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Why Taco Bell is testing something straight out of the 1950s hamburger scene

Brian Sozzi
·Editor-at-Large
·2 min read

The COVID-19 pandemic has sent Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut owner Yum! Brands (YUM) back to the storied past of fast-food to help service customers fearful of catching the deadly disease.

At least at late-night, go-to Taco Bell.

The company is testing service by bellhop at some locations. Unlike the 1950s hamburger scene (or the current scene at bellhop master Sonic), customers place orders on the brand’s digital app. They then drive to the nearest Taco Bell and an employee brings them their food straight to the car.

For Taco Bell, the bellhop launch reflects indoor dining not being an option for many locations do to quarantine-related shutdowns. Plus, people have shown an appetite to eat fast-food in their cars during the pandemic — Sonic’s sales have surged, its CEO Paul Brown told Yahoo Finance recently.

“It plays to the trend of customers not only ordering delivery, but also wanting to take control of their order. We are calling it contactless curbside,” Yum! Brands CEO David Gibbs told Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade.

The use of bellhops will be front and center at Taco’s Bell first’ ‘Go Mobile’ location set to open in early 2021. Besides bellhops, the concept will have a double drive-thru — all packed inside a mere 1,325 square-foot location.

HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA  - MARCH 31: A Taco Bell employee delivers an order to a customer at the drive-up window of the restaurant on March 31, 2020 in Hollywood, Florida.  Mark King, CEO of Taco Bell Corp. announced that Tuesday, March 31, Taco Bell drive-thru guests across America will receive a free seasoned beef Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos, no purchase necessary while supplies last as part of its coronavirus response. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA - MARCH 31: A Taco Bell employee delivers an order to a customer at the drive-up window of the restaurant on March 31, 2020 in Hollywood, Florida. Mark King, CEO of Taco Bell Corp. announced that Tuesday, March 31, Taco Bell drive-thru guests across America will receive a free seasoned beef Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos, no purchase necessary while supplies last as part of its coronavirus response. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Yum! Brands’ ability to pivot quickly to third-party delivery, test new foods amidst the pandemic and re-open restaurants helped power a comeback third quarter.

The company’s U.S. same-store sales rose at all divisions, paced by a 9% gain at KFC. Worldwide sales fell 2% amid pressure from the pandemic in emerging markets. But overall operating profits rose 7% from a year ago.

Yum! Brands shares are down 7.5% year-to-date, according to Yahoo Finance Premium data, underperforming the S&P 500’s 2.5% gain.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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