The Kansas City Star posted a story yesterday about Maurizio Antoninetti, a San Diego Urban Studies professor who uses a wheelchair, suing Chipotle Restaurants because the height of their counters denied him “The Chipotle Experience.” The 45-inch counters prevented him from seeing his food while it was made. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that Chipotle restaurants were in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which specifies a counter height of no greater than 36 inches in operations of this nature.
Needless to say, commenters are having a field day over at the Star, and some of them have valid points.. Yes the lawsuit seems a little silly. Yes it will be very expensive for the chain to lower the counters at offending restaurants. Yes, Mr. Antoninetti has a history of bringing similar litigation.
But the fact remains: Chipotle should have known better. They are in violation of the Act. Only after the lawsuit was filed did Chipotle develop an accommodation policy to deal with the fact that their counters were too high.
Many are laughing at the “Chipotle Experience” phrase. But that is the phrase used in the restaurant’s marketing. A very prominent aspect of the Chipotle brand is the ability to choose your ingredients and see your food being made.
Lining Up. This is where the magic happens. Each ingredient is laid out in front of you so you can choose the perfect combination to make your perfect meal. You can watch the process as your burrito, bowl, tacos, or salad is prepared exactly the way you want it and handed to you almost instantly.
They also boast about their open kitchen. It’s not so open if you can’t see over a 45-inch counter.
So I try to think of this lawsuit as teaching Chipotle a lesson. The merits of the case may be dubious from an external vantage point, but it must be grating as hell for people in wheelchairs to hear advertising that promises something but only delivers it for a privileged category of person.