Like many quick-service and fast-casual chains these days, Taco Bell is responding to the demand for digital and off-premises orders in part by revamping its physical locations. Case in point: Today, the chain unveiled plans to build out new stores under its Cantina concept as well as convert some traditional Taco Bell locations into Cantinas.
The Cantina is Taco Bell’s somewhat more upscale concept the chain has opened around urban areas over the last few years. To be clear: the Cantina format is still quick-service, just a higher-end version that often features alcohol and includes new technologies like self-order kiosks and digital menu boards.
The company said today it will open its “most technology-forward Taco Bell” in fall of 2020 in NYC’s Times Square. The press release is vague on details, however, stating only that “the upcoming New York Cantina will utilize new digital features that not only allows for a smooth ordering experience but showcases digital moments throughout the restaurant like never before.”
I’m intrigued as to whether “technology-forward” means the new Times Square store will simply have more of the brand’s existing restaurant tech or if Taco Bell has something up its sleeve it hasn’t yet revealed to the general public. After all, in-store kiosks, mobile order capabilities, pickup shelves, and digital boards are fast becoming the standard not just in Taco Bell locations but across most major QSRs.
Whatever it means, Taco Bell is clearly trying to go after a new audience with the store format that in some ways feels like the Sweetgreen of traditional fast food.
Taco Bell will also convert three of its traditional restaurants into Cantinas to test the concept in more suburban areas. After a period of evaluation, Taco Bell will expand the Cantina concept to other traditional locations.
Taco Bell has in the meantime also announced a new feature for its self-order kiosks called Veggie Mode. According to an email sent to The Spoon, the function is essentially a way for users to filter menu options so they don’t see any meat-based meals among their selections. Users simply slide a button on the kiosk’s touchscreen to activate Veggie Mode.
The new features is part of Taco Bell’s ongoing push to appeal to vegetarians or those simply wanting to cut down on the amount of meat they consume. The Veggie Mode feature will be available starting March 12 at Taco Bell kiosks across the U.S., and presumably included in the ones that launch with the new and revamped stores the chain has planned for 2020.