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Letter to the editor: Chipotle lines represent inequality in American society

People stand in line at Chipotle, located at 1726 N. High St. Credit: Alaina Bartel / Lantern reporter

People stand in line at Chipotle, located at 1726 N. High St.
Credit: Alaina Bartel / Lantern reporter

Letter to the editor:

Many of you reading this have stood in line at Chipotle Mexican Grill. We know that its lines are notably long and somewhat intimidating. But how can these long lines act as such vivid metaphors for the state of inequality in our “equal opportunity” American society?

The people at the front of the line who are close to getting, or have their burrito already, get cold when the doors are opened and a breeze rolls in. The breeze rolls in because the line stretches out the door and some waiting for a burrito in the back of the line are forced to stand outside.

The problems here are that because the line is so long, both the front of the line gets chilly from the breeze that rolls in, and the people in the back of the line are the front lines against the cold, suffering even more than the front of the line.

The front of the line now has two routes of action that could remedy this problem: First, it could scrunch closer together in the front and encourage the middle to follow suit, making room for everyone to stand indoors but losing a small amount of its respective personal space; second, the front of the line could continue to stand in front with no thought of adapting for the benefit of the whole line, because they are already being served or will be served imminently.

Only the first route of action would address the problem of the whole as well as the front’s vested interest to stop being cold from the incoming breeze.

Obviously in this micro-example, you can see the very front of the line where you receive a burrito represents success in America by acceptable means, or as some would call it, the “American Dream.” The relative front of the line represents the American elite, economically and socially. The back of the line represents low-income Americans struggling just to get out of the cold, where the inconceivable “American Dream” is the least of their worries. Everyone else in this line represents the American middle class.

This hypothetical situation in the line at Chipotle gives all the power to the front of the line to be as positively influential or as nonchalant toward societal headway as they want. The middle of the line has limited but burdensome choices, and the back of the line is left at the mercy of the rest, simply present, but in no way a player.

It is worth noting that the difference between a Chipotle line and real American class mobility is that in the Chipotle line, it is abundantly easier to move in the desired direction. Unfortunately, other than that key difference, this situation mirrors American society quite well.

So next time you are in line for your burrito, remember that a lot of micros can make a macro, and everyone wants a burrito.

Clayton Sharb
Second-year in political science


  1. The two analogies that make sense are that we are equal because we all have to get in the same line, first come first served. Then the “privileged elite” at the front of the line weren’t born there or bought that position, they got up earlier, finished their work before you did, and set their sights on a goal – a burrito – before you did. If you believe you should have what the guy at the front of the line has, then stop grousing and get there earlier.

  2. I never wait in line at chipotle. I have an app on my phone, I order online, when I arrive at chipotle, I walk straight up to the register, and pick up my order.

  3. I see this story being made into a show about nothing.

  4. Hello –

    I like these types of jobs. I just read this and am in the hopes that something might help here:

    There are phones these days. How about leaving a phone number, and they can call you in your car? It seems like someone made some type of comment about a phone.

    I like to read or study sometimes in line.

    Have something to do when in line when it’s cold? A group game of some sort to keep your mind off of it.

    Take a picture if you wanted to – are you with friends even or out of town? (With permission) How many pictures of each other do you have? This is a tip – some gloves have holes in the fingertips that can be covered again. Either that or have an extra pair where you can do it yourself.

    Make a winter fashion statement. (without being mean to other people)
    – personally, I’d like to know what an Alaskan or Washington or New York coat looks like.

    See how big you can make a snowperson or save that for the kids and think of your own creation.

    Plan conversation ideas – how often do you get to see your friends

    See if you can have permission to bring some type of warm drink (and make sure to use the trash can if need be.

    I think someone mentioned this, but show up at a different time. Even better plan someplace to go as friends before the restaurant. There’s an adage, though – to never go to the grocery store when you are hungry (you might buy more than you need).

    Oh the phone game – someone at the beginning of the line says a phrase, and then that person passes it to the one behind them, and so on to the end (if the line stops for awhile). See if it’s the same phrase? (This used to be a lesson on communication for kids.)

    Who has political pull for this one – a freebie for a customer waiting in line drawing.

    Sometimes if it’s really cold, I’ll shift my feet from side to side to move a little – I wouldn’t want to be rude to the Chipotle staff, though and make them nervous while trying to work.

    I just thought of this one. Group order – I mean bigger. Maybe bring paper, create categories (sandwich, dessert, etc.) on the paper to make it easier on the staff? Some people do that when they order from work or something, then they have time to pick it up. I don’t know how much this would help the line, though – there isn’t much space for the cashiers to help with orders at the food prep line once their cash duties are finished, also it might be more frustrating if you though you were stuck there and waiting (and hungry on top of it). I wouldn’t completely like this one as a cashier for that reason – I would like to keep busy if I saw a line. Maybe some type of equipment to be put on wheels so that the cashier could help prep the food? There usually isn’t a bunch of space – it’s designed to try to make things faster.

    Is it in the Short North Area? It used to be that if someone wanted to put up an art table, if they could get a Gallery to sponsor it during the Gallery Hop, one could pay a small fee to put up an art table. Any ideas from this one?

    Trade places? It could be turned into a custom if someone wanted. I’ve seen this happen when someone isn’t ready to order yet.

    Surprise people by taking a couple of orders from the back of the line. (Just don’t make someone mad)

    Some type of heating device that doesn’t take too much energy. How difficult would it be to make a wall or something into the sidewalk (probably a building code). Years ago I saw a rope put up by the campus bars to keep people from falling into the street.

    Is there parking nearby? People have all kinds of computer gadgets these days – what about picking a short movie or something.

    I don’t know how to stop the hunger pangs – maybe something to hold the appetite? I worked for a Valet company before, and they accepted dollar bills without a register when they got busy. I don’t know how to stop the hunger pangs.

    Hm. Maybe some people have more of a tolerance for cold than others? Maybe those with a higher tolerance can stand in the back and still be served as if in a line.

    I don’t have political pull, and there are keeping a business running issues, coupons?

    I’ve worked retail and actually like the lines as a cashier until someone gets mean on me – it’s a sign of good business.

    I don’t know if any of this helps, but…

  5. Real Americans don’t going around looking for excuses. They look for opportunities. They are everywhere. You get what you focus on. If it’s lack and a cold burrito – that’s what you’ll find. Clayton will always end up in the back of the line.

  6. Or, they could deregulate and remove the zoning ordinances that constrict Chipotle from building a larger store to serve customers faster or another location to handle the overflow.

  7. Pass my weed, douche.

  8. Clays says, “This isn’t really about inequality and I didn’t come up with this title ( the lantern did)”

    And his topic sentence is, “But how can these long lines act as such vivid metaphors for the state of inequality in our “equal opportunity” American society?”


    Clay says, “The only way to get people thinking about the causes of big problems in society is to start a dialogue and the easiest way to start a dialogue is to relate it to their lives. That was my goal.”

    Then Clay cries when someone dialogues in a way he didn’t want.


    Clay sucks.

  9. Based on the language, someone is wrapping up a mid-level economics class and thinks they have it all figured out.

  10. another young liberal mind finding victimhood every hour, every minute he can. Evolve… order online. Stop complaining and find a better way. The poor in America have free cable, cell phones, food stamps and a free education. And if they don’t take advantage of that, they get a welfare for life without forced labor or community service. People around the world would jump at the chance to this chance. Yet we find a way to complain

  11. Oh yeah, totally. I never thought about it that way before.

    Can I publish the longer version on my cilantro blog? Link below.

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