The Surprisingly Contentious Origins of Taco Tuesday

For decades, the phrase “Taco Tuesday” was trademarked by a Wyoming-based restaurant chain. They finally gave it up in 2023 under pressure from Taco Bell.
The origins of Taco Tuesday are surprisingly complicated.
The origins of Taco Tuesday are surprisingly complicated. / BURCU ATALAY TANKUT/Moment/Getty Images

The meaning of Taco Tuesday is self-explanatory. If you’re eating tacos on the second day of the workweek—whether they’re from your neighborhood Mexican joint or your home kitchen—you’re partaking in the ritual. The concept of Taco Tuesday belongs to everyone, but the phrase itself became the subject of a contentious legal battle recently. After owning it for decades, a Midwestern restaurant chain finally relinquished the trademark under pressure from Taco Bell.

Taco Tuesday emerged from murky origins at some point in the 20th century. According to Thrillist, the El Paso Herald-Post reported on a taco Tuesday deal at the White Star Cafeteria in the St. Regis Hotel in El Paso, Texas, back in 1933.

In the decades that followed, restaurants around the country offered cheap tacos on Tuesdays for alliteration’s sake. The phrase first appeared as a proper noun in print in the 1973 issue of The Rapid City Journal. An advertisement for the Snow White Drive In featured the words “Stop in on Taco Tuesday” with a picture of a flamenco dancer. 

It wasn’t until the 1980s that a company claimed ownership of the catchy phrase. The owner of a Taco John’s franchise in Wyoming introduced “Taco Twosday” as a way to boost business on a notoriously slow day of the week. For just $0.99 cents, customers could purchase two tacos. The deal was hugely popular, and it quickly spread to other locations throughout the Midwest. By 1989, Taco John’s had simplified the name to “Taco Tuesday” and registered it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 

Despite evidence to the contrary, Taco John’s claims to have invented the expression. Their website reads: “Ever hear of Taco Tuesday? We started it! That’s how seriously we take tacos.”

Regardless of where it originated, the phrase “Taco Tuesday” belonged to the chain for years. Taco John’s operates in only 23 states, but it held the trademark in 49. (In New Jersey, due to a legal quirk, it belongs to Gregory’s Restaurant & Bar.) The company was very protective of the term, regularly sending cease-and-desist letters to small restaurants that used it.

Unsurprisingly, national taco chains weren’t happy about the situation. In May 2023, Taco Bell filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office urging them to “free Taco Tuesday” to the public. They argued that because the phrase was so widely used, Taco John’s claim to it no longer held legal water. “EVERYONE—from your local taco truck, to your favorite Mom & Pop taco joint, to us at Taco Bell—we repeat, EVERYONE should have the right to say 'Taco T***day’ on everyone’s favorite taco-day-of-the-week, without possibly getting sued,” Taco Bell’s petition read.

In July 2023, the Midwestern chain conceded. “We’ve always prided ourselves on being the home of Taco Tuesday, but paying millions of dollars to lawyers to defend our mark just doesn’t feel like the right thing to do,” Taco John's then-CEO Jim Creel said in a statement. Today, businesses are able to say, print, and celebrate Taco Tuesday to their heart’s content—just as long as they’re not based in New Jersey.

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