The first thing you notice at Taco Bell’s new London locations is the beer dispenser at the counter.
In the United States, the fast-food chain caters to families and people on the go, but as it expands across Europe it’s serving more and more millennials who are keen to sit and drink a beer over burritos and churros.
This week, Taco Bell moved back into the London market after about two decades, opening four new locations as part of a broader European expansion.
The food tastes the same as in the United States, but there are lots of design differences you notice at the London locations: from the open kitchen layout to the trendy wallpaper with colorful murals and long tables with bar stools to eat in big groups.
Also, the food doesn’t come wrapped the way it does stateside.
“In the U.S. so many of our customers come to us via the drive through or get their food to go, so it needs to be wrapped to stay warm,” Taco Bell’s General Manager for Europe, Jorge Torres explains. “European consumers are much more likely to sit down to eat their food at the location. So we serve open plates, which we’ve also discovered means more picture sharing on social media.”
The chain opened locations in London in the late 1980s, but by the 1990s Brits were saying “no quiero Taco Bell” and they all closed.
So why return now?
“Mexican food is very high-profile in Europe now,” Torres says. “And social media has given us a better way to gauge the demand for Taco Bell is very much there.”
The arrival of Chipotle in the United Kingdom elevated the profile of Mexican-inspired chains, but it also means there’s ample competition for Taco Bell from established local competitors, like restaurants Tortilla and Wahaca.
Taco Bell is hoping inexpensive pricing sets its apart. There’s a “Cravers’ value menu” and “Taco Tuesdays” will feature a taco and beer for just £2 ($2.50).
The biggest challenge Taco Bell faces in the United Kingdom is Brexit.
“It’s really all of the uncertainty around Brexit,” Torres says “We import many ingredients from continental Europe and our earnings are eventually listed in dollars, so the fluctuating value of the pound is a challenge.”
But not enough of a challenge to stop Taco Bell from investing in London.
Yum! Brands which owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, believes that in order to continue to expanding they need to have a higher profile in the English capital.
There are 7,000 Taco Bells worldwide, with the company aiming to have 9,000 by 2022.
In Europe, Spain has the most Taco Bells with 50 locations, and by the end of 2018, the United Kingdom is set to have 30.