So Fancy: Major Fast Food Chain Classes It Up

so fancy.

you already know.

You may or may not have heard the news: fast food chain Taco Bell is in the process of launching a new upscale restaurant, U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom. The first location is scheduled to open in Huntington Beach this summer and will host a menu of extensive items that seem like the slightly classier versions of their fast food counterpart. Items on the menu will include premium  tacos, milkshakes, craft beer and even wine.

A sneak peek at the menu showed the following items: the Brotherly Love (carne asada steak, grilled peppers and onions, roasted poblano queso and cotija cheese in a flour tortilla), the One-Percenter (lobster, garlic butter, red cabbage slaw and pico de gallo on crispy fry bread), along with the Winner Winner (Southern-style fried chicken breast with South of the Border gravy, roasted corn, pico de gallo, jalapenos and cilantro in a flour tortilla).

The sides of fries come with an array of dipping sauces including roasted poblano cream and ghost chile ketchup. They even offer a beer-spiked milkshake known as the “Mexican Car Bomb,” which includes vanilla ice cream, tequila caramel sauce, chocolate flakes and Guinness Beer. In terms of pricing, tacos will be priced at around four dollars and the average check size is estimated to be around $12 (so it will still make for a cheap date night for the college crowd – minus the stigma associated with fast food).

The dishes will be prepared in-house, in enclosed glass kitchens that will offers customers the opportunity to watch their food being prepared (although they won’t have the option to customize their tacos like they can Chipotle or Free Birds).

While the restaurant is still in the development stages, images have been released on the Internet, and the place looks nothing like Taco Bell. The logo features a hot pink Day of the Dead skull image, and the interior of the restaurant reminds us of a hipster pop-up with industrial looking finishes and art-deco pieces. The new concept was designed in order to attract higher-income foodies who wouldn’t ever eat at Taco Bell.

Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed told Ad Age, “We could spend time and money trying to get these people interested in Taco Bell but they would probably never become regular customers. We thought, maybe there’s a new brand we can create to address this opportunity.”

“Maybe there’s a new brand we can create to address this opportunity.”

Taco Bell isn’t the only fast food chain who is trying out this new concept of offering dual dining experiences to customers. Just a few months back, Chipotle opened a pizzeria in Denver which has proved to be a big success with the locals. Pizzeria Locale is a full-service restaurant in Boulder that is a partnership between Chipotle and restaurateurs Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, and the place operates similar to a Chipotle chain restaurant in that customers can order personal pizzas at the counter and choose from a selection of toppings. They also have the option to select from a list of pre-set pizzas, and the 11-inch pizzas are cooked in two minutes inside a pizza oven. Additional add-ons include salads and sides. Customers who have eaten at the Pizzeria Locale remarked that it was cleaner than a regular Chipotle and the staff was friendlier.

According to a CNBC article that studied and discussed this new business tactic, fast-casual restaurant sales rose 13 percent in 2012 (findings were taken from data conducted by market research firm Technomic). Fast-casual restaurants are predicted to grow another 10 percent through 2017, beating out their fast food counterpart, which are slated to grow by only 3.5 percent.

Other fast food retailers that are trying to cash in on this new idea include KFC’s KFC Eleven, which was described as an “innovation restaurant” by KFC spokesperson Rick Maynard, claiming that it was “developed with a focus on relevance for today’s consumers.” The new location didn’t feature the signature Colonel Sanders or the red-and-white color scheme that the chain is known for.

One of the co-founders of Wetzel’s Pretzels (one of my personal favorites) recently developed with Blaze, another artisanal pizza market that is similar to Pizzeria Locale in style. Investors include Maria Shriver and Boston Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner. Rick Wetzel, co-founder of Wetzel’s Pretzels, said, “If you look at the top five QSR categories – burgers, Mexican, Chinese, sandwiches and pizza – all have been developed into the fast-casual space, expect pizza. This one looks like a natural whose time has come.”

I’m definitely eager to see what other competitors such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Jack ‘n the Box will come up with. What are your thoughts? Would you be offended if someone took you on a date at Taco Bell’s slightly classier cousin?

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