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I have a confession to make: I’m in my 30s now, a father twice over, and many years away from midnight college snacks — even if I did extend my college years by a decade or so — yet I still eat at Taco Bell.

I know. I know.

But the truth is … well, I can’t help it. I might be addicted. Horribly and uncontrollably addicted. In fact, it’s probably something in their Chicken Quesadillas, which are perhaps only passed in their addictiveness by one other fast food product, which also (hmmmmm) happens to be from Taco Bell. To put it in a standard Miller Analogies Test form (appropriate to college dudes):

Q. Cocaine : Chicken Quesadilla :: Crack Cocaine :

(Answer at the end.)

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if there isn’t something truly conspiratorial at work in the kitchens of the Bell. And I suspect it has something to do with the fact that my particular Taco Bell is housed with a Kentucky Fried Chicken.  We all know about The Colonel and his nefarious spices, after all:

Anyway, it’s not my culinary inadequacies that I want to discuss here, or even Mike Myers’ one-trick ponyshow of playing a Scotsman (though he does it damn well). What I want to talk about is the Bell’s incomprehensible receipts and its employee’s low success rates in filling orders. The two issues are rather related, I think.

Taco Bell Order Fulfillment

Forrest Gump famously opined about the relationship between life and a box of chocolates: “You never know what you’re gonna get.” Ah, zen-master Gump, verily you speak of the Taco Bell drive-through (I can’t bring myself to accept the “drive-thru” misspelling that’s Buy Ambien Zolpidem at the Bell).

In some respects, this may be one of the reasons I like going to Taco Bell.  (Aside from the addictive chicken.)  Getting that flimsy semi-transparent bag at the window is like a wee Christmas. I might have ordered a Chicken Quesadilla, two Soft Tacos, and a Beefy Beany Cheesy Gordita Decker Potato Tortillawich, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything about what’s in the bag.

Oh sure, it could be what I ordered. In college, my friends and I had over the years determined that the Bell’s success rate was roughly 50% on a 3-person order. Expand that number, and accuracy dropped precipitously. I think they’ve actually improved a bit these days; my experience over the past year or so has been maybe only 20% in error. Regardless, you have a significant chance of getting something other than what you ordered when you go to Taco Bell. And as someone who orders mostly off the value item menu — with the exception of getting my routine Chicken Quesadilla fix — this means I have a good chance of getting more than what I ordered. Like a kid unwrapping presents beside the tree, I know that there’s a very real possibility I’ll only get what I suspected, yet at the same time I just might get something much, much better, like an Enchirito.

Mistakes happen, of course, and the pressure and chaos of a drive-through compound the possibilities of them. I know that. I worked at a Wendy’s for quite some time in my youth. So I’m sensitive to the hardships. And I know, therefore, that it is simple common sense to make a quick bag check at any drive-through window.  Traditionally, this check should have two components: (1) count items in bag; (2) cursorily examine receipt.

In fact, it’s this same process that I was taught to do when I worked at Wendy’s: Before you handed out the bag, you counted the items against the receipt. For just this reason many fast-food joints have started to helpfully give a total count of the number of items in the bag. Taco Bell does this, too. Except, well …

Decoding the Bell

Here, scanned a few minutes ago, is my receipt from today’s Bell Binge (family car of four):

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Today's Receipt

Pretty simple stuff as far as layout goes. Some preliminary matters, followed by a list of the items I ordered and the aforementioned “Bagging Summary.”

God willing, looking at this makes your mind hurt. It sure hurts mine. We’ll get to the super secret Bell-speak abbreviations in a minute, but let’s just keep to the simple math for now. How in the name of thrice-spiced meat product could I only have “3 item(s)” in my bag when I ordered 6?

What was this, Taco Bell’s Semi-annual “Divide by Two” Day?

And then there’s the Code. Perhaps it contains the elements of my meal, but to the trained eye it could include hidden launch dates for The Colonel’s joint assault with the King against the big-shoed clown across the street. Hard to say.

Not to worry, I got me a gen-u-wine PhD. So get out your decoder rings and Enigma machines, kids, and follow along at home while I decode!

1 CHZROL … Ah, yes. It’s a Cheese Roll-up.  You, me, and a significant number of my college freshmen know that nowhere in those words does a “Z” appear, but I suspect this doesn’t matter to those who’d promote a “Drive-Thru Diet.”

1 B-CN … Process of elimination here. Must be a Chicken Burrito. Switching the word order around on the receipt, as we’ll see, is a common Bell trick. I’m sure this little trick is very helpful to customers in a hurry. Especially those driving in cars, singing to the latest Miley Cyrus song while texting to the people in the back seat.

1 Q-MINI … Easy one once you know their little flip-the-word-order trick: a Mini Quesadilla.  (A new product that my son didn’t like, by the way.)

1 B-BFPT … This muddle of letters, believe it or not, is a Beefy Potato Burrito. To the Bell’s credit, it’s far easier to order a “B-BFPT” than a “Beefy Potato Burrito.” Try to cover your mouth when you do so, though.

1 Q-CK … Well, obviously, this is Quick Coke … er, a Chicken Quesadilla. (As stated above, a highly addictive substance.)

1 B-5LYR … Bricklayer? No, no.  A Beefy 5-layer Burrito.

Now, picture the drive-through cashier/fulfillment person faced with all this nonsense and lacking decoder ring, enigma machine, or a PhD. Is s/he/it going to use this Bagging Summary? If so, I’m getting half my stuff. Perhaps, then, a quick perusal of the contents with the itemized list? Can the average Bell brain even comprehend and hold all this coding in any remotely efficient way?

“Okay, next bag … Got the CHZROL, B-CN, Q-BFPT, er, B-BFPT … um, Q-CK … um, B-5LYR … Buffy the Vampire Slayer?  What the…?”

It’s almost like a linguistic Rorshach test.

Psychiatrist: “B-CN … tell me what you see.”

Patient: “Bacon.”

Psychiatrist (jots down notes): “Interesting. What else?”

Patient (nervous): “Was bacon not good?”

To her enormous credit, our particular cashier/order taker/order fulfillment person today — I guess her name was Netta? — navigated all this coded and confusing nonsense and actually got the order right. No happy Christmas surprise for me, but certainly no coal-stocking of 3 items when I ordered 6.

Still, it’s 2010, people. There’s lots of room on this receipt for more letters. And our countin’ machines can sure as shinola do better than to add 1+1+1+1+1+1 and get 3.

Please, Taco Bell, make a change to your receipts.

And while you’re at it, bring back the Chicken Caesar Chalupa. Seriously. I haven’t had one in years, and I still get twitchy for a fix.


  1. Clearly, the garbage you are eating has clouded your thinking processes, sir. Why are you wasting time on this when you could be writing fiction? Or do you multi-process?

    P.S. If you haven’t had your cholesterol checked lately, it’s probably time. 🙂

  2. That receipt really needs to be published on Fail Blog!


    • Probably should be, Kate!

      Ah, Cathy, you should know I’m a multi-tasker. Got 3 or 4 articles, 2 academic books, 2 short stories, and an unknown number of fiction books scattered on my desk at the moment. I’ll finish them all eventually, I’m sure. 🙂

  3. Put that picture in Paint then add the word “Fail”. Instant hit. Everyone loves obvious idiocy.

  4. I manage a taco bell in Illinois and I can tell you that our system allows us to print a receipt that actually displays the name of the product instead of the abbreviations we use on our internal monitors, however it takes a little bit of work and most managers are too lazy (come to my store and you will be able to easily read the receipt). Also, if they program their bagging summary like most Taco Bell’s it simply tells the cashier how many napkins to include in your bag (Taco Bell teaches us to give a guest one napkin per every two items).

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