There are numerous factors one must weigh when determining the success of a long-lasting food franchise, but any student of history would be remiss for not citing Taco Bell’s dollar menu as a key ingredient to the chain’s longevity. Navigating a dollar menu to get the most bang for your buck can be a little like knowing the correct passwords during speakeasy days, or secret items only the chef prepares on request, and no restaurant has more effectively put to use its dollar menu than Taco Bell. One may benefit from a handy guide, but it’s also important to track the origin of the menu so that we best understand it. Here are the Top 10 Untold Truths of Taco Bell’s Dollar Menu.
10. It Predates McDonald’s Dollar Menu
You’d be forgiven for assuming McDonald’s did it first, considering it’s The Simpsons of fast food restaurants, but Taco Bell actually has the edge when it comes to affordable food. In fact, its original attempts at a value menu were even cheaper. In 1989, two years before Macdonald’s even toyed with the concept, Taco Bell began offering menu items for as little as .59 cents. The menu was fairly simplistic, but it served as a precursor to what we currently have at our disposal. The menu’s first commercial’s aired with the promise that customers could get a taco for .59, a Supreme Taco for .79 and a Big Beef Taco for .99 cents. With inflation rates, these numbers would be a little more than a dollar, but at the time it was a fairly big risk. According to a New York Times article a year after the menu’s debut, it was launched as a strategy to create a perception that the restaurant offered the cheapest fast food on the market. One industry consultant loved the idea’s simplicity, noting that there tended to be a lot of confusion with menus, often with different items costing oddly priced items. With Taco Bell, you knew what you were getting. By all accounts, the gamble paid off, with Taco Bell becoming the best-performing chain restaurant in the country.
9. Dollar Menu Origins
It’s no surprise that Taco Bell didn’t have an easy time landing in America. Like many immigrants, it had trouble finding its footing. The primary struggle was convincing Americans that Mexican food wasn’t that much of a stretch from what they were used to eating. They had the Latino community, but convincing the rest of the country that the cuisine wasn’t too spicy from their normal diet would take work. Worse, the company was resorting to Hispanic stereotypes, cartoon sombreros and mariachi bands to promote their product. John E. Martin, who took over the company in 1983, saw only one solution: make the prices so low customers would have to be crazy to resist. From there, his plan to win over the hearts and minds of the country and prove that Tacos were just as tasty as burgers would just fall into place. While Martin’s overall plan was in the right direction, it wasn’t well-developed. A single taco that should have cost .79 cents went for .39. So while transactions were exceeding even the most optimistic potential future, their profit margins were crashing. The launch of the value menu was actually an increase in price slowly, raising them to the correct margins over time. By 1990, the prices were adjusted correctly, business was moving at a clip and money was finally coming in. Their operating profits had been upped by 26 per cent. As for the rest of the rebrand, it was only a matter of time before Taco Bell succumbed to more floral coloring and flamboyant, more stereotypical marketing. From there, it was just a few steps to a talking Chihuahua…
8. Cost Is Not Always Less
One would assume items are relegated to a dollar menu to accompany other, equally priced items to create a custom meal that is cheaper than whatever generic combo the restaurant traditionally offers. But to assume this completely negates where a dollar menu is most effective, business-wise. In 2014, Taco Bell began offering the Cravings Dollar Menu, which included 11 popular items for the flat rate of a single dollar (plus tax, unless you’re in Delaware). Even those in the car who may not be fans of Mexican cuisine could enjoy snacks like cinnamon twists and more American offerings like the Cheese Roll-Up. While it may be less expensive to put such items on a dollar menu, it actually increases their price by a penny. Granted, this isn’t exactly much of an increase, considering Wendy’s and McDonald’s were busy putting two dollar items on their dollar menu, and given how much we all perk up when it comes to savings, the difference is noticeable. Most customers may not have noticed, but some have caught the dark, twisted secret and…not really cared, quite honestly.
7. Dollar Or Value Menu
In December of 2018, Taco Bell finally accepted the fact that they had to make some adjustments. The Cravings Dollar Menu, now under the control of Yum Brands!, dropped the word “dollar” and subbed in “value”, which is never a good sign. Anything that suggests a lack of transparency is never going to side with the old maxim of the customer never failing in judgment, and this was no exception. Customers noticed rather glaringly obvious five-dollar Tacos right next to their preferred cheap fix, but this came as little surprise. No amount of PR could change one irrefutable fact: McDonald’s still sets the rules and Taco Bell followed. Taco Bell’s announcement of their revamped value menu was loaded with quotes from high-level executives about the care they put into what the menu means to a customer, but it was clear they were following the trend of competitors. The previous year, McDonald’s launched the $1, $2 and $3 dollar value menus, offering a new echelon of variety each leveled at a cost. Interestingly, McDonald’s strategy wasn’t all that much of a success, but that didn’t change competitors from also revamping just what they were willing to charge for certain luxuries.
6. Taco Bell Breakfast For A Buck
Until McDonald’s recent push to serve breakfast all day, the industry looked at the most important meal of the day as something best dealt with at the home front, offering fairly limited breakfast options that ended strictly at ten a.m. and worked best as quick, on-the-go meals caught between airport departures. But just like McDonald’s Szechuan sauce being called for by Rick and Morty fans, so too was breakfast being demanded to be served for longer. Taco Bell took notice and today their dollar menu is special. To date, it is the only major chain to offer items from the breakfast menu for a dollar. None of McDonald’s McValue menu is under a dollar for breakfast, nor at Wendy’s. As for Burger King, it only has three value breakfast items compared to Taco Bell’s five. We imagine that, when Demolition Man’s prognosticated franchise wars do begin, the shot heard ’round the world will be grounded on the battlefields of the breakfast table. It’s the only legitimate answer to the lingering question just how Taco Bell was the sole surviving company after those brutal days.
5. Taco Bell Dollar Menu Success
With the possible exception of dollar stores, which are often falsely advertised based on the name alone, Taco Bell has benefited more than any other company from their dollar menu. We mentioned the uptick the menu had done to business profits in 1989, but since then the menu has increased business a total of 35 per cent. This could further enforce Taco Bells stability as many fast food restaurants are struggling. Just this year, even Subway, has seen a 25 per cent drop in foot traffic and that’s before factoring in the untold damage the various global lock-downs will cause. So how does Taco Bell manage to stay in business despite these unpredicted restraints? Fairly well, actually. They were well prepared long before word of any virus caught the airwaves in the U.S. In 2018, the dollar menu was stacked with 20 items at the set price. The next year, the addition of 5 dollar items on the value menu was complemented with cheaper versions of other popular items like the Double Chalupa. As a result, Taco Bell doesn’t fear for much in the coming years.
4. Not All Taco Bells Have a Dollar Menu
If you should find yourself at one of the rare Taco Bell locations that does not feature a dollar menu of any kind, continue to search further. Social media reports seem to confirm that most airport locations do not offer a Dollar Menu, as well as some locations near universities. But there’s no real rhyme or reason as to why that we’ve been able to find that clearly outlines a basis for which locations do and do not offer the cheapest option. So it pays to do your research. You would think that any location catering to the college crowd would make a Dollar Menu a top priority. IF anyone needs some cheap eats, it’s all the students out there trying to make ends meet.
3. Welcoming Vegetarians, Vegans and Others!
It may be a long time coming before we see plant-based meat products on the dollar menu at Taco Bell, but considering the success the products have been having at other restaurants such as Burger King, there’s probably no escaping this inevitable future. As we worry more about what we put in our bodies, as meat costs, production, care and abuse raises concern amongst even the most casual animal lover, when presented with the facts, plant-based meat that actually approximates the taste of the Real McCoy appears to be the way of the future. And Taco Bell hasn’t been dismissive of this; just last year, their labs began experimenting with food more suited to customers who abstain from meat for one reason or another. While the country may not have everyone on board with the trend, there really is no denying the potential it has to sweep across the nation. For just as there will always be a place for die-hard old-school meat-eaters who can’t get enough of it, so too will there be a market for sensible, cautious diners worried about what enters their digestive tract.
2. The Joys of Menu Hacking
It may not come as much of a surprise that the key to mastering a dollar menu, to really maximize its full potential, you have to know the ins and outs of cost-benefit. To the untrained eye, when it comes to Taco Bell’s menu, it may seem like a mishmash of tasty treats to get on the run, but to the true connoisseur one could easily paint a vast canvas of a meal. There’s no shortage of handy guides online that will help you organize your order to create the best, most lavish dining experience you can possibly get on found couch-cushion money. And we recommend you cycle through a few, find the right combinations to customize your plate. Part of the fun in doing this isn’t so much the knowledge that they’ve saved money, but they feel like they outsmarted the system, reconfigured it to meet their requirements – bent it at its will, so to speak. Ultimately, we know this isn’t true, the power the customer weilds is fairly relegated to pointing and clicking, but there is some pleasure in feeling as if you took a multi-billion dollar business for a ride.
1. The “Limited Time” Offer
No customer really enjoys being informed that they only have a limited time to try or purchase an item. The entire marketing strategy, while effective, tends to reak of a cash grab. Disney Studios attempted this with DVD releases of their classics, almost as though it were a veiled threat that they’d “lock them back in the Disney vault.” Why? What is the customer meant to expect by such a ploy? Essentially, the company is acting maliciously. Nevertheless, we fall victim to the “limited time” stunts run by fast-food restaurants all the time, and Taco Bell is no exception. There is something to be said, however, for the ingenuity they put forth in their limited offers. When an item on the dollar menu is described as being sold for a brief window, at least it’s given the royal treatment it deserves. Rarely do new additions to dollar menus spark internet fire, but last year Taco Bell was at the centre of such controversy when it unleashed the Double Stacked Taco. Fans of the item, when it was on the more premium menu, lamented its sudden and mysterious disappearance, calling it the best item the restaurant has yet to offer. That all changed, however, last May when Taco Bell announced the Double Stack would return but in dollar-form. That Taco Bell seized this moment to launch the limited offer has left fans wondering whether or not the Double Stack would become akin to McDonald’s occasionally released McRib, something the item has been compared to favorably on more than one occasion. Nevertheless, it’s now your dollar menu, sage customer. Use it wisely.