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What Chipotle tells us about corporate America's remarkable pandemic-era adaptability

·2 min read
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Watching your dinner being prepared in front of you is one of the more romantic pastimes in the human experience. In addition to being visually stimulated, the diner benefits from knowing that his or her food is fresh and being prepared correctly.

This experience arguably helped Chipotle (CMG) become the $40 billion burrito chain it is today.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic began, restaurants everywhere — including Chipotle — were forced to close their doors to diners in an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. Over time, many of these restaurants never reopened.

And many others have been able to stay open thanks to quick changes in how they did business. Some introduced takeout and digital ordering for the first time. Some built outdoor dining areas. Some even offered alcoholic drinks to go.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MARCH 26: A worker at a Chipotle restaurant waits on customers through a window on March 26, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has ordered all restaurants and bars in the state closed to all but carry-out and delivery orders.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A worker at a Chipotle restaurant waits on customers through a window on March 26, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Before the pandemic, Chipotle had a modest digital operation. In Q4 2019, online orders represented just 20% of sales. In Q2 2020, that metric jumped to 60%. Today, that metric is a little over 40%.

Businesses across all industries made all sorts of changes to remain in operation while adapting to incredibly challenging new realities.

One of the most well-known shifts is office workers working from home. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 35% of employed adults were working from home in May 2020 due to the pandemic.

As of February, 13% of employed adults were still working from home. And yet the major measures of the economy — including GDP, personal consumption, and corporate profits — have fully recovered and climbed to new record highs.

If there’s one thing investors learned over the past two years, it’s that businesses have an incredible ability to adapt to challenges. And they will continue to do so as new challenges emerge.

Sam Ro is the author of TKer.co. Follow him on Twitter at @SamRo.

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