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Taco Ocho: Experience Design Wins and Losses

I love tacos! I’m a Texan, so that shouldn’t be a shock to anyone. Foursquare has rewarded me for exploring the Mexican food category above all others. As such, I’m always on the lookout for a great taco place and pretty judgmental about my taco options. Today, I lunched at Taco Ocho in Richardson with Michael (blogs at MuCraft ) and finally tried the eighth taco flavor that I hadn’t tried before.

Taco Ocho is a locally-owned shop in a small commercial strip center near the office. I have been going there pretty regularly for about a year and a half since they opened in the late spring of 2011. It is definitely among my favorite taco shops and I have frequently run into friends there or encounter a nearly full dining room, so it seems pretty popular.

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Approach and Navigation
Taco Ocho has a very tried-and-true structure to greet customers once arriving at the restaurant. There is an open corner location with windows across the front, allowing a peek inside and plenty of light once entered. For a first visit, I really want to see inside and know that I won’t be surprised or feel trapped once I’m inside the shop. They have a handrail to separate the line on the left as you come in the entrance, so it is very obvious where to enter the line. A large board menu is above the counter, making it fairly easy to start making some selections. There could be some better signage to help entice and direct first time visitors with a bit more sense of what the experience will be.

The left wall has a large mural of a Spanish mission with sunrays that provides a hint of the Latin cultural basis for the restaurant and also a bold and lively precedent to the experience.

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Menu
Taco Ocho has divided their menu into 3 simple categories:
Tostadas – Vegetarian “salads” served on a flat, crispy corn tortilla base
Tacos – Flour or corn tortillas filled with meat and/or veggies
Tortas – Latin grilled sandwiches made with bollilo bread

Each category offers eight (or, ehm, ocho) pre-defined combinations. This is a pretty balanced number of options, allowing for some choice but not overwhelming even on the first visit. The drink options are pretty limited with a few bottled sodas, fountain drinks and tea. I was glad to discover crushed ice from the dispenser – always a bonus in my book.

Learning Curve
The simple approach and the limited menu makes a pretty shallow learning curve for Taco Ocho. You won’t struggle to avoid standing out as a newbie, even on the first visit. Plus, most of the choices are good, so feel free to experiment and try. They will even offer suggestions if you ask.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much depth to the menu or experience. I always get 2 tacos, and enjoy mixing among the choices. However, since there is very little room for customization or personalization, there doesn’t seem to be much depth to discover here on repeat visits. Today, I completed my sampling of tacos, so I have nothing left to explore there.

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Immersion & Place
I think Ocho has an interesting place. The restaurant has mostly modern ‘industrial’ decor with metal chair, flat white tables, pendant lights, a red brick wall, and concrete floors. The food itself has deep latin and Mexican roots, but also has that same sense of modernism, with refried black beans, rice seasoned with cilantro and corn, and small light tortilla chips the standard sides for a taco plate. Overall, I think that Taco Ocho achieves it’s ‘mission’ in the interior design, providing a modern, trendy feel.

The decor has a couple of drawbacks that seriously diminishes the immersion of the experience. First, on multiple occasions, I have sat is a spot directly under the air conditioner vent and it is blowing a strong current across my food and me. I have even changed seats to avoid this during summer months. Second,they use pagers to let you know when the food is ready. This is a small place and I wish they would just bring food out so that I don’t have to interrupt and get back up to fetch food. Finally, with all of the hard surfaces and tight tables, the noise level is excruciating during most lunchtimes. It’s not a pleasant place to sit and enjoy a thoughtful conversation. Each time, I’m anxious to get up and go as soon as I finish eating. On the surface, this may seem to serve Ocho’s interests in freeing a table, but I would argue that I’m more likely to skip it over on a day that I’m not up for the noise and it costs them my business at times. Each time, I’m as happy to leave, hearing the door close and experience the relative quiet of a busy street, as I was to arrive.

As a professional in product design, I notice that this is a specific use case that they have neglected. They have done a great job on the food and visual decor, but the practical value of relaxed comfort while there has been neglected or overlooked by the owner. Maybe they didn’t consider that they are not just offering food, but for many, a social experience with their friends or family.

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Predictability & Variety
Taco Ocho definitely leans more toward predictability than variety. I have tried all of their tacos and have liked all of the choices, but definitely have my favorites. Latin Love has shredded beef, refried beans, and fried plantains. I love the sweet and savory taste of this taco on corn tortilla and order it almost every time. It’s only flaw is that it almost always is runny and a bit messy (unless it’s too dry which is worse). Chicken Elote is smoked chipotle chicken with corn, cheese and cilantro. This one sounded mundane, but I really like the balance of spices in the chicken. Cabo Fish is beer-battered or grilled fish with jicama slaw and a chipotle cream sauce. Hard to beat a tasty fish taco like theirs.

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The variety is harder to come by unless you are happy between the 3 options they have. I have only ordered tacos so far, and definitely want to try some of the others, but I wish that I could mix up some of the options to create some taco choices of my own. Or, failing open options, I wish that Ocho would offer special features from time to time to keep things fresh and interesting. It seems they are strong on the ‘taco’ and limited by the ‘ocho’.

They do have special Mexico City Street Tacos on ‘Taco Tuesday’, but I haven’t tried them yet, so I need to make an effort to aim for that some week. Variety is definitely a miss for us fans that have been coming since the opening.

The Payoff
Whenever I evaluate a product or service from an experience perspective, I always ask, “What is the Payoff?” For Taco Ocho, this one is pretty easy. They offer a unique and tasty taco with enough variety to appeal to many tastes. They have room to improve their overall experience design and menu, but it still rates highly with me.

Have you been to Taco Ocho? What do you think?

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My Lowe’s Step Up Experience

I spent the better part of my weekend painting, so I’m currently hurting. All over. After countless times up and down the ladder across 2 days, my muscles have rebelled, filled with lactic acid, and done their best to encourage me to hire out the job next time.

Yet, I have a good customer service story to share from the weekend. Lowe’s exceeded my expectations in a couple of ways.

First, we came in on a Saturday at noon to buy paint. I know better, but that’s just the way it worked out this time. I was able to gather all other painting supplies and select a ladder while my wife waited for our turn to order paint.

It was also nice to have some help in the tools section while shopping for a ladder. I was looking at another step ladder at 10 feet to reach the 12 foot ceilings, but lamenting that I already have (and store) a six footer and an eight footer. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could get by with an extension ladder since I’ll need one of those outside eventually anyway? Paul, a friend and frequent help in Lowe’s spotted me and, after hearing why I was looking on with bewilderment, suggested a combo ladder that can work as a step ladder or straighten out and work as an extension ladder. It was heavier to move around, but turned out to be perfect for the job. Incidentally, when I pulled up at the house later, I spotted my next-door neighbor had also just purchased the same ladder. I didn’t ask him, but I bet he also ran into Paul at our local Lowe’s

Paul also reminded me to make sure to scan a MyLowe’s card so that Lowe’s would have record of our exact paint color in case we needed more of it. I told him that I had a card but forgot to register it and don’t have it with me, so there is no way of matching it up. Paul helped me get signed up for a new card and registered right in the store, so I was fully ready to scan and go when I got to the checkout later. MyLowe’s seems a great way to help me, earn my loyalty, and encourage return trips to Lowe’s instead of a competitor. At least it’s not just another “loyalty” program that requires you to join if you want to get the regular price.

After the supply gathering and some more waiting, we had to make the always-tough decision of which paint to purchase. I told the clerk that I wanted paint without the primer since I’m just covering light-colored walls anyway. She answered that both grades of Valspar paint offered have primer, but the premium “Signature” paint has high definition color or some-such-advantage. I told her that that we didn’t need signature and waited for our paint to be ready. Fortunately, the remainder of the trip was relatively quick and efficient and we were headed home soon after.

We didn’t quite finish the job over the weekend, but got really close. As I wound down last night and surveyed the completed parts of the living room, I was grateful to Lowe’s for the good quality paint with primer. It had been a bit thicker to work with and seemed to need frequent refills into the paint buckets, but at the end, it was great to see that it provided great coverage with a single coat. So, as I crawled into bed last night, with achy muscles and sore feet from ladder duty, I was glad to know that I would probably not have to do it all again just to get the walls looking passable.

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Lowe’s chose to offer only an effective and high-quality option and I thank them for it. I know that, in product development, we are tempted to cover all the price points, but sometimes it’s best to just offer good stuff and let the customer enjoy a premium and satisfying experience. It was a pleasant surprise to me. Next time I may have to find out what that super saturation molecular color or some-such-advantage was all about. After all, as a consumer, I don’t even always know what I really am wanting, so I appreciate it when a company has found it and helps me discover it.

Pardon the bad pun, but I really feel that Lowe’s got a step up on the competition this time. Nice!

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