Samantha Bomkamp
Chicago Tribune

In an effort to get more diners back in the door after food safety scares dramatically drove down sales, Chipotle is launching a loyalty program that rewards repeat customers.

The program, dubbed Chiptopia, starts Friday and lasts only through the summer. It rewards customers based on the number of times they visit Chipotle. There are three levels of rewards: Mild, Medium and Hot. For four visits within a given month, customers will earn “Mild” status and a free burrito, bowl, salad or tacos. Eight will get “Medium” status and 11 will unlock the highest status, with each level triggering another free entree. The free meal also counts toward the number of entrees required for the next status level.

The visit count restarts every month, and diners who reach reward status every summer month will get a final bonus. Customers who make four visits each month get an extra free entree at summer’s end. Achieving Medium status all three months gets a customer $20 in Chipotle merchandise. Customers with Hot status all three months will earn catering for 20 people.

Denver-based Chipotle has been mulling a loyalty program for some time as a way to get customers excited again. It’s also making changes to its delivery of online and mobile orders to ensure quicker delivery and improve sales.

Chipotle reported its first quarterly loss in April, as it saw the continued impact from outbreaks of E. coli, norovirus and salmonella late last year that drove sales down by a third and led the company to begin the biggest marketing campaign in its history.

The chain has already given away millions of free meals and dramatically increased advertising in the hopes of bringing customers back through the doors.

Chipotle also has increased hours for its staff so customers won’t have to wait as long when they visit.

Before the food scares last year, Chipotle Chief Financial Officer Jack Hartung had said that the company had been able to build loyalty “through more organic methods,” such as by educating people about how its food is raised. He said that since Chipotle already had such loyal customers, traditional loyalty programs did not make financial sense for the company.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.