Del Taco went all in on social and one-to-one communication channels, either through open outlets, like Twitter, Facebook, etc., or via its app and email programs. Hackbardt says the approach was critical on multiple levels. Clearly, from a cost one. Also, it spoke to the core user, which during COVID rose in prominence as guests rotated and returned to brands they trust. There simply wasn’t as much discovery and variety chasing in the dining-out process.
CEO John Cappasola said in July Del Taco was “already seeing significant improvements in our consumer engagement across social and digital channels as a result of their early work over the past month [referring to Hackbardt and agency Skiver]. Our new approach that delivers must watch brand creative has increased social engagement and buzz by up to four times.”
An example: Del Taco launched a Sprite Poppers beverage—Sprite with mango or cherry-flavored popping boba—and saw a spike in user-generated video reviews and experiences across TikTok, YouTube, and other platforms.
Within a 10-week window, Del Taco brought fresh guacamole to the menu. It hosted a one-day “Guac-Thru” systemwide on July 24 where customers could bring any fast-food item to restaurants and top them with the new, fresh guacamole. Food influencers mashed up some classics, like Popeyes Chicken Sandwich, and shared them on social.
Del Taco then expanded its Epic Burrito lineup with Beyond Meat. Lastly, and perhaps most vividly, it added crispy chicken as a permanent protein with $1 Crispy Chicken Tacos and a $5 Crispy Chicken Burrito. The brand claimed to be the first Mexican quick-serve to feature the product as a core option.
On the marketing side, “CRYS///P TYGER” introduced Cholula Crispy Chicken Tacos on October 12. The “hair metal band,” complete with leopard sprint spandex, promises to be a branding chameleon for Del Taco as its Crispy Chicken menu evolves. The company wrote custom music and a custom song. This speaks back to the social sphere of COVID lockdowns and how Del Taco believes it can stand out from the pack.
Check out the campaign below.
The other thing Del Taco did was create a “Del’s Daily Smiler Summer” program to incentivize customers with offers and surprise deals from partners exclusive through its app. For instance, users received an offer for a free Samsung smartphone on what Del Taco labeled “Free Phone Friday.” It also partnered with Pandora at one point and RockMyRun as it observed a running craze born out of stay-at-home mandates. At the close of Q2, Del Taco’s app base grew to more than 1.1 million users—a 28 percent increase from the end of 2019.
“We follow those trends and had those types of offers,” Hackbardt says of the daily deals. “So it wasn’t just a price-off thing. It was something fun to add to your day and maybe to your new lifestyle. So we focused around those.”
Back in April, Del Taco laid the foundation for the rest of the year, possibly further. This included a refreshed value menu—Del’s Dollar Deal’s Menu, which features 13 items—as well as attention on the other side of the barbell, which is something Del Taco has always led the category with. In this case, extension of its Epic Burritos, touted as fast-casual size prices at 25–30 percent less.
Del Taco streamlined it to showcase four builds and put stock in fresh guacamole add-ons. Crispy Chicken moves across the barbell, too. There are two flavors, with habanero and ranch at the $1 end. It moves to the middle in a $4 Crispy Chicken and Fries Box, and up to top with the $5 Epic option that includes fresh guacamole and creamy avocado Caesar dressing.
Hackbardt says sales of Crispy Chicken, which officially landed in early August, are driving transactions and return visits. And the timing was actually ideal, pandemic or not, considering classic and comfort foods remained top-of-mind for guests throughout the crisis.
As group orders and higher checks continue to fuel growth, Dollar Deals served as a powerful check builder as well, Hackbardt says. Customers are mixing flavors and tacking on items to feed multiple people.