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Why Do Chipotle Wendy's, and Taco Bell Want to Give You Free Food?

It's for a good business reason, but you can take advantage.

Gone are the days of simply putting out a tasty product and hoping people will come — the new fast food frontier is bringing as many customers online as possible.

That was what pushed Wendy's  (WEN) - Get Free Report to entice app downloads with free fries and nuggets and Yum! Brands  (YUM) - Get Free Report-owned Taco Bell to launch its app-only taco-a-day-for-$10 subscription. 

While McDonald's  (MCD) - Get Free Report's ubiquity helps its dominate the app world (2.2 million people downloaded its app in February), promotions go a long way toward bumping a fast food chain's app use —  Apptopia research found that, after launching the Taco Lovers' Pass, Taco Bell saw its subscriptions soar to 1.4 million in January.

While app downloads dropped by 16.7% the following month, Taco Bell is still averaging 100,000 more daily active app users than it did before the promotion — a clear sign that trading free food for downloads works.

Chipotle Employee Lead KL

What's Happening At Chipotle?

To bring people to their own app, Chipotle is bringing back Guac Mode — an exclusive online benefit that has come and gone since the fast casual Tex-Mex chain launched it in 2020.

To participate, regular Chipotle eaters can go to to sign up and receive an immediate points reward as well as surprise free guacamole on orders throughout the year. (As part of the promotion, users won't know if they get free guacamole until they come up to pay.)

"Since Guac Mode launched two years ago, we’ve given out more than seven million orders of free guac to fans enrolled in the program." Chipotle's Chief Marketing Officer Chris Brandt said in a statement. "With surprise guac rewards and extra cash drops on the line, Guac Mode is a can’t miss opportunity for all Chipotle fans."

Chipotle has also partnered with Cash App to encourage sign-ups to the payment service — those who sign up for both by Thursday, March 31 will be able to win from $100,000 in cash prizes.

Why Is The App So Important?

Fast food app use is quickly on the rise and restaurants that lag behind are prone to miss out on a large customer base — according to more research, 57% of people used a direct restaurant app more frequently than a delivery app while 69% said that points and loyalty program push them to come to a restaurant more frequently.

According to Chipotle, over 27 million people already use their rewards app. While that number is strong, current app wars are pushing many fast-food chains to keep upping the ante on what they can offer

"Everybody in the quick service restaurants has launched some sort of a reward program in the last year and a half," Taco Bell's Chief Digital Officer Zipporah Allen told TheStreet in an exclusive interview last month.

App registration matters because once a customer gives a chain their email, the company can use it to drive traffic. That might mean sending a coupon that's only good during a slower daypart or trying an offer designed to drive sales of a new item or even a higher-margin menu item.