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Hey Lyft, How About a Stop at Taco Bell on the Way Home?

A Lyft driver en route in San Francisco. This week, Lyft passengers around a Newport Beach, Calif., location can request rides that incorporate a stop at a Taco Bell drive-through.
Christie Hemm Klok | The New York Times
A Lyft driver en route in San Francisco. This week, Lyft passengers around a Newport Beach, Calif., location can request rides that incorporate a stop at a Taco Bell drive-through.

Taco Bell has, quite literally, found a new marketing vehicle, and its name is Lyft.

The fast-food chain is beginning a venture with the ride-sharing company this week that will allow Lyft passengers to request rides that incorporate a stop at a Taco Bell drive-through between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.

The companies will test the option, which will appear as "Taco Mode" in the Lyft app, during the next two weeks around a Newport Beach, Calif., location, with plans to expand the program nationally next year.

It's an attempt to tap into the trend of young people increasingly car-pooling through apps like Lyft and its larger rival Uber, particularly on nights out with friends. While Taco Bell offers delivery to customers and advertises the locations of its restaurants through the navigation app Waze, partnering with a ride-sharing company represents a new type of "experience innovation," said Marisa Thalberg, Taco Bell's chief marketing officer.

"I kind of think of this like inverse delivery — like we're delivering you to Taco Bell," she said in an interview. "You're being delivered to the food as opposed to having to get in your own car and drive."

As it stands, Lyft and Uber do not have stated policies about how drivers should handle passenger requests to swing by fast-food drive-throughs, though the question regularly pops up in online discussion forums for drivers.

"Some people are either afraid to ask or don't know if they can ask," Ms. Thalberg said. "We're taking all those questions marks of, 'Would it be unseemly to ask my Lyft driver to go through the Taco Bell drive-through?' And now we're not only going to make it permissible, we're going to celebrate this behavior."

Taco Bell and Lyft's initial test will be limited to a "tight region" around the Newport Beach location and include taco logos inside the app, branded taco-themed vehicles and in-car menus, said Melissa Waters, Lyft's head of marketing. While Lyft has struck up partnerships with other companies like Starbucks and Delta, she said it was a first for it to be "actually fulfilling a ride experience for a brand."

"We will allow drivers to opt in to that so we can make sure we understand their full experience, and the customers can get the full delight of opting into 'Taco Mode,'" she said. "Then we can fully understand how everything works before we roll out more broadly in Southern California, then more broadly nationally."

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"Several times I said no to food and they ask why and I explained what the last idiot did of making a mess and each time the present idiot would promise to not make a mess, spill, waste, etc. then they do it anyway!" one Uber driver wrote in an online forum.

Ms. Thalberg said her company had seen "a bunch of funny tweets" and other social media posts from hungry passengers on the topic, which got them thinking about a potential partnership with Lyft.

It is easy to see how a model like this, if successful, could be replicated by other fast-food chains and ride-sharing companies.

"It's pretty obvious there's a lot of food delivery out there and lots of apps and services that allow you to take food to people," Ms. Waters said. "This is really turning this concept on its head of just delivering food to delivering you to food and extending the night."

Taco Bell is not paying Lyft for the deal, which has been in the works for almost a year, Ms. Waters said. The companies are looking at the venture as "cocreating an experience together," which cannot be evaluated the way one might look at traditional marketing efforts like television commercials and billboards, she said.

"Marketing today is so much about customer experience, not branding and advertising," she said. "We're really evaluating it from a surprise and delight for our consumer bases with a program like this and both meeting in the middle and developing it on both sides."

Ms. Thalberg, who noted that the deal prevented Lyft from pursuing similar partnerships with its competitors, said she was eager about the program's possibilities.

"What drives us both is a vision much bigger than what would be apparent to the naked eye," she said. "I hope it's the tip of the iceberg of what we can do."