Taco Bell to Launch First-Ever Business School for Employees
Taco Bell CEO Mark King spoke about the chain's latest endeavor.
In the world of fast-food, staying innovative is not only a valuable skill for brands to have, but necessary in order to keep progressing and surviving.
Taco Bell has long since been on the forefront of this, whether it's been bringing back old menu items for limited time runs that garner a cult-like following (looking at you, Quesalupa) or going over the top with marketing campaigns (see the chain's annual "Steal a Base, Steal a Taco" promotion) and its social media presence, its safe to say the chain knows what its doing.
But Taco Bell's latest move may be its most surprising yet.
The chain is launching the first of its kind Taco Bell Business School via the University of Louisville. The concept is simple yet incredibly smart: Take existing Taco Bell employees working in higher-level restaurant positions and teach them the ropes when it comes to what it takes to own and operate a Taco Bell restaurant as a franchisee.
“I’m excited that we can go to people that work for us and say to them [that] we can provide further education that can help you, whether you want to just be more equipped to do your job today, whether you want to learn more, if you want to understand more about franchising and the relationship with between franchisee and franchisor,” Taco Bell CEO Mark King tells Entrepreneur. “I think very few [Taco Bell employees] actually go on to be franchise owners, especially in today's world. [Franchises] are very expensive to start and to fund and to have all the resources. So it's very, very difficult as a young aspiring person to to get into it. It wasn't 50 years ago, but today it's really difficult. So creating a path or an opportunity for people is pretty exciting. I think this is going to be very rare today in today's world, to have someone that maybe started out right after high school stayed with us, got promoted, now is running a restaurant and say, ‘Hey, some point I might be able to own one.’ That's a that's a pretty exciting opportunity.”
The program is currently set up as a six-week “bootcamp” that will offer enrolled employees courses centered around the fundamentals of business and entrepreneurship, from financials to marketing to HR and everything in between. Taco Bell has also tapped successful franchisees in its pipeline to come and talk with students and help with the program to serve as real-life examples of where current employees can really take their careers.
Though all Taco Bell employees are technically eligible, King believes that the majority of students at the forefront of the school’s roll out will be those already in higher managerial positions, whether or not they’ve already received an undergraduate degree (though King says most probably have not.)
Those wishing to participate will apply internally and will be granted scholarships via Taco Bell to complete the program, the hope being to elevate and educate capable employees to careers beyond the physical restaurant and diversify the pipeline and portfolio of franchisees.
“It’s going to be seasoned general managers that are probably running fairly decent-sized restaurants that are qualified to be on this path,” King says. “And so that's where it's going to start. It could be either someone that works for a franchisee, or one of our corporate stores, either one … it's like nothing that I don't think any industry has probably ever done.”
It’s the dedication to doubling down on existing employees that has helped the chain stay afloat and succeed amid the pandemic where many chains lost workers and shuttered locations due to the circumstances.
“Finding people to work is a challenge. But we offer so many great things, and that's what we've really focused on in this,” King says. “This school is really one of those things that says, ‘Hey, if you come to work at Taco Bell, you can have a career not just a part time job.’”
Of course there were several other factors that played into the chain’s successes over the past two years, namely it’s historic reliance and successes with its drive-thru business (King estimates that 75% of the company’s business was via drive-thru pre-pandemic) and ability to continue to innovate with both its menu items and out-of-the box promotions that have positioned the company quite well.
Earlier this month, the chain launched its Taco Lover’s Pass (a subscription service that will give customers one taco a day for an entire month at the price of $10) followed by a limited time rollout of chicken wings, which were only on the menu for one week and available to order past 2 p.m.
“It was limited supply one week, a little bit of hype,” King recalls of the wings phenomenon. “It really generated a lot of PR, a lot of buzz, a lot of curiosity. And I think brands need to stay fresh and new and real and, and kind of surprising consumers and customers. And I think that's what it did. I think it exceeded every expectation we had.”
In 2021’s Q3, Taco Bell reportedly grew 5% for same-store sales and 8% on a two-year basis, and based on the company’s newest strategies in the first few weeks of this year alone, its clear that the chain is gunning for even more growth in the months ahead.
King is confident in this as well, calling the design and conceptualization of the business school a “home run” and looking towards the future of the company with realistic optimism.
“I think the thing that we all appreciate, probably more now than ever, is how quickly things can change in the world,” he tells us. “And as much and as comfortable as we get with how we live our lives every day, the pandemic showed us that it can change for all of us in in a matter of days. So I think we really cherish what we have maybe a little bit more.”
The first class of Taco Bell Business School will begin in February 2022.