Lyft test lets rider re­quest taco stop

Ser­vice pro­vides drive-thru op­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - SAPNA MA­HESH­WARI

Taco Bell has, quite lit­er­ally, found a new mar­ket­ing ve­hi­cle, and its name is Lyft.

The fast-food chain started a ven­ture with the ride-shar­ing com­pany last week that al­lows Lyft pas­sen­gers to re­quest rides that in­cor­po­rate a stop at a Taco Bell drive-thru be­tween 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.

The com­pa­nies will test the op­tion, which will ap­pear as “Taco Mode” in the Lyft app, dur­ing the next two weeks around a New­port Beach, Calif., lo­ca­tion, with plans to ex­pand the pro­gram na­tion­ally next year.

It is an at­tempt to tap into the trend of young peo­ple in­creas­ingly car­pool­ing through apps like Lyft and its larger ri­val Uber, par­tic­u­larly on nights out with friends. While Taco Bell of­fers de­liv­ery to cus­tomers and ad­ver­tises the lo­ca­tions of its restau­rants through the nav­i­ga­tion app Waze, work­ing with a ride-hail­ing com­pany rep­re­sents a new type of “ex­pe­ri­ence in­no­va­tion,” said Marisa Thal­berg, Taco Bell’s chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer.

“I kind of think of this like in­verse de­liv­ery — like we’re de­liv­er­ing you to Taco Bell,” she said in an in­ter­view. “You’re be­ing de-

liv­ered to the food as op­posed to hav­ing to get in your own car and drive.”

As it stands, Lyft and Uber do not have stated poli­cies about how driv­ers should han­dle pas­sen­ger re­quests to swing by fast-food driv­ethrus, though the ques­tion reg­u­larly pops up in on­line dis­cus­sion fo­rums for driv­ers.

“Sev­eral times I said no to food and they ask why and I ex­plained what the last id­iot did of mak­ing a mess and each time the present id­iot would prom­ise to not make a mess, spill, waste, etc. then they do it any­way!” one Uber driver wrote in an on­line fo­rum.

Thal­berg said her com­pany had seen “a bunch of funny tweets” and other so­cial me­dia posts from hun­gry pas­sen­gers on the topic, which got them

think­ing about a po­ten­tial part­ner­ship with Lyft.

“Some peo­ple are ei­ther afraid to ask or don’t know if they can ask,” Thal­berg said. “We’re tak­ing all those ques­tion marks of, ‘Would it be un­seemly to ask my Lyft driver to go through the Taco Bell drive-thru?’ And now we’re not only go­ing to make it per­mis­si­ble, we’re go­ing to cel­e­brate this be­hav­ior.”

Taco Bell and Lyft’s ini­tial test will be lim­ited to a “tight re­gion” around the New­port Beach lo­ca­tion and in­clude taco lo­gos in­side the app, branded taco-themed ve­hi­cles and in-car menus, said Melissa Waters, Lyft’s head of mar­ket­ing. While Lyft has struck up part­ner­ships with other com­pa­nies such as Star­bucks and Delta, she said it was a first for it to be “ac­tu­ally ful­fill­ing a ride ex­pe­ri­ence for a brand.”

“We will al­low driv­ers to

opt in to that so we can make sure we un­der­stand their full ex­pe­ri­ence, and the cus­tomers can get the full de­light of opt­ing into ‘Taco Mode,’” she said. “Then we can fully un­der­stand how ev­ery­thing works be­fore we roll out more broadly in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, then more broadly na­tion­ally.”

It is easy to see how a model like this, if suc­cess­ful, could be repli­cated by other fast-food chains and rideshar­ing com­pa­nies.

“It’s pretty ob­vi­ous there’s a lot of food de­liv­ery out there and lots of apps and ser­vices that al­low you to take food to peo­ple,” Waters said. “This is re­ally turn­ing this con­cept on its head of just de­liv­er­ing food to de­liv­er­ing you to food and ex­tend­ing the night.”

Taco Bell is not pay­ing Lyft for the deal, which has been in the works for al­most a year, Waters said. The com­pa­nies are look­ing at the ven­ture as

“co-cre­at­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence to­gether,” which can­not be eval­u­ated the way one might look at tra­di­tional mar­ket­ing ef­forts like tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials and bill­boards, she said.

“Mar­ket­ing to­day is so much about cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence, not brand­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing,” she said. “We’re re­ally eval­u­at­ing it from a sur­prise and de­light for our con­sumer bases with a pro­gram like this and both meet­ing in the mid­dle and de­vel­op­ing it on both sides.”

Thal­berg, who noted that the deal pre­vented Lyft from pur­su­ing sim­i­lar part­ner­ships with its com­peti­tors, said she was en­thu­si­as­tic about the pro­gram’s pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“What drives us both is a vi­sion much big­ger than what would be ap­par­ent to the naked eye,” she said. “I hope it’s the tip of the ice­berg of what we can do.”

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