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O.C. BUSINESS PLUS | HEARD ON THE BEAT / RESTAURANTS

Taco Bell Checks Out New Look

July 27, 1999|GREG HERNANDEZ | Greg Hernandez covers the restaurant industry for The Times. He can be reached at (714) 966-5989 and at greg.hernandez@latimes.com

Irvine-based Taco Bell is considering an updated look for its restaurants. The Mexican fast-food chain is testing a new design at a unit in New Orleans with Spanish accents such as stone counters, natural woods and wrought-iron touches.

"It's one of the styles we're looking at," Taco Bell spokeswoman Laurie Gannon said. "We are continually looking at different design elements."

Gannon said research has revealed that customers view fast-food restaurants in general as impersonal and sterile. "One of the challenges is to get rid of that stereotype," Gannon said.

The New Orleans prototype replaces bolted-down plastic benches with movable wooden chairs, tones down the chain's signature bright purple color and creates a separation between the front counter and the dining area.

"This is just one of many different prototypes we are looking at," Gannon said. "There are no plans at this time for a national roll-out. We want to evaluate them and get customer reaction."

Also, about 60 Taco Bell restaurants, including some in Orange County, have begun serving Pizza Hut individual-sized pizzas and bread sticks to go along with the Mexican food menu. "It's something we're testing, and we're very pleased with the results so far," Gannon said.

The Taco Bell and Pizza Hut chains are owned by Tricon Global Restaurants Inc., which also owns the KFC chain.

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