Mexican cuisine is the second most popular menu type in the U.S. this year. Since 2015, when it came in 3rd, its popularity has grown exponentially. Whether it’s Cinco de Mayo, Taco Tuesday, or some frigid Friday in February, hungry diners across the country are getting more excited about this versatile, delicious snack.

 

Rise in Popularity

As of April 2017, there were nearly 60,000 Mexican restaurants and menus in the U.S. – representing about 9% of the industry. These businesses generate approximately $45 billion in annual retail sales. It’s clear that this hot food is becoming a hot ticket item for American diners.

In 2015, Taco Bell boasted 6,121 locations in the U.S. alone, making it the most popular Mexican restaurant chain in America. But this cuisine isn’t popular because of chains like Taco Bell and Qdoba. 97% of Mexican restaurants classify themselves as independent, meaning they have 10 or fewer locations.

This is more than a trend; the popularity of Mexican food has been steadily growing for a long time. What makes it so appealing? Let’s take a look at a few key aspects of this cuisine, and you’ll see how they apply to every menu type.

 

Local Customization

Guests love to customize their toppings. And what’s more customizable than a taco? Empower your diners to choose between different types of meat, veggies, and sauces. For a gluten-free taco, offer corn tortillas. For a vegan version, consider a hearty black bean taco. Brown or white rice, sour cream or guac, onions and cilantro or lettuce and tomato – the options are truly endless. And we haven’t even mentioned fusion tacos yet.

Customization starts with choosing ingredients, but tacos take it even further. Order one taco for a quick snack, or six for a filling meal. 40 tacos can satisfy a group of bar-hoppers, and 200 can make an office party. Guests can even choose what time of day they want to taco bout it. Add a scrambled egg, and you’ve got a breakfast taco!

 

Great Service at Any Speed

Mexican restaurants are seeing success in both the FSR and QSR sectors. 58% of these businesses are Full Service Restaurants, and 42% are QSRs. Notably, nearly half of all Mexican QSR locations are Taco Bells.

Since FSRs are seeing a dip in popularity, it appears that the independent Mexican restaurant FSRs are poised to buck the trend. In fact, nearly ¾ of Mexican restaurants are independent businesses. It appears that this hot cuisine appeals to diners of all demographics, whether they’re looking for a quick bite or a full meal.

 

Form Factor

There’s a lot to learn from the popularity of tacos, no matter what type of cuisine your restaurant serves. For one thing, your chef can customize a burger or a salad just as easily as a taco. Or if you cater to guests on the go, you might consider serving small, hand-held menu items that fit well with your cuisine. The trendy sushi burrito is a great example of this.

Most importantly, it’s your job to offer your guests the great service and delicious food they’re craving. Adding new menu items is one easy way to invite back your loyal fans, encourage them to try new things, and show them you’re constantly working to improve their experience.