Lyft and Taco Bell thought they had a match made in heaven, but the partnership has been dubbed “Taco Hell” by drivers.
“Taco Mode” is now a publicized option for Lyft. Customers can call participating drivers and be driven through a Taco Bell while being transported home. The two brands just finished a second test in the Newport Beach area of Southern California.
A Lyft spokesperson said the agreement formalizes a behavior that already existed. “The Lyft and Taco Bell collaboration has been in the works for over a year. The two like-minded brands realized that for every person who has asked their Lyft driver to make a pit-stop at Taco Bell—and they saw many—there were likely those who never thought to ask. This partnership formalizes an already existing customer behavior,” said the spokesperson.
In YUM Brands’ second-quarter earnings call, CEO Greg Creed said initiatives like Taco Mode and the viral success of Taco Bell weddings integrate the brand into consumer’s lifestyle.
“The ride is designed to be as much an experience as the end benefit of capping a night with Taco Bell cravings,” said Creed. “This partnership highlights the forward thinking at Taco Bell to provide access to our customers in new ways enabled by technology. Weddings and Taco Mode are just a few examples of the cultivation of the brand into consumers’ lifestyles.”
YUM execs said they want to formalize and “celebrate” passengers asking a driver to stop at Taco Bell on their way home.
Lyft drivers, however, are not getting out the piñata for their celebration. Scrolling through the comments on Uberpeople.net, forums dedicated to gig economy drivers like Uber, Lyft and Amazon Flex, it’s obvious that drivers aren’t exactly eager to ferry drunk pax (drivers’ shorthand for passengers) through Taco Bell at 2 a.m.
“If you willingly sign up for the beta of Taco Hell Mode you are asking for a cheesy, beefy, and greasy backseat. This is the stupidest partnership I can imagine,” wrote San Diego driver SurgeSurferSD.
“Lyft has lost their freakin’ minds,” wrote Raleigh, North Carolina, driver MRMikeNC.
“One hell of an investment. Vomit bags & plastic seat covers for all seats in vehicle,” wrote San Francisco driver Cynergie. “The drunk-circuit shift suddenly became a three-ring circus.”
Another member simply posted a link to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “That Smell” on YouTube—and not for the sick guitar riffs.
While the site provides a forum where gig-economy drivers come to gripe and crack each other up, two drivers had some more sober thoughts about why the program won’t work.
“I will definitely be opting out of the program,” said Mike Kelley, a driver in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. The freelance software developer and Lyft driver said it wont’ work for a handful of reasons, but mainly because it eats away at their pay, and not by a little. Drivers want to do as many rides as possible; efficiency is their key to getting the most out of their time. “It’s all about volume,” said Kelley.
Sitting in the drive-thru means longer times being paid the per-minute rate. Drivers earn 9-10 cents per minute, and 85 cents per mile in the region. So he obviously prefers to be driving as fast as possible to squeeze more out of each minute. At 60 MPH, he could be making 95 cents a minute before the 20 percent payment to Lyft. But while sitting in the drive-thru, he’s looking at a low rate.
“As a driver, I’m only getting 9 cents a minute, and on top of that, Lyft is taking 20 percent of that, so I’m looking at 7 cents. So if I’m spending 15 minutes, I’m making a dollar,” said Kelley.
Ben Mandell, four-year veteran driver and author of the book “Everybody Loves Uber,” doesn’t mince words around the promotion: “This is just the worst idea I have ever heard,” he said.
Mandell drives in the Orlando area, where tourists often make long trips from the city center to hotels and resorts near Disney.
“The worst thing that can happen is if we get a surge, and they want to stop at Taco Bell,” said Mandell. “And then we lose another surge ride that could be a $100 ride.”
Then there’s the mess. Because Taco Bell doesn’t travel well, and because riders are likely several drinks into the night, they want to eat their food at it’s peak, which means the professional drivers’ backseat isn’t so pristine anymore.
“Taco Bell food is the messiest food you can possibly eat, even if you’re trying to eat them neatly,” said Mandell. “No matter how hard I try, some of that stuff gets between the seats, on the carpet and there’s’ no way to prevent it.”
And even if drivers invest in plastic seat covers— as the jocular poster suggested—cleaning between rides is not ideal. During surges pings come fast and furious, and finding that bit of taco meat on a dark night is no easy task.
Mandell said he has no problems stopping at a convenience store or a McDonald’s, but the mess and lingering smell of Taco Bell is far from ideal.
“I think anything but Taco Bell would be a better solution, not that I hate Taco Bell but anything but them would work better,” said Mandell.
And contrary to what both brands claim, running someone through a drive-thru isn’t all that common.
“I’ve probably given 1,000 rides and maybe taken riders to fast-food restaurants maybe three times, it’s very rare,” said Kelley. “But what’s going to end up happening is the passengers are going to be informed and wanting more and more rides to these restaurants. Then they get pissed off and leave one star.”
A one-star rank is a death knell for drivers. If they dip below a threshold of anywhere between three and four stars depending on the region, their account (and their job) can be deactivated. So even if the driver opts out of the Taco Mode, they could be “held hostage” by passengers who might be a little extra courageous or combative after a few drinks, and won’t give up.
Mandell said that the constant churn of drivers means the program will continue to be propped up by drivers who don’t know to opt out.
But what really irks drivers is that they seem to have been an afterthought.
“That’s the interesting thing about it, they didn’t say anything about he whole Taco Bell thing until after the big press release,” said Kelley. “It wasn’t until about a week later that we got notification that we would be rolling this out.”
He said the low per-minute rate is not ideal, but it fits in the overall Lyft system. But there’s little benefit for the driver besides not getting a one-star review.
“You’d think Taco Bell would give the driver something, even a free drink,” said Kelley.
Mandell said he assumed that even if it does roll out, the program won’t last long.
“Knowing these guys, they will probably roll it out nationally, then it will all be rolled back and cancelled,” said Mandell.
That remains to be seen. Keep an eye on the Lyft app for the national rollout.
Editor’s note: A spokesperson for Taco Bell was contacted for this story, but didn’t respond by press time.