Taco Bell: the next Starbucks?

People are always searching for the next “hip” place to hang out with friends and engage in thoughtful, meaningful conversation. Starbucks is most known for having these characteristics.

It started out as a single store in downtown Seattle selling whole-beans to the coffee-obsessed public.

“The name [Starbucks], inspired by Moby Dick, evoked the romance of the high seas and the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders,” Starbucks.com said under the “Our Heritage” link.

While the need for coffee in the sleepless city fueled business, the “romantic coffee experience” drew in more customers. One customer, Howard Schultz, was intrigued and joined the Starbucks corporation. He eventually climbed his way to the position of chairman, president and chief executive officer.

Schultz desired to create “a place for conversation and a sense of community” or a “third place between work and home.”

The Starbucks “brand” is famous for its friendliness and inviting atmosphere. From its earthy tones of browns and forest green to its cozy seating and free WiFi, guests of all types feel welcome.

But, what other chains are slowly “branding” themselves in a similar fashion?

This weekend I went to Taco Bell with a few of my friends. Okay, I know Taco Bell doesn’t have the same connotations of community and conversation as Starbucks, but bear with me.

We ordered our meals as usual and sat down to eat together. Almost two hours later, after enjoying an array of tacos, burritos, nachos and more, we left as if nothing unusual had happened.

But, as I went about my afternoon, I couldn’t stop thinking about our experience that day.

Most restaurants or dining locations pressure guests to leave promptly after completing a meal, strongly discouraging conversation and community.

The dilemma that arises is trying to find a happy balance between table turnover rate and allowing customers time to finish their meal at their own speed. Otherwise, guests may feel pressured and not want to come back.

A table turnover rate is the rate that measures how long guests occupy a seat. So, if a restaurant has a high table turnover rate, the guests occupy their seats for a short amount of time. Conversely, if a restaurant has a low table turnover rate, the guests occupy their seats for a longer amount of time.

Pressuring guests to leave is most common in high-end restaurants where customers are constantly coming in and out of the establishment. The table turnover rate needs to be high in some restaurants in order to make money.

It is frowned upon, and frankly quite annoying, to be waiting for a table in a nice restaurant solely because the couple can’t shut up about the cell structure of tree bark (yes this actually happened to me, and yes, it was annoying).

But, a couple wanting to talk about the cell structure of tree bark for 30 minutes doesn’t “fit in” at a restaurant that needs to turnover tables quickly. There are, however, other places that encourage such conversation.

Places like Starbucks and Taco Bell encourage guests to stay as long as they want, as most of their business is to-go (drive-thru and pick-up). For this reason, the table turnover rate does not need to be as high as other, mainly sit-down, restaurants.

Not once did we feel pressured to leave in order to open up another table. We remained seated, talking about anything and everything, until we wanted to leave.

The abstract, colorful artwork and bright paint scattered around the dining area makes for a fun, inviting environment.

I don’t think Taco Bell ever intended to create an environment similar to that which Starbucks has. However, with the majority of the public looking for the next new place to hang out, places like Taco Bell could possibly turn into a similar establishment over time.

The restaurant is family-friendly and has several options for kids, another factor that could push Taco Bell forward in this new “fad.”

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