Taco Bell just tried to excite customers with a new kind of drive-thru

Is all new technology truly good for the fast-food business? Maybe.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer
Taco Bell employee working at Taco Bell

Will this work?

Rendering by ChargeNet/Diversified Restaurant Group

If there are words in a press release that really, truly motivate, among them are words like "revolutionary," "killer," and "first."

Each time I see those appear in my email inbox -- or anywhere where finer press releases hang out -- I leap to learn more.

So it was the other day that I saw not only the word "first," but also a true rarity: The word "electrified."

Here's what truly threw me. The next two words after "first" and "electrified" were "Taco" and "Bell."

Let's run them together. First electrified Taco Bell.

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What could this be about? A Taco Bell only staffed by robots was my first inclination. Or a Taco Bell that gave you an electric shock as you waited for your order.

Sadly, I wasn't even close.

Instead, this was the announcement that a large Taco Bell franchisee was installing its first "ultra-fast, solar-powered EV charging station." This, in partnership with ChargeNet Stations. The location? San Francisco, of course.

Should you be a Tesla owner -- or perhaps you have an EV from a company run by a lesser luminary -- you'll surely be delighted that, for around $20, you'll be able to buy 100 miles of travel while indulging in a fine chalupa. (You have to pay for the chalupa separately.) And the charging will take just 20 minutes.

I wanted to be excited on behalf of all fast-food loving EV drivers who will surely adore this new kind of drive-thru. But then I paused and wondered about the future of fast food.

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It's been easy to get the impression that most fast-food brands are somewhat keen not to have anyone actually sit inside their restaurants any more. It's been hard to hire staff. It's been even harder keeping them. And the likes of McDonald's and the rest made quite a lot of money during the pandemic with drive-thru and delivery.

It feels a touch odd that they might install this new technology to encourage customers to hang around -- even for twenty minutes.

Perhaps there are nuances here.

SG Ellison, president of electrified Taco Bell franchisee Diversified Restaurant Group, put it like this: "As the popularity of electric cars grows, especially in California, we are excited to offer our customers in the Golden State this service. They can quickly charge their vehicles and fuel themselves with our Mexican-inspired fan favorites at the same time."

So you want them to stay, but not for very long?

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ChargeNet Stations CEO and co-founder Tosh Dutt offered another perspective: "An estimated 120 million Americans eat at quick-serve restaurants every day. About half of our locations are in marginalized communities across California, providing charging access to people who may not have the luxury of a home charging station. Our goal is to democratize EV charging across California and beyond."

No, many in marginalized communities may not have the luxury of a home charging station. Some may wonder if they may also not have the luxury of an EV. The average price of one is currently around $66,000.

Taco Bell isn't, though, alone in flirting with offering EV charging stations. A Burger King franchisee has worked with Blink Charging, a McDonald's franchisee with Tesla charging.

It could be that, in the very near future, fast-food restaurants will become the new gas stations -- places where you fill your car up, as you fill yourself up.

Some might dream of the day when the likes of Taco Bell or McDonald's make more money out of electricity than out of chalupas and burgers.

What an electrifying world that would be.

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