El Pollo Loco Unveils Evolved Concept to Compete in COVID World

    One of two new designs scraps the dining room.

    Design | December 2020 | Danny Klein
    El Pollo Loco rendering of new restaurant.
    El Pollo Loco
    Tech integrates the entire experience.

    El Pollo Loco Wednesday unveiled its “Restaurant of the Future” design, joining the ranks of some of the category’s biggest chains, like McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Taco Bell, to do so in recent weeks.

    El Pollo Loco, which had 478 (282 franchised) locations as of September 23, said the model is built to enhance off-premises convenience “powered by a more robust and frictionless digital experience.”

    The re-imagined El Pollo Loco restaurants have been inspired by the changing habits of consumers to enjoy a more digital-forward and contactless off-premise experience that was inevitably sped up by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the company said.

    It also features a modern interpretation of the brand’s heritage and strength, including images distinct to Los Angeles and the El Pollo Loco L.A. Mex brand.

    El Pollo Loco dropped two versions Wednesday. One is fully focused on driving business off-premises and features a takeout window, dual drive thru, dedicated curbside pickup parking spaces, and patio seating. There’s no indoor dining room.

    READ MORE: El Pollo Lays Out Its Plan for a Digital Future

    The second touts a dual drive thru, dedicated curbside pickup parking spaces, but a “smaller-than-typical” dining room that opens up to a large patio through garage style doors.

    When open, the company said the doors “seamlessly blend the indoor and outdoor experience and increase the comfort level of customers dining inside by enabling them to enjoy their meal in an airy, well ventilated environment.”

    Both models center on an enhanced digitized experience, including cubbies for mobile to-go orders, double drive thrus with digital menuboards, and GPS-enabled curbside pickup. The features integrate with El Pollo Loco’s mobile app.

    Details throughout honor the brand’s history, like cleaver door handles (a nod to the fact chicken is cut to order) and turning fork chandeliers, which repurpose a tool of the trade used by the chain’s “Grill Masters.” Murals, imagery, and city maps evoke the brand’s 40-year LA roots on the interior and exterior.

    “Where you will see our commitment to design manifest itself in the most dramatic of ways is with our new restaurant of the future,” said Brian Carmichall, chief development officer at El Pollo Loco, in a statement. “To compete in a COVID world, we knew we needed to create a unique concept that is anchored in technology, accessibility, and modern design elements infusing our brand history to make it easier and more rewarding to be a customer.”

    El Pollo Loco said the units are being built this quarter and will arrived next year. A version of the L.A. Mex restaurant formats will open December in the form of a remodel.

    El Pollo Loco

    Garage doors open to an expanded patio.

    Some other features:

    Retail as theater: The back of house where El Pollo Loco grills chicken will be fully on display through an enlarged window in the drive-thru lane. So customers can watch the food cooked and prepared while waiting in their cars.

    Pick-up cubbies: Customers can opt to go fully contactless and get their mobile to-go orders from designated cubbies inside the restaurant.

    GPS-enabled curbside: El Pollo Loco rewards members will have expanded access to GPS-enabled curbside pickup on the mobile app. When they arrive, restaurants will receive alerts to bring out the food as quickly as possible.

    Outdoor seating: The extension will feature a covered patio.

    “The future is now. We’re excited to roll out our evolved restaurant concept, which brings us to the culmination of the company’s three-year transformation agenda and sets us up for geographical expansion in the years ahead,” said Bernard Acoca, president and CEO, in a statement. “This will be the catalyst to eventually get us back to 5 percent annual new unit growth across the U.S.”

    In Q3, same-store sales returned to positive at 1.8 percent for the brand. That included a 0.2 percent increase at company-owned stores and a 3 percent bump at franchises. The slight growth in corporate same-store sales comprised an 18.1 percent rise in average check, offset by a 15.2 percent decrease in transactions.

    Seventy-three percent of company stores are in Los Angeles, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. Comparatively, only 47 percent of franchised stores are in the area. Outside of L.A., the rest of the system rose 6 percent in the third quarter.

    El Pollo Loco earned $111 million in revenue, compared to $112.1 million last year. The chain also delivered a restaurant margin of 22.4 percent, which is the highest it’s seen in two years.

    To the growth topic, the chain temporarily halted company unit growth, it said in Q3, and doesn’t anticipate any new franchise openings in Q4. Acoca said between three to five corporate openings would take place in 2021 as well as a higher output of franchise openings after seeing only two in 2020.