Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (NYSE:CMG) said it would no longer implement rounding-up practices that led to the chain cheating customers out of pennies.
"Bamboozled" columnist Karin Price Mueller of the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper became intrigued when Chipotle customer Jayson Greenberg contacted the paper after encountering some fuzzy math on his receipts from the restaurants.
Greenberg found some of his Chipotle receipts were rounded up a penny to get to the nearest nickel. For instance, a bill that should have been $35.24 printed out as $35.25 and a $9.25 receipt was given to Greenberg when it should have been $9.24.
"The receipts at the Chipotle in West Caldwell don't add up when there are odd amounts involved," Greenberg told the Star-Ledger.
The New Jersey resident said he figured the rounding-up practice was implemented so the lines at Chipotle would move faster and not that the chain was intentionally cheating customers.
Greenberg said he asked the chain himself when he asked the manager of the West Caldwell, N.J., Chipotle about the rounding up and was met with a brusque response.
"He said, 'Oh, it's a computer program. It is just rounding numbers. It takes a little from certain receipts and gives a little to others. What do you want? A few pennies?' " Greenberg told the Star-Ledger.
Greenberg's theory about speeding up lines doesn't hold water at Chipotle, according to the Star-Ledger, because the restaurant uses devices that count out change for its cashiers that collect in a container. This means cashiers don't have to count change.
Still, a spokesman for the chain said Greenburg's hunch explains for the rounding-up practice.
"It's something we do in some high volume markets, including New Jersey," Chris Arnold told the Star-Ledger. "The way it works is that prices auto-round to the nearest quarter and that's indicated on the receipt. The idea is simply to limit the possible combinations of change on cash transactions to keep the lines moving quickly in high volume areas."
The company said it will no longer be rounding up, but bills will be rounded down to the nearest nickel.
Eric Kanefsky, acting director of the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs, noted that Chipotle has to follow the law, which does not allow for rounding-up.
"We will follow up to ensure that the restaurants' actual practice matches this stated policy," he told the Star-Ledger. "Consumers should be aware that New Jersey law requires businesses to provide consumers with clear and accurate information about the prices they charge for goods and services."
Mueller uncovered that Chipotle wasn't just cheating customers in New Jersey. The reporter found that receipts from Missouri and New York also had the rounding up.
However, according to the consumer advocate website consumerist.com, a reader sent in a receipt that showed the chain restaurant rounded down.