November 23, 2020

Innovating During a Pandemic: Taco Bell Doubles Down on Core Commitments

Because even more of Taco Bell's business is now drive-thru, its been taking steps to ensure that the ordering and preparation experience is fast and efficient for team members and guests.

Missy Schaaphok, RDN, Sr. Manager of Global Nutrition & Sustainability for Taco Bell USA, shares the company’s approach to operating during the pandemic. Taco Bell owns and operates 7,000+ corporate and franchise locations in the U.S., and 600+ global locations.

Q. The pandemic hit the restaurant industry hard. How did Taco Bell respond?
We significantly adjusted our approach to operations. We were one of the first QSRs to close restaurant dining rooms as required by local government and in guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and we rolled out enhanced safety measures for team members still in action, doubling down on drive-thru business.

We deployed our Taco Trucks to feed essential workers on the frontlines and created a Truck-thru at headquarters designed to accommodate large vehicles used by law enforcement, EMTs, firefighters, news crews and other essential workers.

The drive-thru was already the key driver of our business model, and we quickly looked at how we could accelerate other areas. The new “Go Mobile” restaurant design, set to debut next year, focuses on digital ordering and drive thru (or drive by via curbside) order pickup.

We also strengthened our customer connection through our Taco Bell Beta Rewards program that awards points for online orders that customers turn in for rewards, and Taco Gifter, a taco e-gifting service.

Some of our successful promos included free Doritos Locos Tacos for fans for four Taco Tuesdays in a row and the At Home Taco Bar on Cinco de Mayo to help stay-at-home fans enjoy Taco Bell from the comfort of their own kitchen.

The pandemic has shifted our perspective to be increasingly flexible, innovative, purposeful, and bold.

Q. How has the pandemic affected Taco Bell’s menu options?
Now that even more of our business is through the drive-thru, we’ve been taking steps to ensure that the ordering and preparation experience is fast and efficient for both our team members and guests.

After months of analyzing the new way we’re operating our restaurants during COVID-19, and strategically weighing a variety of factors, including speed of service, we made the decision to simplify and evolve our menu. These changes include removing some items to make room for new menu innovations.

We also temporarily halted breakfast offerings and cut back breakfast serving hours at some locations to support franchisees experiencing decreased demand. As parts of the country begin to reopen safely, we are slowly bringing back the breakfast menu with more than half of our U.S. restaurants operating during the morning daypart.

Q. How did the pandemic influence Taco Bell’s core strategy to be better-for-you and better-for-the-planet?
Even as the pandemic has triggered changes in restaurant operations and efforts to streamline our menu, nutrition, choice and sustainability are still top of mind for our brand, as it was before the pandemic.

For example, when we removed Mexican pizza from our menu, we saved more than seven million pounds of waste from the its packaging. We are also continuing to innovate as we work towards our commitment to make all global consumer-facing packaging reusable, compostable or recyclable by 2025.

Plant-based proteins have had a starring role on our menu since we first opened our doors in 1962, but we recently made it easier to identify and order vegetarian options by displaying “V” symbols on menu boards and mobile ordering platforms and offering “Veggie Mode” on in-restaurant kiosks. Soon fans will see another plant-based protein on Taco Bell’s menu.