course…

Spider Kedelsky
Spider Kedelsky
Spider Kedelsky is a former choreographer, performing arts producer, and a co-founder of Town Hall Seattle.


  1. I have been musing on an analogous problem for several months, I’m sure that most would agree that anyone (me) who complains about this has no real problem at all. I tend to agree. Still…..

    Over many years I have become fond of the Mai Tai served at a particular Waikiki hotel. Although “Mai Tai” has a long and controversial history, and has now become a generic Polynesian cocktail involving rum and various fruit juices, maybe a little paper umbrella. I’m not talking about
    this kind of drink. I don’t ever drink these.

    I am referring to a particular hand-made libation served at a single and renowned Honolulu resort (No, not the Royal Hawaiian) that requires fresh-squeezed lime juice, orgeat syrup and three kinds of rum, layered. The last layer is a White Hart 151 proof dark rum “floated” across the ice-filled glass. The result is intoxicating and sublime. A destination beverage, inducing pleasant sub-tropical conversation and a a sublime sense of pleasure and well-being.

    No more. On my last two visits, perhaps concurrent with a recent change in management, the rum was muddled, the lime juice reeked of ice slush. And worst of all, there was no dark rum float. Naturally I complained (politely). A replacement appeared, and I discovered when I signed my check that I had been upcharged $8!

    All the terrible things happening in the United States and the world, and now this!

    I commiserate with your Chipotle experience, although I have never eaten there. And what about my Mai Tai? I’m talking to you, Halekulani.

  2. Gordon — You bring back memories of you popping up is disparate places. I would run into you in downtown Seattle walking along with your clipboard scouting potential Starbucks locations. Then, there you were suiting up for Saturday B-Ball at that middle school gym in Lake City. The gym is particularly memorable for its floor made up of verticle 2X4s sanded flat, laminated and extremely harmful to knees. Then, several years ago, my wife and I were reclining on the lovely sands of Hanalei Bay, and, danged if there you were strolling along at the tide line. No way I could match your taste in high end Hawaii cocktails. Tahiti Nui in downtown Hanalei suited my non-descriminating tastes with their $7 dollar Mai Tais concocted with great cheer and gusto.


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