- Attorneys of two Chipotle customers filed a complaint in a Pennsylvania court on Aug. 20 claiming Chipotle is shortchanging its customers. The plaintiffs' attorney alleges the company has a "top-down policy" in place in response to the national coin shortage that has "misappropriated or ... stolen, money from the customer." The suit also seeks class action status.
- Pennsylvania's Attorney General's office has received five similar complaints alleging such misappropriation, according to The Tribune-Review.
- "If a restaurant is low on change as a result of the nationwide coin shortage, our policy is to only accept exact change or other non-cash forms of payment. Restaurants that are impacted have signage … and employees have been instructed to alert guests prior to ordering," Chipotle said in a statement to Delish.
In the lawsuit, one customer alleges to have received only $4 in change after paying $20 for a $15.51 order effectively rounding up the order total to $16 and costing $0.49 more without any warning. The Pittsburgh market isn't the only area where this activity is allegedly taking place, either. A similar complaint happened in early July at a San Diego Chipotle.
With more than 2,600 Chipotle locations throughout the U.S., the lawsuit claims this practice is leading to exceed a minimum of several hundred thousands of dollars in consumer losses.
"This 'company policy' not only discriminates against consumers who do not have, or do not wish to use, credit cards, but also results in a tax-free cash windfall to Chipotle," the lawsuit said.
It is also worth noting that Chipotle's stated policy to "only accept exact change or other non-cash forms of payment" if a restaurant is affected by the coin shortage could disproportionately affect some consumers. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, about 6% to 7% of Americans didn't have a bank account as of 2018, which makes cashless payments challenging. This number is significantly higher for underrepresented demographics.A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 34% of Black consumers, 17% of Hispanic consumers, and 29% of consumers with salaries below $30,000 use cash for most, if not all, of their purchases.
Chipotle is hardly the only restaurant chain that has been affected by the national coin shortage. Starbucks, McDonald's and Wendy's have asked customers to use correct change or other forms of payment if possible. So far, however, Chipotle is the only one accused of not handing back appropriate change. Chipotle is 100% company-owned, so this issue can't be blamed on disparities in franchisees' policies. That said, it's possible that either store signage is insufficient or employees aren't alerting guests as they’re supposed to and more training is needed.
Some businesses have created workarounds with the national coin shortage, either by offering gift cards to their customers to make up the difference, allowing customers to load change onto their loyalty card for future use, or by offering a round-up option to support charity. Some Chick-fil-A and Taco Bell locations have offered free food for coins, while others have offered free drinks.
The coin shortage is expected to subside as the economy picks back up, while the Mint has returned to full capacity and is boosting production. However, it will still take time to alleviate the shortage. For Chipotle, however, this lawsuit is already in motion and the plaintiff is seeking class-action status.