For as long as I can remember, Taco Tuesday has been a justified reason to go out for tacos on a weekday and sometimes an excuse to wash them down with a few Margaritas… It was considered a crime not to take advantage of the ubiquitous tradition of consuming ridiculous amounts of the tasty Mexican dish and satisfying our taco addictions on the cheap. Tuesdays actually became something to look forward to. Not the most popular day of the week indeed, but taco word partnership moved Tuesdays up in the weekday’s popularity ranking in a significant way.
And don’t tell me it’s just a genius use of alliteration; it’s not! It’s been tried many times, and let me just ask you how many times did you get excited for a ‘Meatless Monday’? Or do you have a dedicated group chat for a ‘Fish Friday Hangout” or a ‘Whatever Wednesday’? Exactly. Taco Tuesday is not just some catchy magic of alliteration; it’s a truly special day when we all rejoice in our universal love for a specific meal and a good deal! And even those non-taco lovers (I know… but they do exist) are generally aware of what’s happening. Everyone and their grandma know what Taco Tuesdays are for! Option one - go out for tacos, option two - make weeknight tacos yourself, and eat at home.
But did you know that all those fantastic ‘Top Ten Toppings Taco Tuesday’ specials and ‘Taco Tuesday half-prices Margarita” deals you see everywhere are technically illegal? As in a trademark infringement illegal…. Yes, someone has an exclusive right to this holy double T combination… Crazy, right? Has anyone trademarked ‘Christmas’ yet?
So who owns the trademark on the cultural phenomenon that ‘Taco Tuesday’ has by now become? It’s a bit complicated…
Back in 1979, when Johnny Carson was hosting Late Night, and Bee Gees were ruling the charts, Gregory’s Restaurant & Bar in New Jersey was making history in the world of food marketing and advertising. All while setting a very high standard for the not-yet-existing world of hashtags. #goals #tacos #cantstopwontstop
Perhaps winter of ‘79 was particularly cold and windy for Jersey, and Gregory’s staff brainstormed how to get people out and drive their sales. Or most likely, it was a sheer fluke, but right then and there, someone came up with the most perfect catchphrase ever - “Taco Tuesday.”
I tend to think it was some random luck because it took Gregory’s another two years to realize how popular the phrase was becoming. But again, it was 1979; the pace was different, so maybe it actually did take about two years to see if something was trending and the marketing team was doing their job right.
When they finally realized how brilliant their taco promotion was, Gregory’s filed for and successfully obtained a federal registration for the ‘Taco Tuesday’ trademark. Smart move. Especially because trademark registrations don’t have a time limit, so they were set with a perfect Tuesday deal for life. But we must never forget that when there’s a law, there’s a loophole…
The one thing about trademarks is that they have to be periodically renewed. The owner just has to show up and confirm it’s still being used and present some evidence. And if they forget to do so, their registration will be canceled. Trademark terms are terribly tricky… Keep that in mind, and let’s proceed to the next part of this tale.
Now, if you love tacos, you definitely know the titan of all Mexican fast-food chains that is Taco John’s. You don’t? Jeez, then you have probably never gotten ‘schnookered’ on ‘brewskis’ either. Taco John’s has more than 400 locations and is only a few years younger than Taco Bell (I know you know this one). But unless you are from the Midwest (they are based in Cheyenne, Wyoming), chances are you have never heard of it. And you really should have because they have started ‘Taco Tuesdays’! You can read it on their company history page “Ever hear of Taco Tuesday®? We started it! We even trademarked it. That’s how seriously we take tacos.”
They did trademark it and had been holding on to our favorite hashtag since 1989. But how is it possible if Jersey got it first? Remember that little loophole I mentioned before? The same year Taco John’s registered ‘Taco Tuesday” as their original, Gregory’s missed the deadline for renewal. Isn’t that one odd coincidence?
It turns out Gregory’s were not the only ones using the phrase back in ‘79. Taco John’s claim that the perfect couplet was coined by their franchisee from Minnesota and was actually spelled “Taco Twosday” (see, that’s why Taco Thursday would never work). They tried to register it in the early ‘80s only to get denied because Jersey’s restaurant claimed it first. So a long waiting game had begun. Wyoming’s Taco John’s kept an eye on Gregory’s, hoping their day would come… and it did. Someone’s forgetfulness and procrastination was a costly trademark loss for Gregory’s and played a giant joke on Jersey. They have since appealed but could only reclaim ownership in the state of New Jersey, losing the rest 49 states to Taco John’s.
It seems totally possible that two restaurants in two different states thought of the same promo for tacos at the same time. It’s not like they have simultaneously built a rocket, right? The problem is that Taco John’s versions of the ingenious Taco Tuesday twosome vary.
First, they claimed it was the early 80’s and that David Olsen guy from their location in Minnesota. Then their website used to assert that ‘Taco Tuesday’ started in South Dakota in ‘82. But during a press release, their spokesperson insisted that Taco John’s first started the promo in ‘83. And in a statement, they gave after sending one of many cease and desist orders to an Oklahoman downtown grill, Taco John’s representative said they first used the trademarked duo in February 1982. Incredibly inconsistent.
Also, if it’s plausible that two places came up with ‘Taco Tuesday’ in ‘79, I do not believe that no one else has thought of this before those two. Tacos have existed since the 18th century, and alliteration was a thing since 1500, and don’t even start me on when and where the word ‘Tuesday’ was first mentioned. We had to wait centuries for someone to put ‘taco’ and ‘Tuesday’ together finally?
And when you look a little deeper, you find that “Taco Tuesday’ deals had existed long before those who trademarked it. The earliest printed evidence comes from The El Paso Herald-Post in 1933, and there are many other mentions way before Wyoming vs. New Jersey trials.
Taco John’s claim wouldn’t be as famous if it weren’t for the countless cease and desist letters they send to everyone who dares to use ‘Taco Tuesday’ promoting a deal. And when I say everyone, I mean EVERYONE, they even sent them to small taco stands. I’m surprised I still haven’t received one, to be honest. Their ridiculous requests to stop using the beloved phrase ‘Taco Tuesday’ is what made this whole trademark issue blow up.
And if you also think that it makes no sense to trademark a phrase we all unilaterally know, love, and use, you should also know that Nintendo trademarked “It’s on like Donkey Kong”, Paris Hilton legally owns “That’s hot”, Mr. T claimed ownership of “I pity the fool” in 2011. And in addition to your embarrassing pictures, Facebook also owns the “face.” And there’s nothing we can do about it.
I’m sure this whole ‘Taco Tuesday’ thing looks crazy enough already. But I’m about to guac your world even more. Do you know who else wants exclusive ‘Taco Tuesday’ rights? None other than the basketball legend Lebron James. He had his lawyer team apply, but USPTO rejected it.
At least his reasoning is something that resonates with me. The man is sincerely passionate about Taco Tuesdays. He’s been professing his love for taco day since 2018. He posts photos of himself and tacos, videos of his Taco Tuesday family dinner tradition; he invited other celebrities for tacos to share his love. He celebrated ‘Taco Tuesday’ with the Tune squad filming “Space Jam 2”, he is dedicated. Lebron’s using it for a good cause, too, donating meals and providing community dinners under his foundation’s “Taco Tuesday’ campaign.
So if you ask me who should have the ‘Taco Tuesday’ rights (“Would you rather…” rules apply), I believe that if it’s between a fast-food chain and Lebron James, it should go to Lebron.
On top of all of the above, the USPTO’s rejection based on finding that ‘Taco Tuesday’ is a ‘commonplace message’ is a win and precisely what Lebron intended the outcome to be. See, now that they took another look at how crazy it is for a commonly used phrase to be trademarked, Taco John’s cease and desist letters are as legally intimidating as a box of kittens.
Before James took legal action, thousands of small restaurants and taco stands were liable to Taco John’s for using the phrase ‘Taco Tuesday.’ They either lacked the resources to file a petition to cancel Taco John’s trademark or didn’t know it was even possible. After getting denied by the USPTO, Lebron’s spokesman said, “If this opens the door for ‘Taco Tuesday’ to be open to everybody, all the better, the entire purpose of this is to protect Lebron and subsequently everybody else.”
‘Taco Tuesday’ is everybody’s to have and enjoy. And no one can take it away from us! If anything, we should all collectively increase our “Taco Tuesday” nights out, taco ‘bout making every Tuesday a homemade taco dinner, and actively celebrate National Taco Day every October 4.
And if you really want to make a statement, let’s meet outside Taco John’s in Cheyenne on October 4, 2022 (it will be a Tuesday that year). We all bring our favorite tacos (ideally homemade), wear a Lebron James hoodie, and have an organized Taco Tuesday alfresco celebration. Do you know why? Because “That’s Hot!