Consumer Trends

Why Reddit couldn't stop talking about Taco Bell last year

The chain made headlines with a slew of new menu items, but it was something else that drove discussion online.
Mexican Pizza and chicken wings were among Taco Bell's menu highlights in 2023. | Photo courtesy of Taco Bell

If you waded into the world of restaurant Reddit at some point last year, there’s a good chance you encountered someone talking about Taco Bell.

The 8,400-unit fast-food chain dominated conversation on the social media site in 2023, accounting for nearly a third (31%) of all quick-service restaurants mentioned there, according to a new report from social media analytics firm GlobalData. 

Starbucks came in a distant second at 22%, followed by Chipotle (14%) and McDonald’s (13%).

The results are not necessarily a surprise: Taco Bell has garnered a cult following for its unique and affordable menu, and in 2023 it catered to those superfans with new iterations of favorites like the Mexican Pizza and Nacho Fries as well as a steady stream of trendy new items, from chicken nuggets to energy drinks. It also made headlines with a battle over the trademark for “Taco Tuesday.”

It’s all the type of stuff that might generate buzz on Reddit, where tens of millions of people go daily to weigh in on their favorite topics on forums known as subreddits. 

But what really drove Taco Bell discourse on Reddit, according to GlobalData, was the chain’s prices. 

“Reddit users have voiced their displeasure over Taco Bell’s rising prices and what they perceive as subpar ingredient quality in comparison to local eateries,” said Smitarani Tripathy, GlobalData social media analyst, in a statement. 

A thread in r/TacoBell titled “These prices are insane,” for example, received more than 500 comments, with some regulars complaining that the price of their usual order had risen by as much as $6 during the year.

“The quality seems to be declining while prices continue to skyrocket,” one person wrote.

Taco Bell is not alone in raising prices: Restaurants of all kinds have done so in recent years to help offset higher costs for food and labor. Limited-service restaurant prices were about 6% higher in December than they were the prior year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was unclear how much Taco Bell raised prices in 2023.

Taco Bell was also not the only brand to take heat for price hikes on Reddit. Price was the key topic around fast-food brands in general, GlobalData found.

And yet those Redditors may have represented a vocal minority. While they griped about prices, customers continued to go to Taco Bell at a healthy rate. The chain’s same-store sales rose 8% in the third quarter, according to parent company Yum Brands, which included 2% to 3% traffic growth. Executives credited the chain’s value for the increase.

“In a pressured consumer environment, we're probably benefiting a little bit from some trade-down in those higher-income trade areas,” Yum CEO David Gibbs told analysts in November, according to a transcript from AlphaSense. 

Redditors took note of that value, too. Besides higher prices, they also talked about getting free food from Taco Bell and praised its wide variety of sauce options, according to GlobalData.

Indeed, despite widespread concern that menu price inflation would hurt consumer demand, restaurants have largely fared well amid a resilient economy.

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