5 Principles of Life Seen Through an El Pollo Loco Birthday Lunch

A few weeks ago Laurie and I were running errands. We fired up Yelp to find a place to eat. We decided on El Pollo Loco. The menu seemed vastly improved since the last time I had eaten there. This particular location was exceptionally clean not only for an El Pollo Loco, but for fast food in general.

El Pollo Loco

While waiting I signed up for their My Loco Rewards program. Almost immediately I got a coupon for free chips and guacamole. Score! then a few minutes later I got a coupon for a free meal for my birthday that was a few weeks away. Double Score! The best part is it was good for a few days after my birthday, so no pressure to eat there on my birthday.

Fast forward to today. After a stressful morning I left the house without a lunch. Then I remembered I had a free lunch waiting for me. So I headed out to El Pollo Loco (#3578) to claim my birthday present. The encounter left me impressed and thinking about simple principles of life.

The cashier took my order just fine. She attempted several times to enter the coupon, but the machine would not take it. After each attempt she looked back up and gently apologized and let me know it would be just another second.

Take Away 1: Be visible with progress. It goes a long way to helping gain empathy. I wasn’t angry it was taking extra time because I felt her frustration in letting me down.

The cashier excused herself after three attempts to go find help. She scanned the kitchen looking for the right person. I could tell she was sizing up each person she locked eyes on as to whether they could help her. There was a gentleman in the back preparing food, which is a large part of the duties when serving fresh food (see interesting fact below). She approached and asked him for help.

Take Away 2:  Seek effective help. It is important to know when you are in over your head. When you are, don’t fight it, ask for help. Not any help, but the help that will get you the best results.

When Ignacio (yes I remembered the name from the badge) got interrupted he didn’t get frustrated or seem inconvenienced. He came over and showed the young lady how to process the transaction. Explaining to her why it was different than how she thought. Instructing her on all aspects including what to do with the coupon etc after the sale. When done he looked up and said, “Happy Birthday, Enjoy your lunch.” then hurried back to his preparation station.

Take Away 3: Help others when you can. Having an a sincere attitude to make those around you better and help them learn is key to creating great teams. It would have been easy for Ignacio to be frustrated or just process the order and turn around and leave without teaching her a thing.

Take Away 4: Details matter. Take the time to observe the details. This wasn’t any coupon. It was a birthday coupon. MY birthday coupon.  Noticing that allowed Ignacio to give me personal service that made me feel human and appreciated.

The cashier was equal part relieved and excited that it wasn’t so painful. She was able to fall right back into the groove of the transaction and straight into the customer after me.

Take Away 5: Don’t get flustered. By asking for help and collecting yourself you can avoid frustration. Frustration that gets passed on to those around you. Take the time to collect yourself and get back on track.

There is a lot you can learn by observing everyday life. Who thought a forgotten lunch would turn into a reminder of these principles of life? Maybe I am just Loco?

Interesting Fact:  On the back of the cup was the following: Giving Tomatoes the love they deserve.  All 357 of them, to be exact.  That’s how many tomatoes we hand-chop at each El Pollo Loco restaurant every single day.  Because here, we strongly believe in preparing fresh ingredients by hand, and you can taste it in every dish, from our pico de gallo to our guacamole.  What can we say?  Preparation is kind of our thing.  Some say the lengths we go to are crazy.  We say it’s crazy you can taste.

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