Congrats to Taco Bell for getting my attention 2 weeks in a row.

Last week, Taco Bell announced that they were doing a test run of a new subscription service called the Taco Lover’s Pass.  For $5-10 (I’m not sure how or why, but the cost is determined by which store you frequent, even though right now it’s only available in Tucson, Arizona), you can get 1 taco a day for 30 days.  Such taco offerings (tacofferings) include Crunchy, Soft, or Doritos Locos (with or without Supreme), as well as the sleeper hit Spicy Potato soft taco.  

The most expensive of these is the Doritos Locos Supreme taco, at $2.39.  This means that, assuming you’ve been arbitrarily put on the $10 plan, the pass would be more than paying for itself after 5 trips (most likely 4, depending on what your state’s sales tax is).  If you’re one of the few vegetarians out that still eats Taco Bell for some reason, that would be 10 of the $1 Spicy Potato tacos.

It’s hard not to also compare it to the MyPanera+ coffee subscription service.  For $8.99/month (although, as it turns out, for the rest of September they’re running a promotion for 3 free months plus a free customizable travel mug, so like, I guess if this sounds like it’d be up your alley now’s the time to get it), you get a free cup (any size) of hot or iced coffee or hot tea (but not iced tea?) every 2 hours.  And, with a large costing $2.59, that would pay for itself about halfway through your 4th cup- or, if you feel like getting there early and holding up on one of the comfier chairs all day, 8 hours (with a small costing $2.29, the math is more or less the same).

But, of course, we can’t talk about restaurant subscriptions without talking about the OG: Olive Garden’s Pasta Passes.  For several years in a row pre-pandemic, Olive Garden had offered a “Never Ending” (it would end after 7-9 weeks) Pasta Pass for  $100, and, in 2019, offered a Lifetime Pasta Pass for $500.  Let that sink in.  $500 for unlimited pasta (and salad and breadsticks) for life. Which, assuming we’re calculating the cost of these pasta bowls at the $10.99 pricepoint of the usual Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotion, pays for itself in 46 bowls (or, 9 bowls in 7-9 weeks for the not-lifetime version).  

Ok, knowing how the math breaks down, yes, it’s easy to say that you can get your money’s worth out of programs like these.  And yet…

Let’s ignore the obvious fact that these kinds of promotions’ main goal is to get you in the door so that you’ll buy something else, then rinse and repeat several times a month.  Let’s even ignore the potential for conspiracy theories that, given how the Taco Lover’s Pass is entirely app-based, it could be some kind of data-mining scheme.

Imagine the emotional toll of saying “I have access to a lifetime supply of Olive Garden” out loud to another human person. Imagine having to go to Olive Garden 46 times in your life.  Imagine, anytime your friends want to make plans to go out for dinner, you make them go to Olive Garden, because you can eat for free, so they have to sit there and watch you eat your free pasta, until one by one all your friends leave you.  Cold and alone, you wither away, malnourished- spiritually and physically, because it costs extra to add a protein to your pasta bowl.

Listen: I’m pretty sure that I’ve gone on the record as saying that I could, theoretically, eat Taco Bell every day.  The Spicy Potato Taco may be an overlooked gem of the Taco Bell menu, but imagine the obligation of having to get one every time you go.  Imagine being deterred from ever getting whatever the $5 box of the month is, because those are already more than enough food so you can’t eat all that AND a free taco.  And unless you’re one of those old men who seem to go to Panera every day to loudly complain about the kids these days with your old man friends, you probably aren’t going to be drinking that much of their regular coffee (and, surely, even they like to switch it up with a cappuccino every once in a while, right?)

In short: if you’re trying to, say, feed a family on a tight budget, then yes, milk these kinds of programs for all their worth.  Bleed these megacorporations dry.  But I fear that even the most zealous fan of these brands could easily be worn out by the obligation of getting their money’s worth.

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