Taco Bell has learned some great lessons about the digital food revolution and its applied those to a physical space, opening up “Taco Bell Defy,” a two-story unit in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, with a focus on the drive-thru, which can be ordered indoors, through its app, or in the traditional manner. 

Quick-serves like Taco Bell have been fast to innovate, which makes them great leaders and not just in their own sector, but providing an example for others. 

When it comes to experience with quick-service restaurants, at Future Platforms we have worked with Domino’s for over a decade. In that time, it has innovated in huge ways to help change the landscape of casual eating. Taco Bell is now pushing the boundaries further, combining digital and physical services. This will likely lead the way for a new era of ordering. 

Interestingly, a problem has been highlighted from the new Taco Bell solution. Time has always been of the essence for quick-serves. You may remember the delivery pizza deal that said if the pizza was late, you didn’t have to pay? Taco Bell is now working to get orders into people’s hands in a couple of minutes, leveraging mobile ordering to push that boundary even further. 

The pandemic has, of course, had an impact on this. In the U.K. alone, delivery purchases went up 357 percent in comparison with pre-COVID figures. Many brands were forced to move fast and get digital services in place to be a part of this expansion. But in many cases, they were forced to get off-the-shelf solutions and third-party apps that may not be prepared for the next level. 

Brands now need to be looking at how they can fluidly serve consumers both in and out of a store, restaurant or other location. Take banks: while banking apps have improved vastly in competition with each other, locations are closing and those few that are left have hardly moved on from pens attached to chains and queuing in a grey environment. 

Challenger banks with digital-first perspectives are similar to the MrBeast Burger chain of virtual, delivery-only food outlets. No need for a physical location, all innovation investment into virtual spaces. These have their value in disruption and they call out legacy businesses to get a move on. But consumer needs change and technical solutions don’t always fit together. 

Quick-serves are having to wrestle with all manner of tech including lots of off-the-shelf solutions that don’t really fit together, including loyalty schemes, product procurement, stock management, staff management and delivery solutions. So far there’s no holistic answer unless the firm is both huge and forward thinking like Amazon. The off-the-shelf solution that works now might not be right later, and there will be hard decisions about legacy tech down the road. 

Taco Bell’s Defy restaurant is a big, bold, and probably quite expensive innovation. But along with serving customers in a new and efficient way, it also stands as a great branding point that shines a light on Taco Bell as an innovator that is not afraid to sink money into the future. While not all brands may be able to invest at this level, if they can be creative about digital and physical experiences, then they can be sure they are also investing in their future. 

Cameron Day is a Managing Partner at Future Platforms, and has worked in digital product and innovation consultancy for over 15 years for clients that include BlackRock, Adidas, Virgin Active, IKEA and Three Mobile.

Fast Food, Outside Insights, Story, Taco Bell