These are grim times. You know that. They’re grim times for artists and grim times for doctors and grim times for teachers and students and builders and lawyers and farmers and soldiers and IT professionals, because people are getting sick and dying at terrifying rates and the best way — the only way — to combat it involves the near-complete suspension of community and enterprise and normalcy and everything else we typically turn to for help handling hardships. It sucks.
And these are, undoubtedly, grim times for the restaurant industry — especially in New York City, where exorbitant rents require restaurateurs to operate on impossibly slim margins in a landscape already blighted with empty storefronts.
If you are getting takeout and have the opportunity to support a small business, you should do it. But after you do that, or, perhaps, when you have few other options, you may find yourself at a Taco Bell. I know, because it happened to me over the weekend, and because my former roommate Bill texted me not two hours ago to note that the same thing happened to him yesterday. Taco Bell is delicious and inexpensive and comforting, and while it appears far better positioned than most to survive this pandemic, these presumably aren’t great times for area Taco Bell franchisees, either.
Here are four tips for enjoying Taco Bell in the time of COVID-19:
1) Be cool: If you thought this nation’s only truly horrendous people were the ones running it, think again! A Business Insider post surveying fast-food workers notes, “some customers were treating employees poorly in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. Multiple workers shared stories of customers coughing on them, either by accident or as a ‘joke.’ Others said customers had yelled at them due to restricted hours or longer wait times.”
For fuck’s sake. I find few things more off-putting than people who mistreat food-service workers. (Once, when I got confused about the terms of a coupon at the lobster farm, the customer actually said, “that’s why I go to Cornell and you work at a lobster farm.” No joke.) It’s just a lousy thing to do, but also, I don’t think problem customers realize that people really do spit in their food sometimes. I never did it myself, but I’ve seen it happen enough times to know better than to take out my frustrations on someone handling my food, even on my worst day.
Yes, you’re scared about the ‘rona. Yes, your Taco Bell might take longer than it normally does because of the extra crowds and precautions that come along with the virus. But for heaven’s sake, be cool. Everyone’s scared. Everyone’s stressed. That person taking your order is literally putting her life on the line to provide you Taco Bell. It’s downright noble! And you’re working from home anyway! No one can see if you spent an extra ten minutes away from your desk getting lunch.
2) Use the Taco Bell app: Have you used the Taco Bell app? It’s phenomenal. And — I want to point out — it is awfully similar to a concept I outlined in this space in 2011. You can trick out any Taco Bell thing you can think of in practically any way. I like adding jalapenos to stuff just because I can. Sometimes I swap out Spicy Ranch sauce for Avocado Ranch sauce, not because I can necessarily tell the difference so much as because I am drunk with power. Extra meat? You can do that. Multiple meats? Absolutely. They don’t really let you mess with the various incarnations of tortilla that deliver your Taco Bell stuff, but everything inside is fair game.
Why it matters now is that you pay via the app, so you don’t have to use cash and you don’t force the Taco Bell employee to handle your grimy credit card and pass your germs along to the next person in line.
3) Skip the Crunchy Tacos: We all need to make sacrifices in this time And the particulars of eating Taco Bell during the coronavirus shutdown mean that you are likely either eating Taco Bell in your car or taking it away to eat somewhere besides the Taco Bell dining room. Crunchy Tacos are a great many things, but they are not particularly portable, nor are they really built to withstand more than a few minutes’ worth of travel time. If you want something that crunches, go with plain old nachos, or something that utilizes the superlative Crunchy Red Strips, or opt for the ever-popular Cheesy G.
4) For cryin’ out loud, try a Beefy Nacho Griller: If it didn’t already seem like End Times, we might be spending more time considering that Taco Bell has only now, finally, come out with something called the “Taco Burrito,” and that somehow the Taco Burrito — based on my recent experience — just isn’t all that good. It’s fine, obviously, but it’s basically just a soft taco with slightly more tortilla (albeit with infinitely more Crunchy Red Strips).
I feel like a broken record: The best new Taco Bell menu item of the last 10 years, and possibly the very best Taco Bell menu item of all, is the relatively unheralded Beefy Nacho Griller. It’s just seasoned beef, nacho cheese, and Crunchy Red Strips in a burrito, which is to say that it’s all the Taco Bell things you want with no superfluous lettuce. Then, to make it extra good, they press it in their magical Taco Bell grill thing.
Good luck out there.