What Taco Bell Employees Wish You Knew

When you're craving wallet-friendly Mexican food in a flash, Taco Bell is almost always there for you. With over 7,000 locations in the U.S., the chain has become ubiquitous, and has won legions of fans. In fact, a 2018 Harris Poll deemed it the most popular Mexican restaurant in America. Even if you feel a little outraged at the notion, chances are, you've given in to the siren song of Live Más at least a time or two.

It turns out, working at Taco Bell can actually be a pretty good gig, as long as you don't mind dealing with post-club customers or wearing your hat a certain way. Even if you've never been tempted to apply (if only for the discounted food), you've probably wondered what goes on behind the counter.

Then again, maybe you've decided never to delve into the realm of Taco Bell secrets, many of which employees would likely also rather keep under wraps. But plenty of other nuggets of useful information have been offered up by current and former workers for the benefit of us all. Here are some things Taco Bell employees wish you knew when making a stop south of the border.

Taco Bell employees are pros at eyeballing the precise amount of ingredients in each item

When it comes to assembling your order, there is both an art and a science to working the line at Taco Bell. New employees train prepping food with the aid of a digital scale and must compose all items within a precise weight range. As a Taco Bell manager told Thrillist, any item that is off by more than 0.3 ounces gets thrown out, so employees get pretty good at knowing exactly how much shredded cheese to sprinkle on your Chalupa.

The manager admits, "It's very hard to get right." So if you've never admired the uniformity of your food (even while bemoaning how little meat is actually in the burrito), take a moment to appreciate the skill involved in making the portions so consistent. And if you swear the Taco Bell 10 miles down the road gives you more sour cream than the one five miles closer, you're probably just imagining it.

Taco Bell employees make almost all your food by hand

Taco Bell is fast food, so no, the employees aren't cooking every ingredient from scratch — but they do have a direct hand in finishing the preparation of everything you order, down to the dehydrated bean pellets that end up as your favorite refried side. According to one Taco Bell employee AMA on Reddit, they "look like wood chips" before they're reconstituted and "turn to mush."

But isn't it kind of nice to know that said (delicious) mush was semi-homemade in the actual kitchen of the restaurant you're ordering from? Ditto that the pre-cooked ground beef was poured out of a bag and finished there? And that the cinnamon twists were fried in-store?

Of course, every tortilla is rolled or folded and wrapped by a hard-working human on the line — in fact, by several. One Taco Bell worker revealed how the food prep team "works like a factory assembly line" with different people heating tortillas, doling out the fillings, and finishing and bagging items. So cut them a little slack when you feel like your 12-pack of soft tacos is taking too long.

Taco Bell beef is actually beef, and the fillers aren't that weird

A stalwart subject of urban legends and long-standing target of easy mockery, Taco Bell's seasoned beef has been rumored to be all manner of unsavory things. But it is, in fact, real beef — for the most part, anyway. About 12% of the meat mixture is composed of spices and similar ingredients (including some surprises like cocoa powder, oats, and yeast extract), plus common additives that improve the texture and appearance.

It's no secret that processed food contains a host of additional ingredients to increase palatability and shelf life, and none of those found in Taco Bell's beef are anything particularly strange. What might be of more concern is the quality of the meat that makes up the other 88% of the mixture.

While their website touches on the importance of sustainable beef, if you're only paying about $1 for a taco, you're probably not getting the best, most humanely raised meat money can buy. But, per Taco Bell's nutritional guidelines, you can rest assured there are no artificial trans fats or high fructose corn syrup in your taco order.

Big drive-thru orders can seriously throw off their rhythm

As the name suggests, speed is a key factor in fast food. As common sense decrees, the more you order, the longer it'll take to prepare. But keep that in mind the next time you offer to hit the drive-thru for a party of five, who all want multiple items.

A Taco Bell employee on Reddit confessed, "I always feel bad for people who order like 1 item or just a drink and have to sit behind 3 cars with 70+ items between them." Also, they made a good point when adding that you wouldn't normally roll up to the drive-thru window "and order 30 burgers."

If you do have a large order, consider going inside to place it. Conversely, if you're in one of the cars languishing behind those big spenders backing up the drive-thru line, practice patience and have some sympathy with the employees hustling to get all those items in the bag.

You can still order an Enchirito at Taco Bell

Among the pantheon of discontinued Taco Bell items, the Enchirito inspires fervent devotion. To fill its void, you can try your hand at a copycat Enchirito recipe at home — black olive garnish optional. Or, if you're feeling lucky, you can simply stroll into (or roll up to) your local franchise and ask for one.

Circa 2017, a Taco Bell manager told Thrillist that some locations still have the Enchirito in their point of sale systems. Even if they don't, many employees will know just what you mean when you say that magic word.

If you still strike out, however, try invoking the power of the Taco Bell secret menu and hack an Enchirito by ordering the necessary components separately, then combining them yourself. You'll need a Supreme Beef burrito loaded with extra meat and cheese, even more shredded cheese on the side (for topping things off), and a trio of condiments: red sauce, sour cream, and nacho cheese.

Making a quesadilla is a lot more labor-intensive than you think

A common quesadilla seems like one of the very simplest things you could possibly order, right? It's just cheese, tortillas, sauce, and maybe some meat (or beans). Taco Bell's own menu calls it "purist" with "absolutely zero bells and whistles." And yet, according to a Taco Bell manager for Thrillist, "there's just more steps to the process" that make even a basic quesadilla fairly time-consuming to create.

First, the component parts are assembled. Then the whole thing is steamed. Next, the quesadilla is grilled for a little crunch, and finally, it's cut and swaddled in its paper wrapping. You can see how folding up a taco takes less time — and in a fast food situation, every second counts.

Ask for your quesadilla to be double grilled to avoid a potentially soggy situation and you're only adding to the wait time. But the extra texture just might be worth it.

Combos, boxes, and meal deals can really save you money at Taco Bell

While this may seem self-evident, sometimes you need a nudge toward the obvious, especially if hanger is clouding your judgment (and possibly compelling you to start name-checking every item on the menu).

According to a kind Taco Bell employee on Reddit, combining one customer's order of several a la carte items into various combos shaved $5 off the total price. If you want a drink, which would run you at least $2 by itself, going for a combo is always worth it — and if you really don't want that extra Doritos Locos taco, share it with someone else. Who doesn't like free food?

The same thoughtful employee offered some other quick tips on shaving off a few dollars and cents, like: don't order a Supreme taco if you don't want the sour cream. Instead, just order a regular and add tomatoes since it's cheaper. Paying attention to small details can really pay off in the end.

The Naked Chicken Chalupa is a rip-off

New Taco Bell menu items often debut only to retire within a fairly short time frame, but in an all-too-familiar fast food cycle, they just as frequently reappear — at least for a limited time. The Naked Chicken Chalupa is one such item. It made a recent comeback and is already gone again, which may be for the best where your wallet is concerned.

A Taco Bell manager put it bluntly to Thrillist: "You are really just getting a chicken sandwich without a shell, and it's more expensive." Is it any coincidence that the chain has since introduced an actual chicken sandwich (which, let's be honest, is just a soft taco with a thicker tortilla)?

Probably, yes. And yet, for the lovers of wacky stunt food and fried chicken obsessives among us, the Naked Chicken Chalupa's crispy fried pollo patty masquerading as a shell was a brilliant innovation that we can only hope will return someday.

You can always substitute beans for meat at Taco Bell

Taco Bell's vegetarian options are pretty great, but you don't have to stick with just what's on the menu (which includes items like the Black Bean Chalupa and classic Bean Burrito). If you're not feeling carnivorous on any given occasion, you can swap black beans for meat in any menu item. Ditto refried beans — and potatoes, now that they're back, although the beans will give you a better protein boost.

Strict vegans should be aware that, per Taco Bell's blog there's the possibility those beans could be tainted with meat ingredients: "some restaurants we use the same frying oil to prepare menu items that may or may not contain animal ingredients. Also, we cannot guarantee that cross-contact with meat products will not occur." If beans are your jam, by all means, bean it up with your next Taco Bell order. 

Ordering something fresco style is the fastest way to make it dairy free

Whether you're vegan, lactose-intolerant, or just cutting down on extra calories, knowing this linguistic shortcut is key at Taco Bell. Asking for any item "fresco style" automatically removes all cheese, sour cream, and any mayo-based sauces and replaces them with diced tomatoes.

For instance, ordering the Spicy Potato Soft Taco, Fresco Style, will signal that you want to skip the shredded cheese and creamy chipotle sauce that come standard, and the taco will be topped with shredded lettuce and tomatoes instead.

If you think that sounds a little less exciting, know that you can still add some hot sauce for spark. All of Taco Bell's sauces except the creamy chipotle and creamy jalapeno are certified vegan — though you may be unpleasantly surprised by the amount of salt in each serving (55 mg in one precious packet of Fire Sauce, for instance).

Any hard taco shell can be replaced with a Doritos Locos taco shell

The Doritos Locos taco has been a major hit from day one, and while the Cool Ranch iteration is no longer on the menu, the Nacho Cheese version continues to grace us with its lip-smacking, finger-staining presence. What you may not know is that you can swap one of these extra-flavorful babies in for a regular hard taco shell anywhere one pops up on the menu.

What this most importantly means is that you can increase the queso quotient of the Cheesy Gordita Crunch by asking for a Doritos Locos shell in place of the naked corn kind that comes by default. Yes, you will have probably surpassed your recommended daily sodium intake in one go, but this isn't meant to be an everyday treat in the first place.

You might not be able to talk your way into getting crushed-up Doritos Locos shells instead of tortilla chips in an order of nachos (you'd probably have to get behind the counter for that kind of deliciously unholy experiment), but nacho cheese sauce and potatoes inside a cheesy Locos shell does sound like another worthy — and eminently achievable — goal.

Pretty much everything on the menu can be customized

"Have it your way" may be the slogan of another famous chain, but you can live that dream at Taco Bell, too. Swap guac for sour cream, or beans for beef. Add seasoned rice and jalapenos to your standard Crunchwrap, or try the ingenious Doritos Locos trick above. Get Spicy Ranch sauce on all the things.

As one Taco Bell employee told Refinery29, "You can be very creative when you order." That even extends to the drinks. For proof, check out this Taco Bell employee's TikTok, in which they demonstrate their own secret menu item, which they've dubbed the Cloudy Skies. It's a mixture of half Baja Blast and half pink lemonade.

Taco Bell's website claims inventive customers "can make almost 1 million unique vegetarian combinations" alone. Expand your horizons to include the whole menu and the options are mind-boggling. The more tweaks you request, though, the more tolerant you should be of potential slip-ups. And if you come up with a brilliant creation of your own, be sure to share it with the internet.

In the end, Taco Bell employees just want you to be polite

Working food service jobs can be incredibly stressful, to say the least. They can also be thankless, which is why simply acting like a decent human being can go such a long way in making your order taker or server's day suck significantly less. Every fast food employee has their horror stories, but one Taco Bell worker on Reddit claimed to only truly dislike "rude people, and those who are incredibly picky/impatient." Another employee positively called out customers who were "polite" and "appreciative" — and a third Reddit poster put it pretty succinctly when they advised, "Don't be a d*ck."

Sure, you may be crunched for time during the lunch rush, but so are they. And they may occasionally make a minor mistake, but have you never done the same?

Just remember, the people taking your orders and making and serving your food are only human (at least until robots replace them all). So keep your cool and be kind and it will be appreciated.