Love to Live Mas with Taco Bell? Take an unprecedented look inside what really goes on behind the counter of the fast food joint.
Traditionally, the only way of learning the Bell's secrets would be to get a job taking Chalupa orders and slinging tacos, but one 22-year-old Taco Bell manager has saved customers the trouble of a career change.
The employee of three years opened up to Thrillist about the franchise's best kept secrets, including secret menu items and the weirdest things he has every witnessed on the job.
Ready to step inside the restaurant like never before? Be our guest and keep scrolling to learn the secrets.
Before you bash the fast food industry as being easy work, the manager insisted that crafting these quick meals, particularly at Taco Bell, is a task that takes time and skill to master.
"They say Taco Bell is the hardest fast-food restaurant to work at, and I believe that," he said. "Not only is the menu always changing, but we are extremely precise with how we make our food. For someone to be able to work the line competently, it takes at least two months, sometimes longer, to memorize the entire menu. Our method of preparation is completely unlike any other fast-food restaurant."
That methodical process is the reason why your meal always looks the same — and why the Bell's line workers deserve way more credit.
"Everything that comes out of our kitchen is weighed on a digital scale. If the weight is .3oz off what it's supposed to be, we have to throw that item away," the manager revealed. "So, when a soft taco goes on the scale, it needs to be 1.6oz. If it varies .3oz either way, we have to toss it. We all train with a scale, and we have to get used to doling out the ingredients precisely, in order to make everything the correct weight in the end. It's very hard to get that right."
"Everything we make is just like that, measured by hand, put together by hand, and weighed before it reaches a customer," he added.
With Taco Bell's controversial new "Belluminati" ad campaign and inventive menu items like the Doritos Locos Taco, it isn't a surprise that the brand has a younger demographic in mind.
"Taco Bell's tagline is 'Live Mas,’ which means 'live more,' but it's really saying 'Live Life to the Fullest.' Taco Bell is a brand that is very much aimed at getting young people's money," the manager said. "Think about it. The menu is constantly changing, with new and exciting and sometimes crazy dishes that come and go in a matter of months. Perfect for the social media-obsessed ADD generation. All their marketing is about late-night eating and being out and social with friends."
Along with that younger target customer comes a downside for penny-pinching Taco Bell-lovers. Employees of Yum!, the company who owns Taco Bell and KFC, prefer to offer discounts to its restaurant aimed at an older demographic, who are more likely to use them.
"Have you ever noticed KFC offers a ton of coupons, but Taco Bell hardly offers any? Older people are much more likely to use coupons and would prefer the (mostly) unchanging menu that KFC has," he said. "Behind the scenes, it's clear that Taco Bell is their 'young people brand' and KFC is 'their old people brand.' "
"Yeah, it's not that big of a deal. In fact, it's kind of a rip-off. You are really just getting a chicken sandwich without a shell, and it's more expensive," he said.
But how do workers mold the chicken into a taco shell anyway? "We get the chicken patties, and we have a frying utensil shaped like a taco shell. We just dip it in the fryer inside that tool, and then toss in our lettuce, tomatoes, and all that," he revealed. "It's kind of a rip-off, really. You are getting less, for more."
Taco Bell's reputation for using quality ingredients has been tarnished over the years, with rumors constantly swirling about its selection of meats. But the manager said the Mexican-inspired drive-thru and restaurant is better quality than you'd imagine, even compared to other fast food giants.
"You know, there's not really anything I would say you 'shouldn't order.' Look, no one is thinking Taco Bell is using like, fresh, farm-to-table ingredients. It's fast food. It's not like a four-star restaurant," he said. "But we have pretty strict rules about how we make our food, how it's stored, and we have pretty high standards with our employees."
"I've worked in other fast-food places, and Taco Bell is definitely the best in terms of quality. If you go to Taco Bell, you should be expecting to eat fast food. And as long as you have that in mind, you won't be surprised by anything. We really do make everything by hand, and put a lot of care into everything we make," the manager continued.
Though the fast food joint has a menu for customers, the manager revealed that any item can be customized for a fun, unique combination. Though anyone can craft their own special order, most of the creative fun is conjured up by hungry employees.
"We're all about creating weird stuff back in the kitchen, and we come up with some cool stuff," he joked. "Some people will just like, crush up a lot of the Doritos Locos shells (both kinds) and make big taco bowls with a bunch of ingredients."
Occasionally, his store employees come up with some recipes worthy of a spot on the menu.
"I think the coolest thing was a riff on the Mexican pizza, but with thicker, softer crust, to make it seem more like an actual pizza," he said. "One of my co-workers got the flatbread and loaded it up with pico, steak, diced tomatoes, lettuce, and some crushed-up Doritos Locos shells. It was awesome. They should make that, for real!"
The manager said Taco Bell's POS system gives customers the ability to customize any order using any of the store's ingredients, from taco shells to steak or beans.
"Anything that involves a hard-shell taco, you can replace with a Doritos Locos shell. If you want to upgrade your basic soft-taco shell to the 10in we use on other items, you can do it. If you want anything we sell added to your dish, we can do it. You can literally play around and create anything you want with the ingredients we have," he said. "It's a little annoying for us to do, but it's totally possible and I feel like not a lot of people know that. You just have to know that you are allowed to ask."
While the restaurant can make an endless number of creations for customers, one fan-favorite former menu item was cut from the Bell's offerings — at least on its public signage.
"This is something pretty weird I've noticed, but no Taco Bells have enchiritos on their menus anymore. People love them, but they took them off our menus," he said.
But fans of the "enchirito," rejoice! The manager revealed that while the enchilada-burrito entree is no longer on the franchise's menu, cashiers can ring up the item easily.
"They're still in our POS, and we can definitely still make them. If you order one, we have the option to make it. Not sure why it's not on the actual menu anymore, but I looked 1,000 times and it's just not there. So go into your local Taco Bell and order one. Chances are they'll make it without saying another word," he added.
With the precise measurements and procedures, nothing is as simple as grilling a pre-portioned burger and slapping it on a bun. Still, the manager said some items are tougher to make than others — though that shouldn't stop you from ordering them.
"Everything takes a lot of work, but I would say things like the Mexican pizza or the quesadillas are probably the most work-intensive. For those, there's just more steps to the process," he admitted.
"Take the quesadilla: Not only do you have to make the thing, but you also have to go through the extra steps of putting it through a steamer, then through a grill, then you have to slice it and package it. It just takes longer, so it's more annoying," the manager said.
Taco Bell's customization options allow for some delicious swaps, but it can also create a headache for its employees. While most customers don't even know they can request special orders outside of saying "hold the lettuce," others can take their picky-eating to the extreme.
"One time, someone ordered a Fiesta Taco Salad, which comes in a taco-shell bowl, but they requested each individual item in the salad be served separately (meaning a pile of lettuce, a pile of tomatoes, sauce on the side, etc.). Then, instead of the bowl, they wanted a side of tortilla chips," he said.
"We watched them eat it, and they used the tortilla chips to individually scoop up each part of the salad, to make like, a mini-taco salad on each chip. It was weird," the manager quipped.
Now that you understand Taco Bell's rigorous weighing and hand-prepped processes, the manager asks that you try not to fuss if your tacos take a little longer to be wrapped up, fresh and hot. But not everyone can handle the patience required of the restaurant chain, he admitted.
"The only time I've really seen a customer totally freak out was when this one guy had to wait a little bit longer for his food. He had a big order, like a dozen or so things, and we had to remake a couple things because of the weight issue," he said.
The manager said the wait for the weight was too much for the disgruntled customer to handle: "We just messed up on a few items. He was just being extremely rude the entire time. Then when he actually got his food after about 10 minutes of waiting, he took the entire bag, dumped it all over the counter, and just stormed off. I have no idea what that guy was thinking."