El Pollo Loco Becomes First Fast-Food Chain to Launch Drone Delivery Program

·3 min read

Your next chicken and rice meal could come to you from out of the sky, thanks to the El Pollo Loco’s new drone delivery system, currently in its testing phase.

El Pollo Loco is currently testing out its
El Pollo Loco is currently testing out its
One of Pollo Loco's
One of Pollo Loco's

In partnership with drone company FlyTrex, the fast-food chain announced it would begin testing remote delivery of customer orders on June 17th in Southern California.

“El Pollo Loco continues to explore new and innovative delivery services that offer our customers added quality and convenience, and the Air Loco drone delivery pilot program is our latest effort to unlock fresh options for getting our fire-grilled chicken to hungry customers everywhere — piping hot and in perfect condition,” El Pollo Loco VP of Digital Andy Rebhun said in a statement. “We want to offer drone food deliveries that are fast, convenient, and safe. The insights gleaned during this test-and-learn pilot will play a crucial role in helping us shape this exciting new service ahead of its rollout.”

An Air Loco delivery drone delivers food to a hungry customer's house.
An Air Loco delivery drone delivers food to a hungry customer's house.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, El Pollo Loco’s 2020 digital sales grew 5 percent to make up 10 percent of total sales, and delivery orders were (for obvious reasons) through the roof. “We’re highly encouraged by the evolution of our digital flywheel and continued enhancement of the strategies we put in place last year,” said President and Chief Executive Officer Bernard Acoca. “We look forward to further growth on the heels of our record-breaking 250 percent increase in delivery performance in 2020.”

Of course, the company’s operating costs were also up last year, mostly due to the labor of delivery drivers. In fact, the crazy chicken chain raised their prices by 15 to 20 percent on delivery items, pushing larger family and combo meals to compensate for the higher labor costs. With Flytrex drones, the company expects to cut delivery expenses by up to 30 percent, saving money for all parties.

Downward view of the ground from the perspective of an Air Loco delivery drone.
Downward view of the ground from the perspective of an Air Loco delivery drone.

“Our system is so much more affordable, and that allows you to take off the delivery payment for the customer and restaurant,” said Flytrex CEO Yariv Bash in a TV interview.

That’s the result of the drone fleet’s speed and autonomy. The mini food helicopters will cruise about 230 feet above the ground, reaching max speeds of 32 miles per hour and flying within a three-mile radius. Because they can transcend traffic and stop lights, customers could see their food being lowered onto their driveways in a tamperproof bag within just 10 minutes of ordering.

El Pollo Loco delivery drone drops off an order to a customer.
El Pollo Loco delivery drone drops off an order to a customer.

And it requires very little human labor. “The system is completely autonomous. We have an operator on the ground in Southern California and that operator only installs the package and presses a green button…Then all they have to do is oversee the flight,” Bash said, adding that in the near future a single operator would be able to supervise as many as 20 flights at the same time.

The Tel Aviv-based Flytrex has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration for the past three years to develop safe and practical drone rules. After earning FAA approval in May 2021, the company started making deliveries for Walmart and other retailers.

El Pollo Loco's Air Loco delivery drones stationed out front of a SoCal restaurant location.
El Pollo Loco's Air Loco delivery drones stationed out front of a SoCal restaurant location.

If the test goes smoothly with the first 10 stores, El Pollo Loco could soon roll out drone delivery service across its entire 500-unit chain, significantly upping the ante for other fast-food restaurants to get in on the sky delivery action.