Taco Del Mar was born on the beach, says Brent Phillip, brand manager of the chain with a coastal Mexican menu. The fast casual is inspired by and rooted in Baja California, and “limited-time offers are developed to get guests to experience more of that flavor and vibe, the ‘del mar’ part of our name,” Phillip says. Lobster is not regularly seen on fast-casual menus, but Mike Gieseman, Taco Del Mar’s director of culinary and innovation, was keen on trying it in a taco—part of the chain’s mission to introduce flavors that are hard to get elsewhere. “We tested multiple varieties of tacos filled with a lobster-seafood blend—some hot and some cold,” he says. “We landed on a chilled lobster salad with a simple ingredient list, so lobster is the hero in the taco.” Attention to sourcing and operational efficiencies resulted in a high-margin LTO that didn’t tax the staff.
Gieseman sources a lobster-Alaskan pollock blend that comes in already cooked and chilled. “The pollock makes it affordable without detracting from the lobster,” he says. At each location, employees mix in chopped fresh cilantro, onions, serrano peppers and lime juice—all prepped ahead and cross-utilized from other SKUs. “Our employees were behind the idea from the start, both labor-wise and taste-wise,” says Gieseman, adding that their enthusiasm helped upsell the LTO.
Twice the sauce
To complete the taco, Gieseman layers on shredded cabbage and two housemade condiments that are also used on other items. One is the chain’s signature pico de gallo made with tomatoes, cilantro, onions and peppers, and the other is a mayo-based “white sauce” mixed with pickled jalapenos and mild salsa verde, what Gieseman refers to as Mexican tartar sauce. “The taco recipe hits on all cylinders: It’s flavorful, colorful, well-portioned and represents high value for guests,” says Phillip.
Marketing to a broad fan base
To reach a wide demographic, marketing played up the taco’s freshness, clean ingredients and colorful presentation through eye-catching photos on educational POP materials and paid social posts. The LTO attracted core customers and new guests, both tempted to try an iconic flavor in an innovative way, Phillip says. Indeed, Technomic’s menu concept development survey found that after reading the menu description (which clearly spells out each ingredient), 73% of potential purchasers gave the taco high marks for craveability and 70% for uniqueness.
Only 1 in 5 restaurants list lobster on the menu, most of which are higher end. Nearly three-fourths (73%) of fine-dining restaurants and 63% of upscale-casual concepts offer it. In contrast, lobster is a differentiator for limited-service concepts: It’s only offered on 4.4% of fast-casual menus.
Source: Technomic Ignite menu data