El Pollo Loco’s founding story is the stuff legends are made of. In 1975, Pancho Ochoa, inspired by his love of food and cooking for others, transformed his shoe store in northwestern Mexico into the first El Pollo Loco restaurant. His citrus-glazed, flame-grilled chicken, made from a recipe passed down through generations, drew diners immediately, and word about the eatery’s mouth-watering menu quickly spread. Five years later, Ochoa opened his first storefront in L.A. The rest, as they say, is history.
There are now close to 500 El Pollo Loco locations in six U.S. states. Though the size and make-up of the company has changed significantly in the last 40 years, the quality of the food has not. Each El Pollo restaurant still brings that home-cooked touch to every dish. Hand-made salsas, guacamole, and fresh grilled chicken are on the menu at every location. The care that staff take in preparing each order speaks to the company’s founding belief that food is more than just fuel: at El Pollo Loco, food is a source of meaning, connection, and community.
El Pollo Loco’s headquarters is based in Los Angeles, California. Close to 40% of its locations are corporate-owned, and they employ nearly 5,000 people across the chain. While business has been good, getting the right systems in place as the company scales has been a challenge.
For years, El Pollo Loco struggled to manage scheduling, payroll, and recruiting with a patchwork of disconnected systems. Dealing with legacy systems and the custom middleware created to connect them was time-consuming and frustrating. Trying to pull the information and reports that management needed to drive success and growth was difficult. Managers often had to log into several different systems to get a holistic picture of employee data. The company realized it needed an integrated solution with all the ingredients required to manage and engage a large, widely distributed workforce, and ensure the company’s continued success in a highly competitive industry.
El Pollo Loco began a thorough search for the right unified HCM system in 2018, evaluating six or seven solutions during the process. The company chose Dayforce for its strong workforce management functionality, and its ability to meet the specific needs of the quick-service restaurant chain from a talent and payroll management perspective. Clark Matthews, Vice-President of IT at El Pollo Loco, noted in a recent QSR Magazine article that what sets Dayforce apart from other platforms is its unified system with a single database and rules engine.
“The tight integration is what really sets Ceridian apart from other platforms,” says Matthews. “They are big on scheduling and have a strong presence in HR. Additionally, 97 percent of our workforce is non-exempt, so strong time keeping is essential, and [Ceridian’s] timekeeping software really works for quick-service restaurants. The sheer reduction in complexity we’d get from Dayforce was obvious, and none of the other players had such tight payroll integration.”
Dayforce’s easy-to-access and intuitive mobile app was another factor that fueled El Pollo Loco’s choice. “We wanted to explore platforms developed with a mobile-first perspective so our team members are empowered to use the system without us managing it on their behalf, and we wanted to reduce the quantity of team member data shared across systems while limiting the complexity,” explains Matthews.
El Pollo Loco adopted Dayforce for payroll, HR, benefits, workforce management, recruiting, onboarding, performance, compensation, learning, and succession planning. The company rolled out the system to its 196 corporate stores on March 12, 2020, just before COVID-19 hit. Despite all the chaos caused by the pandemic, and the number of systems and processes that were touched, the launch went smoothly. And having Dayforce in place helped the company streamline its response and made it easier to manage and engage its workforce during the tumultuous time.
“It was a real test of how well we had designed our system to use all of these tools for the first time during a crisis,” says Jen Jaffe, Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer, in a recent QSR Magazine article. “Early in the pandemic, we knew we could act quickly to [respond to] any COVID concerns with access to all team member data. With Dayforce, we were able to easily access that information, see who else was working, quickly update team member contact information and make critical decisions when needed.”
With Dayforce in place, employees were able to more easily communicate and access their schedules and pay statements and request time off. The El Pollo Loco team shared with Ceridian that engaging the employees in the processes of fairness and predictability made a big difference and the adoption of mobile was outstanding. The company was also able to roll out almost a million dollars in merit increases using the compensation module, a task that would have been significantly more challenging with the old patchwork of systems.
Dayforce helped area leaders not only communicate in real-time with their employees, but also to understand and identify what they wanted to accomplish from a compensation standpoint. “Dayforce helped us to stay within budget, and helped everybody know exactly where they were, to stay on target,” says Michelle Coombs, Director, HR Systems & Processes in a Ceridian INSIGHTS 2020 session. “The data provided within the module was super helpful. Right there in the module, you can see salary history from an employee, so you can make better decisions as to where you were going to spend your money. Once [changes were] approved, [they] went directly into the system in the workforce management side and flowed over to the payroll side so everybody got paid on time.”
Having a single, unified system and source of truth for HCM has already been a significant asset to El Pollo Loco. Not only did Dayforce help the company be there for its employees during a very challenging time, but the intuitive and streamlined nature of the system has also allowed employees and managers to quickly become confident users and understand how the system can help them drive efficiency, insights, and engagement going forward.
As the pandemic continued to complicate human capital management, Dayforce enabled managers to quickly and easily pull the data and reports they need to monitor the status of individual employees and the workforce in general, and keep leadership informed about health and safety, turnover, and retention trends and other workforce analytics.
Dayforce has also helped the company find efficiencies when it comes to recruiting. “It's been great from a recruiting perspective to be able to determine how our flow of candidates is going, what areas we have trouble in, what areas we need more activity in,” says Coombs. “And it's been great from a benefits and payroll standpoint, being able to dive in from an auditing standpoint to make sure that people are getting paid accurately and that coverage is appropriate across the board.”
The El Pollo Loco team plans to continue looking for ways Dayforce can help the organization simplify its HCM processes and foster greater connection and engagement across its entire workforce.
The system has already allowed the organization to streamline communication between headquarters and its locations, helping everyone work as one team, and creating that special connection that founder Pancho Ochoa believed could be created through food.
“We believe that having a solution like Dayforce that is matured and continues to evolve has been key to our brand and team member success,” says Matthews. “Dayforce recognizes that the restaurant industry has different needs than other industries, and the Ceridian team has been able to listen and find creative ways to help us solve problems.”
“With the implementation of Dayforce, we were able to take 10 different systems and roll them into a single platform,” says Jaffe. “It really pulled us into the 21st century.”