Digital Evolution in the Fast Casual Sector with El Pollo Loco

Gabe Alonso, Vice President of Digital Marketing


When you think about the evolution of the fast-casual restaurant industry, digital innovation might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But for those of us tuned into the latest episode of Fast Casual Nation, digital marketing's role in revolutionizing the customer experience became crystal clear.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Gabe Alonso, Vice President of Digital Marketing at El Pollo Loco. Gabe's 15+ years of experience across music, entertainment, apparel, and food and beverage gives him a unique perspective. Having led digital strategies for giants like PepsiCo, Activision, and Nike, Gabe’s dynamic career journey has now brought him to El Pollo Loco.

The allure of the food sector for Gabe? A chance to intimately connect with the Hispanic culture. Though El Pollo Loco finds its roots in Mexican heritage and Gabe is of Cuban descent, the essence of food and familial bonds remains a shared thread. Gabe keenly observes the rising influence of Latino culture in mainstream media, echoing the successes of artists like Bad Bunny and Karol G. His ambition: position El Pollo Loco to ride this cultural wave.

A post shared by @elpolloloco

But the episode didn’t stop there. A major focal point was the transformation of El Pollo Loco’s loyalty program. Gabe unveiled a shift from a simple point-based system to a tiered, gamified structure. Every dollar spent earns the customer 100 points, with the flexibility to redeem rewards across varying tiers. The introduction of multipliers as you climb the ranks? Simply genius. It’s an engaging method to keep customers coming back, making them feel a part of the El Pollo Loco "Familia."

One intriguing takeaway was Gabe’s approach to influencer partnerships. It isn't just about roping in food bloggers. El Pollo Loco's collaborations span artists, dancers, and family influencers, ensuring the brand's core values of flavor, family, culture, and craft resonate across a wider audience.

Drawing from his time at Nike, Gabe stressed the necessity of centering the consumer in marketing strategies. The future, as he sees it, is in tech-driven restaurants with a strong emphasis on labor efficiencies. With machine learning to predict customer preferences and AI tailoring offers, El Pollo Loco is well on its path to shaping the future of fast-casual dining.

In essence, if you’re in the restaurant and foodservice industry don’t miss this episode, filled with a treasure trove of insights. We've seen the future of fast-casual dining, and with forward-thinkers like Gabe Alonso at the helm, the future of fast-casual dining promises to be vibrant, tech-savvy, and innovative. Dive into the conversation, and while you're at it, maybe grab a Tostada from El Pollo Loco – Gabe's recommendation!

Are you as intrigued by the innovations in the fast-casual industry as we are? Keep it locked on Fast Casual Nation for more insights and industry trends.

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Lisa Pepe