Taco Bell will start its first customer-loyalty program later this year in an effort to keep diners coming into the restaurants regularly.
Taco Bell's loyalty program will be a part of the chain's mobile-phone application, said Tressie Lieberman, senior director of digital platforms and social engagement.
"We're thinking of our experience as more of a game and less your traditional punch card," she said, while declining to provide the name of the plan or any details about how it will work. The app and loyalty program are geared toward increasing customers' visits to Taco Bell locations, Lieberman said.
It "gets you coming back time and time again," she said.
The company earlier this month filed a U.S. trademark application for "Taco Baller" for a customer-loyalty program and restaurant services. Lieberman said Taco Baller isn't the name of the new program.
The Mexican-themed fast-food chain has been trying to attract more U.S. diners with its mobile-phone ordering and payment app as well as new menu items. Restaurants' loyalty programs typically give patrons discounts or free food as a reward for spending a certain amount.
The Taco Bell app, introduced last year, has been downloaded about 2.5 million times, Lieberman said. That helped the chain post a 6% same-store sales increase in the fourth quarter. Taco Bell also recently introduced a line of breakfast Biscuit Tacos that wrap taco-shaped biscuits around ingredients such as chicken, gravy, eggs and sausage.
Adding a loyalty component to its app would put Taco Bell ahead of other fast-food chains that still are trying to craft mobile programs combining ordering, payment and rewards. While Starbucks Corp.'s app lets U.S. customers pay on-site for their coffees, the ability to order ahead of time just started being tested in December and isn't in all stores yet. The cafe chain's app has more than 13 million users who can pay and earn points for free drinks by having their phones scanned at the register.
Taco Bell's app may allow diners to take advantage of catering and get food delivered, Lieberman said. Catering services are being tested in some Taco Bell stores in Houston.
Taco Bell, owned by Yum! Brands Inc., offers mobile ordering and payment in about 6,000 U.S. restaurants. There are about 6,200 locations globally.