Is Beer the Secret MVP in the Taco Wars?


Who doesn’t love Chipotle? In the past few years, it seems like the upscale casual burrito chain has become nearly ubiquitous in cities across the country (though not quite on par with McDonald’s or Subway just yet), and that’s a wonderful thing. I always have somewhere to go when I need something quick, delicious, relatively inexpensive, and fairly nutritionally dense.

Oh, and they serve beer. Hell yeah Chipotle.

That last part is something that really sets Chipotle apart in the upscale casual dining marketplace. As consumers, we’re accustomed to the grab and go staples of burger chains. Think fried everything, value meals, and soda by the jug. Beer? That’s not part of the picture. It’s the stuff of sit-down places where you come to eat and enjoy, not just stuff your face and move on.

But Chipotle aspires to be something more, and beer is a big part of that identity. By offering Pacifico and Negro Modelo as part of their regular menu (where local laws allow), Chipotle is making a tacit statement along the lines of “We may be quick and cheap, but this is a real meal. Enjoy it, savor it, and come back often. You’re always welcome.”

So naturally, competitors must innovate. Enter Taco Bell AKA MexDonald’s. Unlike Chipotle, Taco Bell is a much more traditional competitor in the fast food sector. They’re all about stuffing your face, fast, with endless piles of taco-like substances that are engineered to light up certain pleasure centers in your brain while offering very little actual fuel for your body. Not surprisingly, there’s no beer to be found on their menu.

In an attempt to diversify themselves and cut into Chipotle’s market share, Taco Bell recently announced the impending arrival of a sister company, U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom.

Image via U.S. Taco Co.

Image via U.S. Taco Co.

As beer lovers, does something about that name stick out to you? Yeah, I thought so.

Apparently, US. Taco’s initial plans called for wide-ranging beer offerings (something like 50 brews per location with at least 5 or 6 on draft) and even “the world’s first beer milkshake.” This would have been a shot right across Chipotle’s bow. Not only are they offering the symbolic relaxation of a token bottle of beer, they are upping the ante and staking an even larger part of their identity on the fact that they’ll satisfy any beer drinker under the sun.

Unfortunately, U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom’s first location in Huntington Beach, CA has run into some problems with the local liquor licensing authorities and have had to back off their plans for the time being. Regardless, the team inside Taco Bell that’s responsible for the launch of U.S. Taco remain confident that their next location will be a beer drinking taco lover’s dream come true.

So what do you guys think? Does the presence of beer at these places mean anything to you? Is your dining decision impacted by it? And will U.S. Taco offering so many beers make you more likely to choose them over Chipotle and their more modest offering of suds? Let us know!

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