Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Skip the Line

Place: Taco Bell
Lunch: Doritos Locos Taco Supreme (no tomato, extra meat, add red sauce), Chalupa Supreme (no tomato, substitute chicken, add avocado ranch sauce, add bacon), Nachos Supreme (no tomato, add red sauce), Smothered Burrito (extra beef, extra beans, extra cheese, extra red sauce, no rice, no chipotle sauce, no sour cream), Mug Root Beer

I walked into this very Taco Bell a couple of weeks ago and asked for a Bacon Club Chalupa, an LTO that was still listed on Taco Bell's website, because it is fabulous and so am I.

"Sorry, we no longer have that at this location," Smiling Counter Girl said.

This immediately defeated my ability to respond "but I just saw it on the Taco Bell website" because she was smart enough to add the "at this location" disclaimer.


Seems silly, though.  All the Bacon Club Chalupa is is a chicken chalupa with avocado ranch sauce and bacon, both of which they have in the kitchen for other standard menu items.  How hard can that be?

Same goes for the Enchrito.  They have everything they need to make them, yet they took that off the menu, and won't make it if you ask.

I suppose you could just get creative at how you order certain items, fooling them into making what it is you really want.  But have you ever tried customizing a menu item at Taco Bell?  I've had counter people calling for a manager just to show them how to input "no tomato".  These people can barely make change.

Friends, enemies, and none of the above, Taco Bell has a solution.

Taco Bell has rolled out a mobile app that you can use to build an order and even pay for the food ahead of arriving at the restaurant.   Set up an account, place your order, and head for the border. "Live like a VIP."  "Skip the line." "We're good at rhetoric."  "Please wear pants."  You can also do all this through their website.

I set up my account and started an order.  The app first wanted to know where I was so I could select a nearby store.  A map of North America came up and immediately indicated that there were no Taco Bells in North America.  At all.  Who knew.

(Yes, I had given it location permission.)

I rebooted the app.  The map came up again.  But this time it determined there were two Taco Bells nearby that accepted online ordering.  I chose a location and was taken to the menu.

The main menu items appear in a scroll list.  When you select an item, its ingredients appear.  You can swipe each ingredient to the left to select "Extra", or to the right for "No".  No tomato?  Swipe right.  Done.

A second tab on each item allows you to select add-ons and customize things to the point of ridiculous.  Sheetz-level ridiculous.  Most items will come at a cost, which is clearly displayed.  The good news here is one of the freebies is Taco Bell's red sauce, the warm red sauce they put in the burritos, which I would drink right out of the can if I could.  Once you've actually ordered an item, your customization is saved in your history for quick re-orders.

Once you've customized an item, add it to the shopping cart.  This was buggy.  The Smothered Burrito, the most customized thing I ordered, took north of five minutes to add to the cart.  But so did the soft drink, which actually bombed out the first time (got a 'could not add' error).  I tried to add it a second time and it worked.

Once you've followed the steps to check out and pay, the app advises you that you have until the end of the day to pick up.  You then go to the store (there's even an option to get GPS directions if you need them) and, once there, tell the app you've arrived by selecting "DRIVE-THRU" or "IN-STORE" for pickup.  There's no option I can see to determine if you're dining in or just picking up, so everything is packed to go.  I have no idea what you would do if the Taco Bell you chose happens to be in a dead zone for your wireless provider.  Do Taco Bells have wi-fi?  Maybe just drive around and find a signal.  (UPDATE: This has since actually happened, and the answer is to tell the counter person you have a mobile order and your name.  They can pull it up and check you in.)

I walked in past the cash registers to the space where people waiting for food converge.  Guy in the kitchen points at me and shouts "YOU THE GUY WITH THE MOBILE ORDER?"

Me: "Yeah."

That was the whole conversation.  He disappeared.

The only other customers are some young guy and his girlfriend, who are also hanging out by the pick-up area.  They are loud and obnoxious and using language that would make George Carlin blush.  Two middle-aged women enter and stand in front of the cash register.  The girlfriend leaves and the guy heads BEHIND THE COUNTER.  He's an EMPLOYEE.  The order taker, specifically.  He can't figure out how to login to the register.  He shouts "MANAGER!"  A manager appears.  "What the F&%!K!" the manager declares.  You know what?  This part of town just isn't this ghetto.

Another employee appears, logs into the other register, and takes the ladies' orders.  My food arrives.  I have to ask for the drink cup, which results in a deer-in-headlights look.

So here's what I ordered and how much it cost when all was said and done.  No, I normally don't eat this much food at one time...I just wanted to see how everything turned out.  Although yes, shockingly, I really did eat it all.  Everything, for the record, was made exactly as ordered.

Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos Supreme - MSRP: $1.99, as ordered, $2.79 - Taco Bell is the skimpiest place I know of when it comes to putting beef in their tacos, unless you count the well-under-a-dollar tacos of some competitors.  But pay for extra meat and what do you have?  A taco with a REASONABLE BALANCE OF MEAT.  It's still like half the beef you get compared to the tacos at Abelardo's, which are cheaper AND pretty much the best tacos in the world, but it was still the best taco I've ever had at a Taco Bell.

Nachos Supreme - MSRP: $2.69, as ordered: $2.69 - It had honestly never occurred to me to ask for red sauce on the Nachos Supreme until the app had the option just sitting there staring at me.  Wow am I glad it did.  But that's all I did to it.  You could go nuts, though.  Change the meat to steak.  Add real cheese.  Add any number of sauces, black beans, onions, bacon, salsa, jalapeno peppers...you can do ALL of that.  You could also triple the price in the process, but it would be totally worth it.

Chalupa Supreme - MSRP: $2.69, as ordered: $3.59 - Chicken, please.  No sour cream, please.  Add bacon and avocado ranch sauce, please.  What do we have, kids?  A BACON CLUB CHALUPA!  How freaking hard was that?

Smothered Burrito - MSRP: $4.09, as ordered: $4.59 - The upcharge seems low because the default smothered burrito is chicken, and the beef version is cheaper.  This customization would have made the counter help's head explode.  Extra beef, extra beans, extra cheese, extra red sauce, no rice, no chipotle sauce, no sour cream.  Which equals?  An ENCHRITO!  Sort of.  I forgot to add onions.  I will not make that mistake again.  Also, it was FREAKING HUGE.  This and the Nachos Supreme would have been plenty, I think.

So am I a fan of the app?  Absolutely.  I may never order at a Taco Bell counter again unless a store I'm going to doesn't support it.

And I'll probably never have a Nachos Supreme again without red sauce.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015


Place: McDonald's
Lunch: Big Mac, fries, Hi-C Orange Lavaburst

McDonald's has announced that they'll have an all-day breakfast menu starting next month, and WOW did they get a ton of publicity out of it.  They were all over the news yesterday and today.

The menu will be limited and different in various regions...the south will get biscuit sandwiches and drop wraps while others won't, for example...because there's apparently a delicate balance of available space in the kitchen to support this endeavor.

I talked a bit about what I felt was wrong with McDonald's a few months ago when the dreadful McSirloin burgers arrived (and died a quick death).  One of the things I suggested was simplifying the menu.  I would like to elaborate on that.  Because what one of the world's biggest brands needs is unsolicited advice from a random guy with a blog and no practical restaurant experience.

First off, strip the menu of all burgers except:

Double Cheeseburger
Quarter Pounder
Double Quarter Pounder
Big Mac

That's it.  No burgers with tomato, ranch, or grilled onions.  Most of these burgers use just a few interchangeable ingredients.  The Big Mac is the most exotic offering listed, and all it uses differently is the double decker bun, lettuce, and special sauce.

Second, strip the menu of all chicken sandwiches except MAYBE McChicken.  You are NOT Chick-Fil-A, McDonald's, and you never will be.  Lose the premium chicken offerings.  I can't imagine these are anything but major money losers.

Third, lose the wraps and salads.  Nobody goes to McDonald's to eat healthy.  If you want to keep the apple slices and yogurt thingy, fine, but only if they're profitable to you.

Keep Chicken McNuggets and the fries, of course.

That leaves Filet-O-Fish.  I love the Filet-O-Fish, even as simple and overpriced as it is.  I don't know what the sales numbers are for that, but I almost wonder if it should become a seasonal item for Lent.  If it's good for McRib, why not.  That's how a lot of other chains handle fish.  If it's profitable year-round, great.  But if not...

As for beverages, keep McCafe.  That seems to be working for you.  That's fine.

Is that enough cutting to do a complete breakfast menu all day?  Because here's where I'm going with this...


Simplify the menu enough that you can offer EVERYTHING at ALL OPERATING HOURS.  Burgers and fries for breakfast.  Heck...Egg McMuffin and fries for breakfast.  Big Mac and hash round for dinner.  Instead of creating a situation where customers have to understand which breakfast offerings are available after breakfast hours.

Once you've cleared the garbage out of the kitchen, address pricing.  Because I'm guessing the classic burgers are so bloody expensive these days because those burgers are subsidizing losses on the premium sandwiches.

Think about it, McDonald's.

Get back to McBasics.