Penny Pinching The Customer

My favorite evil food, my favorite break-your-diet-and-be-bad food, is the almighty Taco Bell. Yes, I know everything on the menu is just different arrangements of the same ten or so ingredients. Yes, I know their beef is the grade-D stuff, probably made up of whatever the butcher swept up off the floor in the slaughterhouse. Yes, yes, yes. But dammit, I’m an American. We like to eat crap. I am no exception.

Of course, I don’t eat it often. I’m down 30 pounds from what I weighed last year so I’m doing something right. Yet for 20 years Taco Bell has been my vice, and I’ll probably never get tired of it.

Here’s the other thing. As a business, I admire Taco Bell. It’s fast food, and of all the fast food restaurants I’ve been to in my life, and believe me I’ve been to all of them, Taco Bell is by far the fastest. You place your order at the drive through and when you pull up rarely do you need to wait longer than about a minute and your food is ready. Like all fast food joints they do occasionally make mistakes, but compared to other fast food establishments they do as well or better.

One day while I was being evil, I drove up to the drive through window and happily received my bag of evilness. A few minutes later I pulled over and pulled out my Heart Attack Burrito and a few Diabetes Tacos and dug in. After getting cheese and sour cream and grade-D beef all over my hands I reached for the napkins I was given and grimaced as I only found two of them in the bag. Two tiny napkins? Sucks. I assumed one of the teenage employees must have been having a bad day.

I never thought about that again.

Until I ordered some more Taco Bell a week or two later.

I pull the food out of the bag, and guess what? Two napkins again.


I happen to know several employees of Taco Bell. One of my clients used to own three of them. I mentioned this to them and sure enough, it was new Taco Bell policy to include two and only two napkins per order, unless the order is huge. Then they include four napkins. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Taco Bell, but their napkins are barely big enough to wipe up two grains of sand, much less hands covered in grease and refried beans.

The reason for the policy change? To save money. On napkins.

They have a similar policy about the sauce packets they hand out. Something about one packet per item or to give no packets unless the customer asks. The employees I know were a little hush-hush about that one.

If you’ve ever eaten anything from Taco Bell, especially in a location like your office or car, you know that eating their food is not like eating a sandwich at Subway. Eating Taco Bell is a dirty, wet, sticky process. Napkins are required, not optional. This is a classic case of seriously pissing off your customers in order to save what must be a fraction of a penny per transaction.

Taco Bell is owned by Yum! Brands which itself is a spin-off from Pepsi. I can just imagine some executive there going to a Taco Bell, receiving four or five napkins with his order, and screaming “Look at all these damn napkins! We don’t need to give customers this many! We could save 0.0004 cents per transaction if we just limit it to two napkins!” Then he made a phone call to someone, and it was done.

Always, always look to cut costs. But be careful your cost cutting doesn’t delve into the ridiculous category. The customer experience with your product or service is well worth a few pennies.

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