Taco Bell is launching party reservations at 10 U.S. stores thanks to the success of a wedding package at its Las Vegas Cantina format, where more than 110 couples have celebrated, the company announced in a release Thursday.
Reservations are $25 and include Taco Bell-themed decorations (a table runner, photo prop kit and paper plates), and customers can also buy hot sauce balloons and chip-shaped sunglasses. Food costs extra, and the chain is pushing its revamped party packs for in-store parties.
These pilot locations will test just how "kitschy cool" Taco Bell can be through Dec. 22, chief brand officer Marisa Thalberg said in the company release. "... there was a clear need and opportunity to translate this intersection of fun, cool, and accessible entertaining to any kind of occasion," she said.
The Yum Brands leading company debuted the boozy Cantina model in Chicago three years ago, though not without pushback.
According to LivingMas.com, about half of the country's 28 Taco Bell Cantinas serve alcohol. Securing liquor licenses from city governments and neighbors has been a tough battle for the alcohol side of the concept. In April, the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak denied the liquor license application.
Other chains including Burger King, White Castle, Sonic and Starbucks have tried to serve alcohol but have largely failed, due in part to regulatory and staffing headaches. In many states, employees handling alcohol must be at least 18 or in some cases 21. Chipotle and Smashburger locations often serve beer and wine, but sales lag around 5%. Compared to a slightly more sophisticated fast-casual model, which usually means higher prices, the quick-service model doesn't attract extended dining experiences.
Taco Bell's party reservation concept provides customers with quirky, Instagram-worthy dining experiences without the hassle of liquor licenses — which many, but not all, of the chain's Cantina formats include. The company could also be targeting consumers not old enough to drink — the brand's main customer base is aged 18-24.
Together with franchisees, Taco Bell has invested more than $600 million in renovations and technology since 2012. Sales grew 8% globally in the third quarter, boding well for the chain's goal of $15 billion in global sales in the next four years. Party packs and weddings could help drive consumer enthusiasm needed to bolster sales, especially if they up their fees or customers opt for the add-ons — the average U.S. wedding costs $33,000.