The world is about to find out what tapas from Taco Bell look like.
The fast-food chain announced today that it will be opening two concept restaurants, each named Taco Bell Cantina, in the U.S. this month, aimed at urbanites. The first location will open in Chicago in a week, and the second in San Francisco before the end of the month. The Cantina restaurants will mark the first time Taco Bell serves alcohol in its restaurants, though this upmarket effort means losing a signature part of its traditional locations: drive-thrus.
“Taco Bell is dropping the drive-thru, opening its kitchens, and using technology to create a new experience as the brand expands into urban markets,” the company said in a statement.
As simultaneous experiments in corporate Millennial-baiting and increasing margins with alcohol sales, the two concept restaurants can be seen as efforts to capture some of Chipotle’s $4-billion annual revenue.
Compared to the uniform, bland, fluorescent-lit Taco Bell locations that dot the country, these new restaurants pander to the young and hip in calculated ways. The new restaurants will seek to include “local architecture,” with the Chicago location featuring a mural by a local artist in a “nod to the neighborhood’s history as an artistic hub.” The San Francisco location, in SoMa, will offer a mobile-pickup window. Brian Niccol, Taco Bell’s CEO, said in a statement that the company is hoping that the concept restaurants will be spots where customers can “experience our brand differently.” The Chicago location will offer beer, wine, sangria, and frozen mixed drinks, while the San Francisco location will only offer beer and wine.
Since opening its first location in 1962, Taco Bell has expanded to more than 6,000 restaurants in 26 countries. Currently, the company states that it moves more than two billion tacos a year. Recently, Taco Bell’s collaboration with Doritos has been widely called one of the most successful products in fast-food history—they literally sold a billion of them. Riding on this success, Yum! Brands, the parent company of Taco Bell, plans to add 2,000 locations in the U.S. by 2022. Perhaps some of those new restaurants will involve the changes that people embrace at the concept restaurants.
The locations Taco Bell chose for each Cantina are telling. Both Chicago and San Francisco have neighborhoods with arguably some of the best tacos and burritos in the country. Yet the concept restaurants aren’t opening in Pilsen or the Mission—the two Cantina locations are in gentrified areas with high-end urban real estate. So it seems that Taco Bell isn't going for authenticity—a game it’s bound to lose—but rather, it’s going for the Yuppies. Which, for Yum! Brands, is probably a smart move—because that’s more profitable anyway.