NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Starbucks (SBUX) - Get Report can ask baristas to talk about race, Yum! Brands' (YUM) - Get ReportKFC can experiment with edible packaging and Domino's Pizza (DPZ) - Get Report can create an app that lets customers order via a smartwatch.
That means Chipotle is continuing to be disciplined with its tried-and-true menu and not chasing every new food trend and technology, even if Wall Street sometimes seems to wish it would.
It's hard to argue with Chipotle's long-term results. Since the company went public on Jan. 26, 2006, its share price has skyrocketed 1,429%. The business now consists of the original burrito-and-salad bowl chain and two fast-casual concept restaurant chains: Shophouse, which serves Asian fare; and Pizzeria Locale, which serves better-for-you pizza. Chipotle will open close to 200 new locations this year, pushing its total restaurant count to about 1,985.
Sales at the company's existing venues are growing healthily: Same-store sales spiked 16.8% last year despite a roughly 7% menu price increase adopted midyear to offset rising beef costs, while earnings expanded a hearty 35%. Yet the burrito chain's menu has remained largely unchanged in the more than 20 years since its founding.
All this is not to say Chipotle isn't aware of the need to continue experimenting and monitor trends.
For example, Chipotle continues to host several food and music "Cultivate Festivals." At one set for next month in Phoenix, experimental menu items such as pork-belly gorditas and kale salad will be shared with festivalgoers. Company communications director Chris Arnold said it's "possible" some of these "featured eats" at the festivals could find their way on to Chipotle's regular menu but was otherwise noncommittal.
On Wednesday, coffee-chain giant Starbucks stole headlines not only for its push to discuss race relations at its restaurants, but also for its arrangement with courier network Postmates to start delivering Starbucks food and drinks to customers in its home market of Seattle in the second half of this year.
Chipotle isn't blind to the considerable mobile ordering and delivery advances being made by Starbucks. The burrito chain simply prefers to keep the focus on hospitality, such as face-to-face interaction with energized line workers, inside its restaurants.
"We want people to come visit us," said Arnold, who noted that Chipotle has tested using Postmates to deliver its food in Chicago but that there were some issues matching supply and demand. So Wall Street, which is hankering for Chipotle to deliver even quicker lines (Chipotle's modest waits are already industry leading) and more sales, should anticipate only small steps on the digital and delivery fronts.
While Wall Street has been waiting for a host of new features for Chipotle's mobile app to arrive for Apple's (AAPL) - Get Report iOS and Google's (GOOGL) - Get Report Android devices, Arnold says his company will have an update "out soon." But the app won't offer mobile payment. The device will continue to be linked to credit cards instead of a system such as Apple Pay.
Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ells has commented previously on why implementing mobile payment isn't so easy. "There are considerable technological constraints implementing it, just based on the way payments are processed with our system," he said on Chipotle's Oct. 20 earnings call.
Since launching on Aug. 25, 2009, on iOs devices, the Chipotle app has been updated 12 times to address common performance bugs and implement new functionality. The device lets customers to locate the nearest Chipotle and place an order ahead of arrival. The last update, on Feb. 25, brought the capability to order the Chipotle kid's menu, which some tech watchers had been anticipating for a while.
Arnold declined to comment on what other features the upcoming app update would introduce.
In other areas, Chipotle remains a company in constant thought-and-test mode, preferring to do things patiently and correctly rather than rushing new ideas to market in order to appease Wall Street.
Take the zany idea of edible packaging, which gained global attention in February as KFC disclosed plans to introduce an edible coffee cup in select U.K. markets. Photos of a half-chewed KFC coffee cup went viral and invited discussion about whether fast-food companies had an opportunity to reduce costs and planetary waste by reinventing their silverware, cups and plates.
"We have looked at compostable cups, but they tend to leak, and we won't compromise functionality," Arnold said. Chipotle's silverware is compostable, however, and the company's burrito bowls are made from 93% recycled material, mostly recycled newspapers.
Industry analysts have also been keen to see Chipotle remodel its restaurants to continue keeping consumers engaged with the brand and preventing them from venturing to other upstart fast-casual chains starting to appear in urban markets. But investors shouldn't hold their breath waiting for this.
"The changes at the newer restaurants will be more operational than aesthetic," Arnold said. A new Chipotle restaurant, for example, might have a smaller grill top or overhead hood to save on energy costs and go easier on Mother Earth, as opposed to incorporating dramatic visual overhauls that wouldn't necessarily result in a dramatic sales uptick.
Arnold said Chipotle has also "looked at" opening a Shophouse inside a Chipotle restaurant in order to drive awareness of its still relatively new Asian-food concept eatery. But there are no immediate plans to do so, according to the company, as this could theoretically detract from the core experience of eating at Chipotle.
When all is said and done, Wall Street will have to deal with Chipotle simply being Chipotle, and doing the things that have brought it substantial success through the years while approaching new ideas in the industry conservatively. The company is now trying to hold the line on another menu-price increase by wrestling with lifting prices on steak-based offerings to offset inflation pressures instead of penalizing chicken eaters.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.