Franchise News

Del Taco's Fresh New Look

When legacy QSR Mexican chain Del Taco set out to design a new prototype prior to expanding into new markets, it turned to its menu for creative inspiration. After all, one of the brand's biggest points of distinction in the crowded QSR arena has long been its commitment to fresh ingredients and on-site preparation. The menu has always told a strong and unique story, one the chain feels it should communicate more directly through its store design, as well.

Last August, Del Taco debuted an updated prototype design that does just that. Working with San Francisco-based brand strategy and retail design firm Tesser Inc., Del Taco made menu messaging the cornerstone of a bold new look.

"With plans underway to enter new markets, such as Dallas and Atlanta, we knew we'd be facing a customer base that may have had little knowledge of Del Taco. This was an ideal time for us to introduce a brand refresh and take advantage of our strengths," says John Druse, senior director of design and construction. "One of our first steps involved choosing the right consultants to partner with. Tesser led a strategic project team through a detailed process over a period of months that led to conceptual designs. They were very brand- and detail-oriented, which kept the initiative moving effectively and efficiently. We worked with them on the design phase, took the initial designs through a series of focus groups before narrowing our selection, and then our internal team led the development and construction phase."

In the second half of 2011, Del Taco began integrating some of the new branding elements into existing units in its core market of southern California. The first new prototype units opened recently, one in McKinney, Texas, a new construction, and one in Snellville, Ga., a conversion of a former Fazoli's restaurant. The company's expansion plan calls for 80 units in the Dallas/Fort Worth market and 60 in the Atlanta metro area.

Integrated Brand Messaging

With the goal of getting Del Taco's brand promise of fresh, high-quality food across, the design team took a conceptual step into the back of the house for cues on what to build on. "The idea was that we've been doing these things for years and years, things like hand-grating our cheese from 40-pound blocks every day, grilling our marinated chicken fresh throughout the day, making our salsa by hand, using only fresh ground beef in our burgers, slow-cooking our beans, and cutting our lettuce and tomatoes fresh every day instead of just pulling them out of a bag. But we'd still get lumped in with Taco Bell and all the other fast-food Mexican concepts out there," Druse says. "We'd never gotten credit for things we do differently. We decided to throw it out there and integrate it into our new design in a pretty blatant way."

Del Taco's freshness messages now come through loud and clear. In fact, the messages themselves are part of the fresh, contemporary new design. Visuals tell the brand's food story and reinforce familiar themes with key phrases used throughout the prototype, including "chicken grilled here," "beans slow-cooked here," and "cheddar hand-grated here."

"Our brand differentiation points come through loud and clear," Druse says. "We feel, and our customers have told us as much, that we have reinvented Del Taco with this new look. We're using color-coated half-inch acrylic panels with routed designs and messaging as our artwork on the walls and wall caps. The same treatment is used on the wall that divides the salsa bar from the front counter area. Because of the customized cut-out design, it really becomes a piece of modern art that creates a unique appearance from both sides of the panel. It's clean and contemporary, but with a Mexican motif. It costs a lot to have it done, but it adds just the right touch to the design and at the same time brings more attention to our product freshness. Customer response has been great."

The redesigned interior seating is flexible and comfortable for a variety of customer occasions. In select new prototype locations, the condiment station features a new salsa bar that includes two different types of salsas in addition to Del Taco's signature sauces.

The same types of brand-messaging visuals used inside are carried outside to the drive-thru, where an average of 60 percent of total sales is done. Druse notes that the only difference is in the materials from which they're made. "We didn't want them to weather badly, so the material outside is more weatherproof, and while they look like they're cut out, they're not," he says.

Drive-thru brand messages represent just one change Del Taco has made to the store's exterior. As Druse stresses, the building prototype is a completely new look from outside in, not simply a modification. An updated logo graces the building, which has now incorporated curved elements into the roof line for a more contemporary, interesting architectural statement. "It adds to curb appeal that will help draw customers into the restaurant," he says.
Project Team

Paul Murphy, CEO
John Cappasola, chief brand officer
John Druse, senior director of design and construction
George Ewing, design project manager
Tom Johnson, director of consumer insights
Noah Chillingworth, vice president of marketing
Design/Branding Consultant: Tesser Inc., San Francisco; Tre Musco, CEO
Architect: GHA Architecture/Development, Addison, Texas


HQ: Lake Forest, Calif.
Units: 525+ in 17 states
Prototype: 2,400 sq. ft.
Real Estate: Freestanding, end-cap drive-thrus
Build-Out: 75 to 90 days, depending on site work
Expansion Markets: California; Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, Texas; Atlanta
2012 Projects: 10 company units, 15 franchised units, 20 reimages
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