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Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG)
Q4 2018 Earnings Conference Call
Feb. 6, 2019, 4:30 p.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good afternoon, and welcome to the Chipotle Fourth Quarter and Fiscal Year End Results Conference Call. All participants will be in a listen-only mode. Should you need assistance, please signal a conference specialist by pressing the * key followed by 0. After today's presentation, there will be an opportunity to ask questions. To ask a question, you may press * and then 1 using your telephone keypads. To withdraw your questions, you may press * and 2. Please also note today's event is being recorded.

At this time, I'd like to turn the conference call over to Mr. Ashish Kohli, Head of Investor Relations for Chipotle. Please, go ahead.

Ashish Kohli -- Head of Investor Relations

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our Fourth Quarter 2018 Earnings Call. By now, you should have access to our earnings press release. If not, it may be found on our investor relations website at ir.chipotle.com.

I will begin by taking you through our legal safe harbor and cautionary declaration. Certain statements and projections of future results made in this presentation constitute forward-looking statements that are based on our current market, competitive and regulatory expectations and are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to vary materially. These statements will include commentary about our expected business strategies for 2019, including initiatives to support our digital system as well as forecast of expected comparable restaurant sales increases and new restaurant openings for 2019. Expectations for food, labor, and marketing costs, G&A expense, and our effective tax rate for 2019, as well as other statements of our expectations and plans.

Except to the extent required by the law, we undertake no obligation to update publicly any forward-looking statement after this presentation, whether as a result of new information, future events, changes in assumptions or otherwise. Please see the risk factors in our latest Form 10-K and subsequent Form 10-Qs for a discussion of risk that may cause our results to vary from any forward-looking statements.

Our discussion today will include non-GAAP financial measures. A reconciliation of those measures, the GAAP measures, can be found via the link on the presentation page within the investor relations section of our website.

We will start today's call with some prepared remarks from Brian Niccol, Chief Executive Officer; and Jack Hartung, Chief Financial Officer, after which we will take your questions. Our entire executive leadership team is available during the Q&A session.

With that, I will now turn the call over to Brian.

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Good afternoon. Thank you, Ashish, and welcome to the Chipotle team. We're really excited to have you onboard. Additionally, I'm also happy to share that we have hired our Chief Development Officer Tabassum Zalotrawala in December, and therefore completing my executive leadership team. I'm confident Tabassum will make a terrific contribution to our development organization.

With that, I'm very pleased to report strong fourth quarter results with 6.1% comparable restaurant sales growth that included 2% transaction growth, restaurant level margins of 17%, 210 basis points over last year, and earnings per share adjusted for unusual items was $1.72. I'm also pleased to report for the full year 2018 restaurant average unit volumes achieved $2 million and our digital business went beyond a half a billion dollars, representing 10.9% of sales.

The growth acceleration this quarter gives us confidence that our strategy to win today and create the future is working. When we connect with guests through culturally relevant marketing focused on Chipotle's great taste and real ingredients, and provide more convenient access with less friction, they respond enthusiastically. I'm excited about the momentum we've built heading into 2019.

Now, before I talk about the future, let me review the many positive changes at Chipotle during 2018 by going through the five key pillars that drive our purpose of cultivating a better world. The first is to be more visible with culturally relevant communication and innovation that increases brand engagement. Our marketing mandate is to drive culture, drive a difference, and ultimately, drive a Chipotle purchase.

In late September, we launched our For Real advertising showcasing Chipotle's point of difference in real ingredients and real cooking techniques. We drove significant awareness of the brand through a holistic media plan and culturally relevant programming. We published our entire ingredient list for the world to see in Times Square, across numerous social and digital channels, a full-page ad in The New York Times and in our restaurants with the headline, that hardest ingredient to pronounce at Chipotle is Chipotle.

The next iteration of the For Real campaign called Behind the Foil is launching February 11th and builds on this success. It feels more like a documentary than traditional advertising and showcases our fresh ingredients, food preparation, and celebrates the work our talented team members do every day in our restaurants to provide our guests a great dining experience.

Our Free Delivery Bowl offering, which ran from December 17th to January 7th helped expand access, and was not only a great way to attract new guests to our app and delivery capabilities, but also to Chipotle, as nearly half of the guests taking part in this offer were new or lapsed users. Collectively, these marketing initiatives helped drive a noticeable lift in sales during the second half of the year.

Additionally, beginning January 2nd, we launched our first menu innovation called Lifestyle Bowls for mobile and web orders that really resonated with consumers in a big way. It generated over 1.3 billion earned media impressions in the first few days of January.

Overall, Chris Brandt and his team have done a great job of making Chipotle more visible and culturally relevant social and traditional media channels. For example, our 2018 overall digital impressions increased nearly 20% year-over-year while social impressions increased nearly 40% year-over-year. This was all accomplished without increasing our overall marketing budget.

Going forward, you can expect Chipotle to continue to be a part of culture, have a presence in national media where and when it makes sense, and to have an always-on social and digital program. I'm excited about the continued evolution of our marketing strategy as I look into our 2019 plans.

Our second pillar is to digitize and modernize our restaurant experience with enhanced access and less friction, creating a convenient and more enjoyable guest experience. We continue to hear the number one reason consumers eat elsewhere is because they don't have convenient access to Chipotle. In 2018, we opened 137 new restaurants with industry-leading returns and will continue to be one of the leaders in developing new restaurants. For our existing restaurants, we completed the big fix and stayed focused on expanding the reach of our digital system to provide our guests easier access and greater convenience.

The digitized make lines are now in over 1,000 restaurants and remain on track to be in all restaurants by the end of 2019. The digital pickup shelves are in approximately 1,000 restaurants and we are moving quickly to get them in all of our restaurants by the middle of 2019.

Curt Garner and his team continued to build momentum in digital this quarter, with digital sales growing 66% year-over-year, an acceleration from the 48% we saw last quarter. Digital sales totaled $158.6 million during the fourth quarter and represented 12.9% of sales. For the full year, digital sales exceeded a half a billion dollars and accounted for 10.9% of sales. App downloads increased 72% year-over-year in 2018 and we continue to see strong interest from new infrequent as well as frequent guests at Chipotle.

Similar to last quarter, we saw particularly strong traction in delivery. Although awfully relatively low base, delivery sales increased roughly 13-fold compared to the fourth quarter of 2017. The Free Delivery Bowl promotion drove growth in the latter part of December, offsetting normal expected seasonality. Encouragingly, we are seeing some residual lift in delivery sales that last beyond the promotion and have seen very little guest overlap between our own in-app delivery and our third-party delivery partner apps.

As we continue to remove friction from the digital ordering and pickup process, we expect our delivery time advantage to continue to widen. Based on data shared with us by our white label delivery partner, we are consistently among the quickest delivery times in their system and we expect this to only get better with the addition of pickup shelves and delivery prepay capabilities that enable delivery drivers to walk in, pick up their order, and walk out without any delays.

As part of our goal to increase access, we are also exploring a new format that leverages digitally enabled convenience. Our test of the initial ten restaurants with the mobile order pickup lane that we call Chipotlane is showing promising results with a higher mix of digital sales and total restaurant sales. We'll continue to explore and learn about this opportunity by opening a few dozen more Chipotlanes in 2019 with a mix of freestanding and end cap buildings. These restaurants are a great extension of our digital system as they help to increase convenience and access to Chipotle.

We're also encouraged by our loyalty test signups and early user data. As we have seen with our app, we are seeing a nice mix of new, lapsed and medium frequency guests, and while it's still early days, we are pleased to see changes in behavior across all frequency bands. Our stage-gate process is working and we are making changes based on the feedback received thus far and remain on track for a national launch in 2019.

Our third pillar is to run restaurants with great hospitality and fast throughput in a great environment. During Q4, we rolled out several operational improvement initiatives to drive better food, feel, and flow. This includes training that reiterates our four pillars of hospitality, which are be and look your best, be guest-obsessed, surprise and delight, and make it right. In an effort to enhance our best-in-class food safety program, we adopted a quarterly food safety-training requirement which trains crewmembers on their role in keeping our food safe every quarter.

In addition, we implemented a new prep process we call Focus Prep. Focus Prep reduces the number of people preparing our great food, which makes it more consistent, as well as food safe. Ancillary benefits include better service as our hospitality teams are now singularly focused on delivering a great guest experience, and the GM is now in a position to lead the restaurant, versus managing every single process of the production. Our teams have embraced this new process quickly and we are already seeing benefits from the rollout.

In the coming years, Scott Boatwright and his team are focused on team stability, throughput, and consistently great tasting food. Additionally, reducing turnover, particularly at the GM level, through better leadership training, and a clear direction on career direction are critical factors to our long-term success. Internally, we're calling this the year of the general manager.

We're also doubling down on throughput training and providing our teams with an easy-to-use dashboard that provides greater visibility on their throughput performance. Lastly, we are elevating our culinary prowess through chef-driven cooking demonstrations, as well as consistently executed line tastings to ensure our food is cooked to perfection every day.

In the first half of 2019, we are also launching Cultivate You 2.0, whereby we bring leadership training to the restaurant general manager level to further drive in-market talent development. As a reminder, we retrained all of our field leaders during Cultivate You sessions at our corporate support centers throughout 2018.

We previewed many of these initiatives at our all managers' conference last fall and our managers know that when I'm visiting with them in their restaurants, I'm always going to ask their team, how's the culture and how is throughput here? I'm going to ask our general managers about team stability, the development of our team members, and obviously, the food safety seven, and of course, since we're a restaurant company, we're going to be doing food tastings. It's clear from my numerous restaurant visits this quarter that Scott and his field leadership team are making tremendous progress and are focused on the right operational initiatives.

The fourth pillar is to be disciplined and focused in order to enhance our powerful economic model. Our biggest lever remains sales and transactions growth. Over the past year, we've become more strategic about pursuing projects that generate sales growth and healthy returns. We are in the process of building sales growth layers for multiple years and putting them through our stage-gate process to ensure we are learning and iterating prior to national launches. While we are focused on winning today, we are also cultivating our future.

Last, but not least, we are building a great culture of accountability and creativity. This is one of the things that I'm most pleased about, as we've made significant progress during 2018 in rebuilding Chipotle into an organization with an inclusive culture that sets us up to be more innovative, more connected to what our guests want, and better at executing so that we can capitalize on the tremendous growth opportunities ahead of us. Our people are our biggest asset and I could not be more proud of the team we have assembled. With our restructuring and relocation largely behind us, we are well on our way to building an organization with best in class and diverse talent that is dramatically improving our ability to deliver great food and service to our guests.

I love the energy and enthusiasm I see every day when I'm with our employees in our restaurants and in our support centers. Chipotle has always thrived by being different, by being the best version of ourselves, not another version of someone else, and we've earned the deep loyalty of our guests because we are different and deliver a unique experience, and being different means always changing. Right now, we are investing in many areas that further position us to win.

As you think about 2019, the main initiatives that ladder up to our five key pillars are; digital system investments, which includes pickup shelves, digitized make lines, loyalty, and delivery; marketing programs that celebrate our real ingredients and classic cooking techniques; elevating our poor menu by developing innovation that leads food culture and meets guests requests and lifestyles; and of course, a dedication to improving operations with general manager stability and development, excellent throughput, consistently great food, all in a great restaurant environment.

With that, let me conclude by thanking all of our team members for their belief in Chipotle. Their dedication and passion provide our guests with a great experience. Serving real food cooked to perfection and prepared in our restaurants with fresh ingredients, their efforts are helping Chipotle cultivate a better world. We have an exciting journey ahead of us, and while we accomplished a great deal in 2018, I believe the best is yet to come.

With that, here's Jack to walk you through the financials.

Jack Hartung -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Brian. I'm really pleased with the high quality fourth quarter results, which provide a glimpse of our powerful economic model and a leverage we can deliver. We drive top line sales and provide a great guest experience. Our marketing and digital strategies led to increased guest visits and our restaurant teams responded by ensuring every guest enjoyed a delicious meal.

Our revenue was $1.2 billion during the quarter, an increase of 10.4% from last year on a comp sales growth of 6.1%, our highest comp in six quarters. Restaurant level margins of 17% expanded 210 basis points over last year and earnings per share adjusted for unusual items was $1.72. The fourth quarter had unusual expenses mostly related to the transformation, and these negatively impacted our earnings per share by about $0.57 leading to GAAP earnings per share of $1.15.

For the full year, sales were $4.9 billion on a comp sales increase of 4%. Restaurant level margins were 18.7%, up 180 basis points, and we generated earnings per share adjusted for unusual expenses of $9.06, an increase of 33% over last year. Unusual expenses mostly related to the transformation negatively impacted our earnings per share by $2.75 leading to GAAP earnings of $6.31.

In Q4, we recognized $23 million in non-recurring expenses with $7 million related to underperforming or closed restaurants, and $16 million related to the organizational restructuring and other unusual expenses. We continue to expect transformation costs from the restructuring and restaurant closures, as well as certain other charges to total between $100 million and $120 million. We recognize about $91 million of these charges during 2018 and expect that the remaining $9 million to $29 million will hit in the first half of 2019. We'll continue to provide specifics on transformation related costs each quarter so you can follow the underlying trends.

The Q4 comp of 6.1% was driven by a trend change in transaction, as 2% of the comp came from greater guest visits, along with a higher average check. The check increase includes a price increase of 3.3%, which was a result of increases taken in late 2017 and in January of 2018, and a mixed contribution of 0.8%. Our For Real campaign during the quarter really resonated with our guests, and the Free Delivery Bowl campaign in late December made it easier than ever for our customers to enjoy Chipotle.

We expect full year comps in 2019 will be in the mid-single-digit range with the reason modest price increase contributing about 1.7%. This is lower than the 4% price increase seen in 2018. We're optimistic that with the recent trend change in transactions plus the modest price increase combined with our 2019 growth initiative, a mid-single-digit comp is achievable.

We opened 40 new restaurants in the quarter, bringing our total count to 137 for the full year. The new restaurants opened in 2018 have continued to open up strong as our development teams have done a great job emphasizing high quality and high returning sites. For 2019, we continue to expect to open between 140 to 155 new restaurants, but these openings will be weighted toward the second half of the year. We expect about 10% of these openings will occur in Q1 and about 25% will open in Q2.

Food costs for the quarter were at 33.2%, slightly lower than Q3, due to price increases as well as lower avocado prices based on our seasonal shift from California to sourcing from Mexico, Chile, and Peru. We expect food costs to be approximately 33% in Q1 as the slight leverage from the December menu price increase is largely offset by an expected increase in beef prices. We also expect food costs for the full year to be about 33% as an expected rise in avocado prices this summer will be offset by other efficiencies. Our new supply chain team is now fully in place and we expect to find efficiencies later in the year by strategically reviewing the sourcing of all of our ingredients. We'll keep you updated as these potential opportunities arise.

Labor costs for the quarter were 27.1%, a decrease of 40 basis points from last year. Our restaurant teams did a nice job of scheduling and managing labor in the quarter, while labor inflation in the 4-5% range was partially offset by the menu price increase. We expect Q1 and the full year labor to be in the low 27% range as leverage from the menu price increase and sales growth is expected to largely offset ongoing wage inflation in the 4-5% range.

Other operating costs for the quarter were 15.5%, a decrease of 30 basis points form Q4 of last year, and that was due to sales leverage. Marketing and promo costs were 4.2%, an increase of about 40 basis points compared to Q4 of last year, and that funded our For Real campaign in the fall as well as our Free Delivery Bowl campaign in late December. Marketing and promo finished the year at 2.9% of sales and we expect to invest about 3% of sales in 2019, and this includes investing in the low to mid 3% range in Q1, which is higher than the 1.8% we spent last year in Q1, as we'll launch our behind the Foil campaign next week.

Other operating costs were also higher due to the inclusion of delivery fees, which rose with the increase in our delivery sales. For 2019, we expect other operating costs to be in the 14% of sales or perhaps slightly lower as sales leverage and M&R efficiencies are expected to be offset by our fast-growing delivery business.

G&A for the full year was 7.7% of sales, or $375 million, which including $32 million related to the transformation and other unusual expenses, $64 million in stock compensation, and nearly $11 million related to our biennial all manager conference. Without these items, our underlying G&A support totaled about $270 million in 2018. In 2019, we expect our underlying G&A support to be in the $275 million to $280 million range.

Our annual stock comp is typically approved and granted in Q1, so we'll be able to provide updated clarity during our next earnings call, and this underlying G&A does not include non-recurring transformation costs, which we'll continue to clearly call out each quarter.

Appreciation expense for the quarter was 4.3%, an increase of 60 basis points from Q4 of last year, and this increase is due to the accelerated depreciation from the restaurant closures as we discussed earlier, and to a lesser extent, the accelerated depreciation from our office closures. We expect depreciation to be about 4% in 2019.

Our GAPP tax rate during the quarter was 26.3%, which is slightly lower than our underlying rate of 27.4%. For 2019, we expect our underlying effective rate to be in the 27% to 30% range. While expected 2019 underlying effective rate has settled into a tighter range than it was throughout 2018, it may be effected from time to time by items such as executive comp related adjustments or deferred tax assets related to previously issued equity, and we'll fully disclose these adjustments as they occur.

Our balance sheet remains strong with a cash and investments balance of $677 million as of December 31. This allowed us to repurchase $45 million of our stock at an average price of $452.00 per share during the fourth quarter, and for the full year, we repurchased $161 million at an average of $370.00 per share. We also funded capex during the year totaling $287 million, which is lower than the $300 million we guided early last year as we reprioritized our capex to support our new strategies. In 2019, we expect capex will be around $300 million with around 40% to 45% invested in new restaurants, 30% to be invested in growth related initiatives, including digitized second make lines and digital pickup shelves, and the remaining invested in normal upkeep of our restaurants and strategic corporate initiatives.

Our new restaurant investment will increase to an average of about $860,000.00 per new opening, and that's mostly as result of further testing of a Chipotlane. The guest convenience with Chipotlane along with a potential for superior economics support allocating a portion of our portfolio to this new format.

In closing, we're encouraged by our fourth quarter and full year 2018 results as our teams remain focused on the guest experience while seamlessly managing a significant restructuring and relocation. The result is a company that is well on its way to building a culture of innovation and great execution that will drive sustainable, long-term growth. I'm excited about 2019 and I believe we're in a great position to win today and create a bright future for our guests, for our employees, and for our shareholders.

Now, we're happy to take your questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, we'll begin the question and answer session. To ask a question, you may press * and then 1 using a touchtone telephone. If you are using a speakerphone, we do ask that you please pick up your handset before pressing the keys to ensure the best sound quality. To withdraw your questions, you may press * and 2. Once again, that is * and then 1 to ask a question. Our first question today comes from David Tarantino from Baird. Please go ahead with your question.

David Tarantino -- Baird -- Analyst

Hi, good afternoon, and congrats on the progress you made last year. A question, I guess, on the sales trends first. I think, Jack, you mentioned multiple times a change in the trend line during the quarter, so can you maybe elaborate on what you mean by that, maybe talk about how the trends progressed during the quarter? I know you mentioned comps in October were up around 4%, so that implies quite a bit of an acceleration, so can you maybe talk about that and maybe what you're seeing so far in 2019. Then, underneath that, Brian, can you maybe give an update for what you think the impact from that For Real advertising campaign was on the comp trajectory? I know you polled some of that advertising during the quarter. What kind of tail did you see from that approach when it wasn't running? Thanks a lot.

Jack Hartung -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, hey, David. I'll start. We talked about during our third quarter release that the For Real campaign did bring more customers in at that time and we talked about October sales -- actually, sales in late September moving up to a higher level. We maintained that during October and then through the quarter. October and November were pretty similar months, David, so even as we were getting near the end of For Real, we held onto those sales and then we had a nice bump at the end of quarter as we had the Free Delivery Bowls as we were advertising on all the college bowl games, and our customers responded in a big way. That was nice acceleration.

I think the two things that make this really encouraging is that the For Real campaign was just resonating with our customers in terms of, Chipotle stands for real food and real cooking, and that resonated with customers, and then two, when we made Chipotle more convenient to our customers by making it available through delivery and free delivery during the Free Delivery Bowl campaign. They responded because it was convenient access and those are two levers that we can continue to pull throughout the year.

In terms of January sales, it's really difficult to give you an underlying trend. We maintained the momentum from the Delivery Bowls into the first week of January because we were advertising and offering the promotion through the BCS Championship game, and then we also introduced the Lifestyle Bowls, as well, and that created a lot of buzz and interest and activity, as well. And then, in the second half of the month, we have weather, and so, really difficult to give you what the underlying trend is. I can tell you we're just encouraged with what we saw during the quarter and we're optimistic about how 2019 is shaping up.

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Hey, David, this is Brian. The only thing I would add is, the thing that was exciting to hear form consumers, as well as our team members, is when we started talking about Chipotle's point of difference in regard to real ingredients, real cooking that results in just better tasting food, everybody agrees that is why they originally fell in love with Chipotle, and that's why they're falling back in love with Chipotle. The good news is, that message is proving to be very sticky, and I think the team has done a great job of making the brand much more visible with that key point of difference and it continues to carry momentum with the execution in the restaurant, as well as the guest experience that consumers are actually having.

We're very excited. I think we mentioned, obviously, we're going to continue to pull that string and the team is getting ready to launch the next wave of the For Real campaign through Behind the Foil next week.

David Tarantino -- Baird -- Analyst

Great, thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Sara Senatore from Bernstein. Please go ahead with your question.

Leo -- Bernstein -- Analyst

Hi, this is Leo for Sara. I have a question on the restaurant margins. It seems that it went up this quarter given the menu price increases, sales leverage, but we were just wondering if there were also some operating efficiencies here and if you could perhaps give more detail on what they might look like in 2019, but ideally, some kind of quantification on either the supply chain or literal metrics. Thanks.

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, there were efficiencies and we talked about -- we started to see efficiencies in the third quarter, and this is the way our field teams and restaurant managers are scheduling and deploying labor. They found ways to get more efficient in the second half of the third quarter that continued into the fourth quarter, and so that definitely drove part of the margin. The rest of it was from sales leverage and a little bit from the price increase.

And then, going into next year, it's really going to be more of the same. We're hoping that we'll -- or expecting that we'll hold onto the efficiencies that Scott and his team drove in the second half of this year. We're expecting with the comp guidance that we provided and with a very modest price increase, that will be able to offset some of the labor inflation. The biggest challenge is going to be labor inflation, and labor inflation, we expect to continue in that 4-5%.

Leo -- Bernstein -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Karen Holthouse from Goldman Sachs. Please go ahead with your question.

Karen Holthouse -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Hi, thanks for taking the question. One quick housekeeping one and then a real question. Can you just walk us through, given the pricing actions that have been taken, what the cadence of price through the year will be in 2019, and then there's some encouraging commentary on the loyalty test, and a best case scenario, when could we think about that getting to a broader rollout?

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Sure, the way to think about pricing is, we've taken a price increase of just shy of 2%, and I think we've mentioned this in prior calls. We now have brought in a partner to help us manage our pricing approach going forward. The good news for us is, even with the pricing of below 2%, we continue to have the best value scores in the best casual segment, and we're always going to want to hang on to that strength. Any pricing that we will take going forward will continue to be probably in smaller increment then we've done historically, with obviously a more frequent basis, and right now we're working through what that frequency will look like, but through all of it, the thing that we kept our eye on is, how do we maintain the integrity of that value proposition that we provide to our consumers?

Your second question on digital, the loyalty program specifically, we're in the stage gate process with the loyalty program. I think you've heard us talk about one of the things we're delighted to see is, one, the enrollments and how this is one of those things that just keep building on itself, so you get started with some level of enrollments, you see cohorts of people coming in. The thing that's nice to see is how those that enroll utilize the loyalty program in their behaviors, and then what's nice to see is how that builds throughout time, and while we continue to be very optimistic about this, the cohorts that we're seeing are light, lapsed, medium users, as well as our heavy users, but the thing that we're most interested is in the data we get on this our ability to then turn around and remarket Chipotle to influence people's behaviors going forward and we're still in the early days of understanding a lot of those implications, but so far, very promising, and that's why we continue to move through this stage gate process, still on track for 2019 launch.

Operator

Our next question comes from Sharon Zackfia from William Blair. Please go ahead with your question.

Sharon Zackfia -- William Blair -- Analyst

Hi, good afternoon. Sorry if I missed this, but I think, Brian, you've talked quite a bit about throughput and the opportunity there. I don't know if that's anything where you saw any measurable progress in the fourth quarter, and then I guess just to clarify Sara's question, can you just talk about how the price benefit will impact the quarters, so how much you're carrying in first quarter versus full year?

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I'll let Jack answer the pricing question here and then I can answer the other question around throughput. So go ahead, Jack.

Jack Hartung -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, Sharon, the price, it is one-seven through the first three quarters and then about one-three, something like that. We took pricing in two stages during December, so it's pretty much going to be an even 1.7 through 11.5 months of the year.

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

And then your question on throughput, the guys have actually made a lot of progress on throughput. We just launched our throughput dashboard. I think I mentioned this at our all manager conference. We reemphasized the pillars of throughput, so we're in the process right now if giving our teams visibility that they have not had on throughput in a long time and we're already starting to see that have an impact on our results. It's very early, but the good news is, the dashboard coupled with the focus and going back to the core of what this business was built on, which is fundamentals a great throughput, we're already seeing an impact in the business.

Operator

And our next question comes from Joshua Long from Piper Jaffray. Please go ahead with your question.

Joshua Long -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

Great, thank you for taking my question. Following up on that point on throughput, was curious if we could talk about the opportunity around GM turn over. I know that's something that you mentioned in your prepared comments, Brian, but just curious in where turn over levels are at now, and then how you think about rebuilding that over the course of 2019 and beyond, if there's other initiatives in place or if it's really a function of just getting the messaging and things that we've talked about here thus far in the call and then other venues, getting traction with that as we go forward.

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. No, thanks for the question. I think I mentioned in my remarks earlier, we were making 2019 the year of the general manager, and the reason is because we want to improve the stability at the general manager level, and we also want to improve the development of our apprentices and general managers so that they're ready to step in the growth opportunities that are going to be presented. It's a focused effort. We actually have all of our field leaders together here in a couple weeks where we're going to be reviewing the best ways to develop future general managers, and future field leaders in this organization, and Scott and his team are very much focused on keeping stability in the restaurant with our A-plus leaders, and then those leaders that need development, they get the right development so they become A-plus leaders, as well. And I think what you'll see is that builds a culture of growth, both from the standpoint of career opportunity, as well as sales and guest experiences.

We're very much focused on continuing to roll out initiatives to drive more stability, lower turnover at the general manager level. It's from that that just gives us a position of strength to get better throughput, better food execution, and a better environment for our customers.

Joshua Long -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

I appreciate that color, thank you so much. In terms of thinking about the Chipotlane and the prototype that goes along with that, how should we think about that in terms of -- those of us that haven't necessarily seen it in person and is there an opportunity to shrink some of that square footage as the sales make shifts toward digital and pushing things through or pushing sales through the app, rather?

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, great question. A lot of folks probably have not seen our Chipotlane. The way to -- first, I want to explain it. You order ahead in the app or on the website, and what it does is it provides another access point at the restaurant where you don't have to get out of your car. You are able to just pull up to a window, our team member then has a quick conversation with you. It's a set pick up time and then what happens is, literally, it's like, I'm here for my burrito, out the window comes your burrito, you never get out of your car. Arguably, it will be possibly the fastest way to Chipotle is going through the Chipotlane. It does require you, though, to order in advance and pick your pickup time. We have in about ten restaurants right now. The nice thing is we're seeing both digital sales as well as total restaurant sales elevate with this new access point.

To your question about, what does it mean from a restaurant design standpoint; this is one of the reasons why I'm really excited to have Tabassum on our team. She is going to have the flexibility to think through -- with this new access point, what are our opportunities to change the footprint of Chipotle? And I think that means finding trade areas that historically we haven't gone into because we haven't had this access point, then also finding trade areas where potentially we could have a smaller footprint because of this access point to get into those trade areas. It really opens the door to, I think, additional convenience with less friction, and get people Chipotles closer to where they want a Chipotle. We're still in the early days, though. I do want to make sure people understand that this is still very much in a testing phase and we'll continue to test, learn, iterate throughout 2019, and we'll be happily sharing the results as we get them.

Joshua Long -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

Great, thank you so much.

Operator

Our next question comes from John Glass from Morgan Stanley. Please go ahead with your question.

John Glass -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thanks very much. I wanted to ask about delivery. First, how much of the fourth quarter sales, particularly against December sales results, do you ascribe to delivering, particularly that free offer, how much comp less does that give you if you can tease it out? Second, you did offer free delivery earlier in the year, so it sounds like this time around it had a greater impact on sales and why do you think that was? And third, maybe Jack, I know you've talked about delivery economics in the past, but just to be clear, when you look at a delivery sale, I think it's generally understood it is lower margin because of the commission and it's hard to offset that, even if it's a higher check. Is that the way you think about it or do you think yours is structured somehow differently, or somehow there's a different proposition where you actually see your restaurant margin going up and it's accretive, not dilutive to restaurant margin? I'm talking about the average margin now, not maybe an incremental margin.

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Hey, John, I'll touch on the first part and then I'll let Jack share on your margin question. Two things to think about, the first time when we did the delivery promotion, it was not available both through in the app and across the marketplace. Now, delivery is accessible both in our app and across marketplace. The other thing I would share with you is we now have more coverage of our restaurants than we did when you go back the first time we did this. The other key piece of the puzzle obviously is I think our marketing team and Chris did a great job of smartly connecting the idea of delivery to an event that was happening in a lot of people's homes that just made the occasion that much more relevant. I think it's a combination of more access, more visibility, the access being in our app, in the marketplace, and then the visibility being done through television tied from occasion that basically tripped a thought for the consumer. Hey, I should be doing Chipotle at home while I'm doing this event.

I think the combination of all those things just built on top of each other, so really driver delivery business in the fourth quarter and the thing I'm excited about it is the delivery business continues to stay with Chipotle because the speed at which it gets delivered. I think we've talked about this before, we're still best in class when it comes to speed, and the second piece is, our food is really great when it gets delivered. That burrito, it's really delicious. So if you give people delicious food in roughly 30 minutes at home while they're watching whatever they're watching, appears to be a good idea for our consumer. Jack, I'll let you answer the margin question.

Jack Hartung -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, John, the way to think about the margin, first of all is, Chipotle is really set up where our operations are geared toward great delivery experience from -- through the entire process for our crew, for the driver, and for the customer. First of all, let me start with, our second make line sales before you consider delivery is higher margin than our front line sales. So, we start with an advantage there. We have a second make line, which means our stores are set up to take these extra sales, so we're not running the sales through or the production through the same front line that our customers are wading through. We're investing to make that experience even better with digitizing the second make line. Our capacity's going to go up, our accuracy's going to go up, and our timeliness is going to go up. We have stated times where when a delivery driver comes in, they know they can come to Chipotle at X-time; they know that it's going to be ready.

Now, we're putting shelves in a restaurant, as well, and we're about to launch prepaid for -- even for our delivery partners so that there's no stopping to pay for the order. Everything is set up to be very efficient, very seamless in everything we do. There is a delivery fee, but John, right now, the incrementally is so high that as long as these are extra customers, additional customers coming to Chipotle, we can cover the fees because our margin starts out at a higher level. Because it's incremental, we still can cover the fee and it's still accretive, so it's not just that it's profitable, it's accretive to our margin the way we've got it set up right now.

John Glass -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

And Jack, just to be clear, you're talking about accretive to the consolidated average margin, not an incremental margin, that the second make line can -- and higher check or whatever else elements, can offset that commission fee, is that the way you look at it?

Jack Hartung -- Chief Financial Officer

That's right, John. When we're at a high-19 margin, when we cover the delivery fees, our margins are still much higher than the 19%. Now, if you're going to compare this to an incremental customer that's going to order on their app and come in and pick it up, that is our highest margin transaction in the whole restaurant. When you then attach a delivery fee it's going to be lower, but it's still going to be a very attractive margin and again, the way we've set this up, it is so convenient for everybody involved, our crew, the driver and a customer, we think our growth is just going to continue to grow here, we think it's going to continue to be incremental and we're bullish on where this goes both from a sales as well as a margin standpoint.

John Glass -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from John Ivankoe from JPMorgan. Please go ahead with your question.

John Ivankoe -- JPMorgan -- Analyst

Hi, yes, a couple if I may. Firstly, overall, if we do think about what is going to be necessary at this point in terms of adding other customer in terms of your peak day par, I mean, are we at the point now where overall throughput is now at the point where that customer can be reached, and then secondly, in terms of the shoulder periods that we've talked about before in between the two and five, for example, if there were now programs in place to meet the shoulder periods that couldn't otherwise be met with the overall peak staffing and day par demands?

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, hey John, the simple answer is, we still have plenty of capacity to handle more throughput during our peaks. I think we've mentioned this before. Chipotle in the past was doing $2.5 million on average out of these restaurants and we were doing 35 transactions in 15 minutes, and we're still in the mid 20's today, albeit making progress from mid-20. So, Scott and his team know that when we have a line and they go faster, the good news is, the line just keeps moving, as opposed to somebody peeling off of the line, and the peak business still has a lot of capacity when we execute throughput really well. So, there's plenty of upside there. Then your question on the shoulder, the thing that's great about Chipotle is, our proposition really resonates lunch through dinner and consumers are becoming more hour less on the time of day that they want to eat, and we're continuing to see us making progress in our throughput in those shoulder hours.

But, the focus right now is, those peaks, how do we get back to where we once were on that throughout because we still have so much head room in that space and it's an impressive operation when you see us operating at our throughput capability and I think we've talked about this in the past, but plenty of headroom, but we have lots of focus to capture that headroom in our peaks.

John Ivankoe -- JPMorgan -- Analyst

Yes, and from your perspective it's more of a supply, in other words, a throughput constraint then it has been a demand constraint as the numbers of customers that you serve in 15 minutes has been reduced?

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I mean, look, I think our -- the good news is, we smartly got our team members focused on their roles, accountability and making great food, and now we're pivoting to, OK, now this is how you do the four pillars of great throughput, which was at the core of Chipotle five, six years ago. We believe we can open more transition during those peaks by getting people up to speed on what it's like to run the four pillars of great throughput in a Chipotle.

John Ivankoe -- JPMorgan -- Analyst

That's great, thank you, and then secondly, if I may, on the supply chain, and I know you've talked about this in the past, but in terms of the bigger structural changes that are happening in the supply chain, how far are we in this journey at this point? I mean, obviously you've hired new people, you have new teams, you have a new office, I mean, you have a completely clean slate in terms of what Chipotle could be in 2020 versus 2015 or 2014. I mean, I guess, how much efficiency in effect from this opportunity, maybe there's a basis point number? I think we'd all love that, but whatever it is, and maybe it's a quality number or a service number that you can talk about in terms of the work that you've done on a supply chain in terms of how much that could deliver going forward.

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I think we've talked about this, and I think you categorize it correctly. We've got a new leader with Carlos, and we are really taking a clean sheet to how we approach our supply chain, with one caveat. Food with integrity is still going to be a key driving principal on how we operate in our supply chain. So, that means supporting the farmer, supporting the right animal welfare, and then also protecting clean food and farming practices that we believe is the future of food culture.

With that said, I think Carlos and his team working with Jack have already started to identify opportunities for our business that we're going to attack and as we understand what that really means for the business. I'm sure Jack and myself will update you guys, but right now it'd be premature to give a specific number, John, on what that entails, but I think it's part of one of our pillars of doing our business, which is, we need to take a disciplined approach to protecting the economic model Chipotle, and that's what we've tasked Carlos to do here. So, I don't know if you want to add anything for that, Jack.

Jack Hartung -- Chief Financial Officer

No, just the only thing I would say is it's a whole new team, as well, John. We're fully staffed right now, the team is up and running, it's really a great team that believe in a Chipotle purpose, they believe in Chipotle, our ethos sourcing, high quality sustainability raised food, and they've had significant outreach to all or our suppliers so we're really optimistic about the team, about the relationship with our suppliers, and Brian's right though, there's nothing to report right now, but if there's opportunities there, I'm confident this team's going to find them.

John Ivankoe -- JPMorgan -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Gregory Badishkanian from Citi. Please go ahead with your question.

Gregory Badishkanian -- Citi -- Analyst

Great, thanks. Just your 2019 comp guidance calls for mid-single digit same store sales, should we expect an inflection at some point or do you think it's really just kind of a slow and steady march back to the 2.5 million AUV level, you achieved 4% last year, s just kind of steady and slow or would you expect inflection point?

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, obviously I think the way we think about this is, if we do the right marketing with the right communication, our consumers will respond enthusiastically to the Chipotle business, and is that slow and steady, is it inflection, that's not what we're focused on. What we're focused on is, how do we get to a place where we're communicating the things that are meaningful to people about Chipotle, we're doing the initiatives that we believe will drive returns and growth, and we're running great operations so that when people come in they have a world class experience, and they want to come back? I think we do all those things right. We'll continue to be rewarded with customer's business and we'll continue to be rewarded with employee loyalty and engagement.

We're optimistic about the various initiatives we have in our stage gate process and how we're going to attack growth going forward, but what we're really zeroed in is, how do we make sure we run great operations, do the right initiatives, and then get the consumer the message that makes them feel good about being a part of Chipotle? That's when we'll get rewarded with sales and transactions. How that plays out, we'll update you guys quarterly.

Gregory Badishkanian -- Citi -- Analyst

All right, thank you.

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah.

Operator

Our next question comes from Jeffrey Bernstein from Barclays. Please go ahead with your question.

Jeffery Bernstein -- Barclays -- Analyst

Great, thank you very much. Brian, you mentioned a few areas of focus for 2019. I'm just wondering, as you internally, I guess, think about measuring success, are you more focused, do you think, on the comp to drive the acceleration in traffic, or do you think about it more as, you've got the comp momentum back, now you focus more on the margin? I'm just trying to think if there's comp upside to 19 versus the mid, single digit level, especially because you're off to a strong start with the initiative kicking in, whether or not you'd be reinvested in that in the variety of initiatives you have or the initiatives really require stage gating, and therefore they would be more flow through the margins and earnings in '19 if you were to beat the comp expectation.

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, look, obviously we're concerned about both is the way I would respond to your question. We want to invest in a business so that we continue to drive momentum in sales and transactions because the best leverage for the economic model here is growing sales and transactions. We do that well, our margins will expand. At the same token, I think this is kind of to somebody's question earlier where there's opportunities to be efficient, or take some of the upside to bottom line. If we don't have an investment vehicle that would suggest you should go reinvest it, we'll take it to the bottom line.

The thing I'm excited about though at Chipotle is we've got a lot of levers and we're validating what those levers are worth through this stage gate process, whether it's a delivery program, a loyalty program, a menu innovation, or an ops initiative around throughput. We're starting to better understand how these things play out both from a top line and then how it flows to the bottom line, and were going to continue to run that balancing act, because ultimately -- and I think Jack has talked about this in the past, we want to get back to that two-four, two-five with margins that would be best in class at two-four, two-five. We're really striving toward doing both.

Jeffery Bernstein -- Barclays -- Analyst

Got it, and just because you mentioned the delivery and the loyalty in the menu, it seems like you have a variety of initiatives at various stages of roll out as we think about 19. It seems like you started in the year strong. It seems like if you dig back into it, maybe December was up in the 10% range, so obviously there's some nuances in short term trends, but you're starting very strong. I'm just wondering whether you're expecting the comp to accelerate through the year or whether for some reason you're pulsing some things in, some things out that we shouldn't expect comps to accelerate through 2019 versus where they are today.

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, look, you know, I think we talked about this. The fourth quarter we definitely saw a trend change with the combination of I think improving operations, more penetrated digital system, delivery having more coverage and being more visible about the point of difference in Chipotle. We're going to keep doing that in 2019 because we believe those are the right strategies to engage with our customers in a unique way. What I would say is we feel really good about the strategies and the programs we have in place. The trick for us in 2019 is executing those with excellence. So that we maximize what each of those are worth. But, I think it's really important for people to understand, it's a multi lever that we've got going on here, great operations, a great digital system, more visible marketing that is more resonant than we have been in the past coupled with some smart innovation both done in digital and in the menu. We're going to continue to drive that, it served us well in '18 and we believe it's going to continue to serve us well in '19.

Jeffery Bernstein -- Barclays -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Andy Barish from Jefferies. Please go ahead with your question.

Andrew Barish -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Yeah, just a couple points on the physical plan. Chipotlane, are you -- are those new builds as well as remodels and then, secondly, on the new stores, could you discuss kind of a recent performance history on new store openings relative to the $2 million system average where those stores are coming in?

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Sure, your question in the Chipotlanes, it is really a new build effort. We're going to do one or two remodel efforts, but the emphasis of this is going to be really a new build approach going forward, at least that's what our learnings would suggest to date, and then your question on the economics around our new openings, they continue to really perform with great opening volumes as well as terrific returns both on a one and two year basis. Jack, I don't know if you want to add any --

Jack Hartung -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, just Andy, I would just say it's relative to some of the best results we've had, historically meaning there at about 80% or even a little bit higher then what our existing mature stores are, and it is right where we hoped it would be. You might remember a few years ago we had fallen down to about 70% of the average mature store, so we closed that gap and the quality is really attractive and the team's done a great job.

Andrew Barish -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

And our final question today comes from Andrew Charles from Cowen & Company. Please go ahead with your question.

Andrew Charles -- Cowen & Co -- Analyst

Great, thanks just Jack, one quick housekeeping question and then Brian one question for you, should we interpret mid, single digit, same store sales guidance for 2019 to mean 4 to 6 % or 3 to 5% and then Brian, what is the effect -- just to play devil's advocate, what is the effectiveness of the marketing spend you saw in 4Q that 4.2%, why didn't that lead you to rethink the 3% of marketing spend budget planned for 2019, as clearly efforts are working, thanks.

Jack Hartung -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, just the housekeeping real quick. What I say mid -- low is 1, 2, 3, mid is 4, 5, 6 so, I'm saying somewhere in that 4, 5, 6 range.

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

And yeah, to your question in regard to marketing as a percent of sales, I think the way we've thought about this is how do we have a communication program that will get the brand to be visible where we want, when we want? And to Chris and the team's credit, as they've looked at the existing budget, we don't see a problem with being able to allocate those dollars in such a way where we can be where we want, when we want, and how we want to show up. I think we mentioned this in the past, if we find ourselves in a place where, look, there's an opportunity for us to go beyond the 3%, we're not afraid to go do it, but as of right now, we believe reallocating the budget is the better way to go to optimize the result we're looking for right now. But, Chris appreciates that question. I'm sure. Thanks for the question.

Andrew Charles -- Cowen & Co -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

And ladies and gentlemen, and this time, we've reached the end of today's question and answer session, I'd like to turn the conference call back over to management for any closing remarks.

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Okay, well, thank you everybody for taking the time. I just want to reiterate again how proud I am of the culture we're creating here, the leadership team that we have put in place over the last 9 to 10 months, and the fact that our reorganization, a lot of it is behind us, and what we're really focused on now is executing our strategies so that we show up for our customer where they want us, how they want us, and then for our team members that we continue to develop them, grow them, and get the opportunities of growth. I think Chipotle is a one-of-a-kind brand and our goal here going forward is to continue to drive that one-of-a-kindness with customers and everybody that chooses to be a part of Chipotle. Thank you for taking the time, and I appreciate all the questions. Take care.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude today's conference call. We do thank you for attending. You may now disconnect your lines.

Duration: 60 minutes

Call participants:

Ashish Kohli -- Head of Investor Relations

Brian Niccol -- Chief Executive Officer

Jack Hartung -- Chief Financial Officer

David Tarantino -- Baird -- Analyst

Leo -- Bernstein -- Analyst

Karen Holthouse -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Sharon Zackfia -- William Blair -- Analyst

Joshua Long -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

John Glass -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

John Ivankoe -- JPMorgan -- Analyst

Gregory Badishkanian -- Citi -- Analyst

Jeffery Bernstein -- Barclays -- Analyst

Andrew Barish -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Andrew Charles -- Cowen & Co -- Analyst

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