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Chipotle's free guacamole day is a disaster

Melody Hahm
West Coast Correspondent

At least 140 people claimed they got sick after eating at a Chipotle (CMG) restaurant in Powell, Ohio, over the past several days. Shares of the Mexican fast-casual chain fell as much as 8% on Tuesday.

As if Chipotle’s day couldn’t get any worse, customers are disgruntled with the poor execution of a free guacamole deal for National Avocado Day. Guac fans were promised free avocado with any online or in-app purchase of an entree on July 31. However, the app was not working for some, and I could not even find a space to insert the promo code “AVOCADO.” Online, users were met with the disappointing “technical difficulties” notification. 

The employees at the East 8th location in Manhattan were unaware of the offering that’s being billed as a nationwide event.

Guacamole is a favorite among millennials and Mexican food connoisseurs alike. What was supposed to be a fun, free guac gimmick is just adding to the negative news embroiling the company that has been fighting to come back from damaging E. coli and norovirus incidents in 2015.

The local health department has informed us of two customer complaints of illness at one restaurant in Powell, Ohio. We acted quickly and closed this single restaurant out of an abundance of caution yesterday. We are working with the local health department and we plan to reopen this restaurant today,” said Chipotle Chief Communications Officer Laurie Schalow in a statement to Yahoo Finance.

The company closed the Powell location on Monday afternoon and as of 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, it had not reopened for business. A restaurant team member who answered the phone said, “We are currently working with the health department and we should know more within the hour.”

Schalow says that two individuals have reported food poisoning symptoms like diarrhea, fever and vomiting to the local health department. But according to CNBC, health officials in Ohio’s Delaware County received over 100 calls (and counting) on Tuesday. Many more are taking to I Was Poisoned, a Reddit-like site where posts are anonymous and unvetted, and therefore is no way to check the veracity of their claims. 

National Avocado Day fail

Chipotle’s free guac promotion is just causing adding to customer frustration. After encouraging its Twitter followers to redeem the free guac offering all morning, at noon ET on Tuesday, the company tweeted that it’s working to get its “servers back up ASAP.” 

“Today was a record breaking day for Chipotle! We had an unprecedented increase in new digital customers as a result of the free guac promo in honor of National Avocado Day. Unfortunately, breaking these records also broke the internet, but we are now back up and running,” Chipotle said in a statement to Yahoo Finance. 

Customers are expressing their thoughts on what was supposed to be a hassle-free experience. Many cited the fact that rival Qdoba offers guacamole for free every day, which is an idea that Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol recently told Yahoo Finance that he will not implement in the near future.

One user faced trouble placing the order on both the app and the website.

Another spent half an hour trying to place an order, ultimately giving up.

Of the diners entering the East 8th Street location between 10:45 a.m. ET and 12:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, not a single one was aware that it was National Avocado Day — or that there was a guac promotion happening. In an attempt to win back customers, Chipotle is extending the online promotion until Wednesday. No code necessary. 

Melody Hahm is a senior writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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