Taco Bell Wastes No Time Launching Its Own $5 Million ‘Taco Tuesday’ Campaign

Taco Bell, fresh from muscling much smaller rival Taco John’s out of its Taco Tuesday trademark, is opening a $5 million tab to pay for people ordering Mexican food, even from competitors.

Renée Jean

August 09, 20236 min read

Taco John's and Taco Bell have numerous locations across Cheyenne and Wyoming.
Taco John's and Taco Bell have numerous locations across Cheyenne and Wyoming. (Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

After muscling much smaller rival Taco John’s out of its trademark for “Taco Tuesday,” Taco Bell wasted little time in announcing its own Taco Tuesday promotion.

Taco Bell is putting $5 million behind its campaign for a DoorDash tab it will open Sept.12 to cover a portion of taco fans’ orders from participating vendors that sell Mexican cuisine. 

Leading up to Sept. 12, the chain will offer people a free Doritos Locos Taco starting Tuesday, and continuing each Tuesday through Sept. 5.

“Because now that Taco Tuesday is free — your tacos should be too,” the chain said in a media release.

The Sept. 12 promotion won’t apply in New Jersey, where Gregory Gregory, co-owner of Gregory’s Bar & Restaurant, still owns the trademark for Taco Tuesday, but New Jersey residents will still be able to get a free Doritos Locos Taco on Tuesdays leading up to Sept. 12.

It was not immediately clear whether participating vendors in the Sept. 12 promotion will include Taco John’s. Neither company immediately responded to Cowboy State Daily’s inquiries.

“When tacos win, we all win,” Taco Bell’s U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Taylor Montgomery said in a media release. “We all win when Taco John’s decides to release its trademark registration, we all win when taco vendors everywhere are free to join the movement, and we all win when taco fans can freely celebrate and support Taco Tuesdays at Taco Bell or anywhere else.”

Too Expensive To Defend

Taco Bell’s Taco Tuesday promotion comes on the heels of a decision by Wyoming-based Taco John’s to abandon its longstanding 1989 trademark on the popular phrase because it was too expensive to defend.

“The price tag’s up around $1 million,” Taco Johns CEO Jim Creel told Cowboy State Daily at the time. “We just don’t feel like that’s a good expenditure of funds.”

Instead of spending $1 million in legal fees defending a phrase that’s become so popular around the world it may be difficult now to defend, Taco Johns decided instead that it would donate $40,000 — $100 for each of its 400 stores — to Children of Restaurant Employees. The nonprofit helps families that have children and are facing a health crisis or life-threatening injury.

Taco John’s (have to make sure we’re getting these names right) challenged Taco Bell to do the same — a donation that would have tallied up to more than $780,000 at $100 for each of Taco Bell’s 7,817 stores in the U.S.

Taco Bell announced, alongside its announcement of the free taco deals, that it will instead match Taco John’s $40,000 donation to CORE, as well as start a separate $1 million matching program through its own foundation to support people who make tacos.

Trademark Tiff Boosted Taco John’s

Taco John’s has owned the trademark on Taco Tuesday for 34 years, and it has long been at the heart of the Wyoming-based chain’s marketing campaign. 

Creel has said Taco John’s will continue to use the phrase going forward. 

“Even though we don’t have the registration, we can still use it,” he said. “And people know Taco John’s was the home of Taco Tuesday, so it will be business as usual from that standpoint.”

Publicity from the trademark tiff has buoyed sales at many Taco John’s outlets, with many fans in Western states rallying behind their favorite taco joint.

“A couple of the franchises in Wyoming saw double-digit sales increases,” Creel said. “Especially in those areas where we have a lot of fans, Taco John’s fans, and it’s continued. Our sales remain positive from this whole experience, hopefully that will continue.”

Taco John’s credits a Minnesota store with bringing the idea for Taco Tuesday to the chain. David Olsen, owner of that store, was trying to come up with something to boost his sales on what were terrible Tuesdays.

Playing around with the word Tuesday, he realized it sounded a lot like “twos day.” That gave him the idea to sell two tacos for the price of one on Tuesdays.

At that time, a taco was 69 cents, so two for 99 cents was a great deal. Customers thought so too, and the promotion doubled Olsen’s sales.

That made it a no-brainer to take national, particularly as the company’s executives had actively been seeking a way to unify their chain. 

They first tried for the trademark in 1979, but Gregory’s Bar and Restaurant already had it. In 1989, though, Gregory’s didn’t file timely proof it was still using the registration, and Taco John’s claimed it instead.

Ultimately, Taco John’s agreed Gregory’s would retain the rights to use the trademark in New Jersey, while Taco John’s would keep it everywhere else.

David Vs. Goliath Fight Continues In New Jersey

While Taco Bell has billed the trademark tiff as “liberating” the phrase “Taco Tuesday” for everyone in both its legal petition and various media kits, that’s not how the smaller rivals that are being pushed aside feel about it.

“Really they just want to put millions of advertising behind it to appropriate it as their own,” Taco John’s spokesman Barry Westrum told Cowboy State Daily just after Taco Bell filed the petition to cancel its registration. 

Gregory, meanwhile, told media outlets just after Taco John’s announced it was abandoning its trademark that he’s fighting a David-and-Goliath battle to keep his trademark intact, and he’s not planning to back down on the phrase coined by his family in 1979.

“I’ve paid my dues,” he told The Atlantic. “Every time it comes up, we submit our check. Every time we get reviewed, we pass.”

Gregory’s served its first tacos on a Tuesday night back in 1979, more than four decades ago, and the promotion has been ongoing since with more than 2 million tacos sold.

Renée Jean can be reached at renee@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter