Labor woes continue to plague El Pollo Loco

The fast-casual chicken chain said decreased staffing levels forced it to cut operating hours and sales channels last quarter.
El Pollo Loco
Photo: Shutterstock

The industry’s ongoing labor shortage continues to hit El Pollo Loco’s bottom line.

That’s according to the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based fast casual’s fourth-quarter update Monday, in which it noted that “reduced operating hours and sales channels due to continued staffing challenges” dinged company-owned same-store sales by 5 to 6 percentage points for the quarter ended Dec. 29. The chain gave an early look at its earnings in conjunction with its participation at the annual ICR Conference.

“We are keenly focused on staffing and retention in our company-owned restaurants and believe we are making tangible progress, especially in those locations that have been most challenged,” Interim CEO and CFO Larry Roberts said in a statement.

Even though the industry has seen a recent upswing in employment, it still ended the year roughly 653,000 positions short of pre-pandemic levels, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures released last week.

Despite those labor issues, El Pollo Loco reported a systemwide same-store increase of 11.1%, year-over-year. On a two-year basis, Q4 same-store sales rose 10.3%, with company-owned stores up 0.3% and franchised ones increasing 17.9%.

The chain anticipates revenue of between $108 million and $109 million for the quarter.

El Pollo continues to search for a permanent CEO, after Bernard Acoca resigned in October to take the lead at Zaxby’s.

The chain did not say how many units it had opened during the quarter. In November, El Pollo lowered its store-opening guidance for the year because of permitting and delivery delays.

El Pollo Loco is scheduled to give a presentation Tuesday afternoon at the ICR Conference.

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