Burrito Bowl Hacking and The Contrast Principle

by Scott - 12 Comments

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If you like buritto bowls, behavioral psychology, and life hacks you will like this article.

Few things interest me more than human behavior and getting more chicken and guac in my buritto bowls. I could eat burrito bowls all day long.

burrito bowl

Fresh off reading Influence by Robert Cialdini for the 2nd time, I had lunch with my fellow carnivore buddy Charlie at this new burrito place Guac Star. I noticed that he ordered a chicken bowl without rice AND BEANS.

As a “just black beans” with meat guy, I was intrigued…

…I started thinking about the contrast principle from Influence and whether there was an opportunity to leverage this concept in this situation.

The Contrast Principle states that humans make relative judgements instead of absolute ones. The example they use to explain this is if you’re talking to a beautiful person at a party and then are joined by an unattractive one, the second person will strike you as less attractive than they actually are.

Having an awareness that people usually make relative judgements vs. absolute ones enables you to position requests in such a way that you increase the chance you achieve an optimal outcome.

Burrito Bowls and Contrast

My ideal outcome in burrito bowl land: get more chicken.

Would the fact that the burrito bowl was empty when they went to serve chicken cause the server to pile more chicken into the bowl?

I had to find out.

The next day I ventured into the wild and ordered a burrito bowl with no rice or beans. To my delight, they gave me a small mountain of chicken much larger than the typical serving. Yes!

Hmmm…was leveraging the contrast principle to get more meat a repeatable fast casual chain miracle or was this instance just a stroke of luck. Experiment time!

A Field Report From the Burrito Bowl Hacking Lab

Over the course of 2 weeks, I ordered 1 burrito bowl with rice and beans and 1 with just chicken at 3 separate burrito joints including Chipotle. I tried my best to prevent bias by varying my ordering each time.

  1. Ordered both burrito bowls concurrently (chicken only first)
  2. Ordered 1 burrito bowl with chicken and had a friend get a normal one immediately after me
  3. Ordered 1 burrito bowl with the works and came back an hour later to order one with just chicken

To my dismay, I was not able to consistently replicate the same degree of chicken over-serving as I had in that initial instance. The scenario where I ordered a bowl and had a friend get one behind me was the only instance where I got an unusually large serving of chicken. Sigh.

Some photo evidence from Tres Carnes.

burrito bowl

Beyond the small sample size, there were a ton of imperfections with this experiment due to the variability of the environment. I.E. some servers are more generous than others, maybe the boss was there, someone was having a bad day – you get the picture.

One thing I did notice is that when I ham it up by being super friendly and ask for more meat, I consistently get served more everywhere I go.

The story does not end here. If you were reading this post, hoping to get a Chipotle Hack you can use I got you covered.

Chipotle Hack for More Meat in Your Burrito Bowl

I have to give credit for my buds Charlie and Ben for this one. They list their Chipotle hacks here

Again, I’m pretty much a paleo/carnivore and my favorite part of a burrito bowl is the chicken and guac. The beans, salsa, and other condiments are secondary.


Instead of ordering a burrito bowl, order 3 sides of any meat and then a side of guac. You get way more meat and it’s actually cheaper than a chicken burrito bowl with guac.

Burrito bowl with guac: 10.75

3 sides of Chicken with guac: 9.75

If you need salsa, you can ask for it on the side after you’ve paid and they’ll give it to you free of charge.

Normal Burrito Bowl


3 Sides of Chicken with Guac

chipotle hackchipotle hack

It might be hard to  distinguish the difference from these pictures, but I can vouch first hand that you consistently get almost 2x more meat ordering this way. #winning

Bonus Points Ordering Note

When executing a sides only order, I’ve noticed that you can actually get even more meat by explicitly indicating from that you’re going to be eating the sides in a bowl when you order.

Note the difference in order language:

“I’m actually just going to order 3 sides of Chicken”


“I’m actually going to get 3 sides of Chicken in a bowl

If you just ask for 3 sides they sometimes put the meat into the side containers like you see above. Though you’re still getting more meat than a normal bowl, the containers facilitate precise measurement.

Conversely, when ask in a way that leapfrogs side containers by going directly into a bowl, there’s a margin for measurement error which usually works in your favor. Me thinks that because the order is so peculiar and people desire acceptance, they overserve you when there’s any doubt about whether they’re making it correctly.

I’ve found using everyday interactions as a testing ground for social experiments like this to be incredibly fun and a great way to internalize behavioral psychology concepts you read about. I plan on sharing many more soon, so not a bad idea to subscribe by entering your email in the box below if you’re interested in hearing about them.


If you have any cool or interesting observations from testing psychological concepts in your daily interactions, please share them in the comments! I find this stuff crazy interesting.

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12 comments, add to the conversation.

  1. DanShipper

    If you’re going for pure volume of food at Chiptole, the best way to get more is to ask for it. This won’t work for meat, but it will for everything else:

    Can I have some more rice? Can I have some more beans? They’ll do it every time and they won’t charge you any more. Always ask for fajitas as well.

    By the end you’ll have a burrito so large they’ll have to double wrap it. It will cost the same amount, but will last for two meals instead of one.


    1. Scott Britton

      Agreed and this does work for meat!

      I’ve literally never been turned away for asking for more meat, guac, salsa, etc. I think being intentional about the way you ask helps. My default is “hey any chance I could get a bit more [x]” vs. something more direct.

      Makes me happy to see you’re a chipotle optimizer as well : )


  2. Kunal Tandon

    Great post! Totally agree about simply asking for more meat. If you do it politely, you will always get a little bit more.


  3. Sam Gavis-Hughson

    Hey I’m curious why you ruled out simply asking for more. I went to chipotle the other day and they were perfectly happy to give me extra chicken in my burrito when I asked for it.
    EDIT – I see someone else also talked about this.

    I also have a friend who goes to chipotle, gets a bowl with extra rice, beans, and meat, with a tortilla on the side (for free) and then makes his own burrito with half a bowl left over.
    Fun article, though!


  4. Max

    Scott – Incredible analysis of how to maximize your Chipotle experience. I have never heard of the 3-sides method but I will definitely check this out next time I go back. I have read a few different blogs on how to hack Chipotle but this is a fresh new take.
    Also, I plan on writing up a complete guide to hacking Chipotle which I will send you as soon as I finish. Thanks for the share bru!


  5. Amit Sonawane

    The only thing I miss from the States in Chile is Chipotle. Really, that’s it. Thanks for the fun analysis and a mouth-watering trip down the memory lane.

    P.S. Please bring a burrito bowl down here with you 😉


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