How El Pollo Got Here
All the boxes on the “Transformative agenda” have essentially been checked, and El Pollo has a host of evidence to prove it.
Digitally speaking, Acoca said loyalty is the centerpiece of El Pollo’s go-to-market plan. The chain relaunched its program in September with changes to attract more guests, including lowering the threshold to redeem rewards. Since the program launched, app downloads have increased 30 percent. In 2020, El Pollo grew enrollees by 35 percent, moving from roughly 1.7 million members to slightly over 2.3 million. Additionally, average check of enrolled members grew by 7 percent. The next goal is to grow transactions, which have largely held constant due to COVID.
The digital growth feeds into off-premises, a channel El Pollo bolstered by adding curbside pickup in September. The program was rolled out in six to eight weeks and now exists in 90 percent of stores. It currently mixes about 1 percent.
The heavy hitter for El Pollo has been drive-thru, which has grown from roughly 40 to 45 percent pre-pandemic to 70 percent of sales. Acoca said restaurants have spent ample time working on ways to improve drive-thru throughput, such as understanding where repetitive motion occurs, deploying labor effectively, organizing equipment layout, and properly preparing side items in bags. The chain is now testing tablets in which workers stand outside and facilitate orders and payments for cars in the drive-thru stack. The goal is to cut wait times in half.
Delivery and digital sales also doubled in the past year, growing to 6 and 10 percent of total sales, respectively.
“We think that in the aggregate, having our drive-thrus, having delivery, having a mobile app that allows to-go orders, and having curbside pickup, provides our consumer with a full suite of convenient choices and allows them to determine the best way to interact with us,” Acoca said.
Those off-premises efforts were executed effectively because of operations in the back of the house.
A year ago, the brand had an operations manual that was 744 pages long. Now, it’s 74 pages in length. To reduce throughput complication, the decades-old chicken process was blown up. El Pollo previously required four stages of the grill and four temperature settings, and the kitchen used two cuts of birds that each had different cooking procedures. Now there’s one stage and one cooking procedure, regardless of the cut. Lengthy recipes have been shortened to six steps or less, as well.
Acoca said the process is more science driven as opposed to art driven, allowing anyone to learn in minutes.
“It doesn’t rely on a 30-year tenured grill master to do as much,” Acoca said. “We can have and welcome and train a 19-year-old employee in an entirely new geography we’ve never done business before and expect him or her to get it much much more readily, which leads to higher employee retention rates, which leads to more stable teams.”
The brand has also brought more technology to the back of the house. Manual processes are now automated, such as El Pollo’s inventory management system. The chain is also able to conduct temperature checks of its products using Bluetooth technology.
“So much has been done in terms of not just the technology, not just the processes, but also establishing what we call repeatable routines, which are now an integral part to how we train our people and the systems that now exist in our restaurants so that our restaurant operations are more consistently run from unit to unit,” Acoca said. “And you take out some of the human error that used to exist with it, and you replace it with a much more consistent infrastructure, which can minimize the variability, which could occur otherwise.”