The Case Of The Missing Burrito

This morning the iPhone App Store was graced with what amounted to the Holy Grail for some burrito lovers: Chipotle on the iPhone. Using the new application, users were able to customize their orders to spec, checking off their favorite beans, meats, and toppings, all to be sent instantly to a nearby restaurant for pickup. The story has been covered by dozens of blogs, and is currently on the Digg front page.

Unfortunately it seems that the app was not fully baked (or wrapped, if you want to get cheesy). Within a few hours, it was gone from the App Store. In an attempt to find out if this was just a temporary bug or something more final, we got in touch with Sequence, the company that is building the app for Chipotle.

As it turns out, the company decided to pull the application after a few hours because of unexpected demand that was overloading its servers. User requests were timing out with enough frequency that the team decided it would rather hold off until it could offer a more enjoyable and reliable experience. The current goal is to have it back on the App Store in two weeks, along with some cosmetic changes (many of the user reviews that were left while the app was still available had some complaints regarding the user experience).

However brief, the appearance of the Chipotle app on the App Store raises a few questions. First and foremost: why aren’t there more restaurant apps already out there? Given the increasingly large number of consumers and their willingness to download from the App Store, it’s surprising that we haven’t seen similar applications from Domino’s, Pizza Hut, or any number of large restaurant chains.

According to Sequence’s Tac Leung, developing an application that can work around the country is actually much more difficult than it sounds, and has taken months to develop and implement. Besides having to locate the closest restaurants, the application needs to also keep track of pricing differences between locations. And each Chipotle restaurant had to effectively replace its online backend to allow for mobile orders (the overhauled system also introduced an enhanced browser-based online ordering system that went live in October).

The Sequence team also had to deal with creating a transaction system that could save credit card information securely but was also convenient – something that he says is difficult to do from a basic iPhone application. To deal with security issues, the Chipotle application stores credit card information on a server that is accessed through a browser after entering your Chipotle user ID and password.

For those users who are lucky enough to already have the Chipotle application, it will continue to function until the new application is released. The rest of us will be forced to continue ordering our burritos the old fashioned way.