Repackaging the Product Works: Pollo Tropical Case Study

Business owners often wonder whether improving or “revamping” components of their product will truly improve their bottom line. “Will this make a real difference or will it go unnoticed?”

Pollo Tropical is a restaurant chain that first opened in Miami in 1988 and essentially serves Caribbean-styled fast food. With my wife’s Latin background, it used to be a favorite of ours for a late-night treat when we lived within a few miles of one.

Unlike other fast food, the chicken still has its familiar shape on the grill before it’s cut, the yucca is presumably fresh, or at least frozen, before it’s fried, and the only blatant connection to the corn-based modern diet is the soda fountain.

Since we moved (and started focusing on eating at home 95% of the time), it’s rare that Pollo Tropical is on the menu. Still, whenever I get out to the neighborhood and have a craving, I’ll stop by. This is exactly what happened a few weeks ago, when an errand that took me to the edges of town gave me an opportunity to grab a Pollo lunch.

I was in for a pleasant surprise–but first, let me paint a picture of the old Pollo.

The Old Experience

Pollo Tropical used to be your regular fast-food joint that happened to serve decent food. The cleanliness was sometimes questionable, the food was just okay, and the service was most often lacking.

After fumbling your way through an order board that required me to have my glasses on, you would place your order with someone who looked overworked and ready to go home. Once your food was ordered, you’d stand awkwardly for 10 minutes while three to four people yelled across the kitchen to each other in an attempt to assemble your meal.

Finally, you’d grab your trays (if you could manage to carry them), find some plastic cutlery and your drink, and make your way to your table. When you were done, you’d throw out your tray.

This should sound familiar to anyone who frequents fast food.

The New Experience

Initially, the most apparent change is the logo, which underwent a massive re-design (so much so that I nearly missed the restaurant while driving). The old logo was a bright combination of yellow on green and white on red. The new logo consists of muted browns and yellows, designed in what I could only describe as a “refined” way–understated and classy.

The new logo re-branding also features a unique chicken “character”–essentially a cartoon outline of a chicken with a hat and sunglasses on. This new character is then repeated inside via art pieces all over the restaurant, in a variety of colors and rendering styles.

The first thing you notice after walking in is the change of décor. The chicken art on the wall is only the beginning—there’s a lot of glass and wood trim, and the tables have been reconfigured to offer more privacy for diners.

The kitchen is now clad with stainless steel, with carefully positioned privacy panels to hide messy areas from view. The order board has undergone a transformation, too. Rather than being filled with hundreds of food options, it’s now a simple, guided tour that aids the selection and ordering process.

The cafeteria-style serving trays are gone, replaced with food served on plates and plastic bowls, all delivered by the staff directly to your table, along with a stainless steel fork and knife.

Finally, as a nod to the requirements of the modern diner, free Wi-Fi is available throughout the restaurant.

What Really Made the Difference?

What business owners are really asking isn’t “Will this make a difference?” In most cases, it will. Instead, they want to know what part of their money was well-spent and what was not. As a consumer, it’s tough to answer that question because a key piece of the puzzle is missing—what each component costs on a one-time and ongoing basis.

  • For example, serving food directly to tables is one of the improvements I liked best, but it might cost the restaurant the equivalent of one or two extra staff positions. The difference in revenue might not be justifiable.
  • On the other hand, something like Wi-Fi could be relatively easy to set up and maintain, and it could convince those glued to their laptops to spend their lunch here instead of elsewhere. That could pay off very quickly.

From my perspective though, the service was the key change to the overall experience–from ordering, to waiting for the food (with a number at your table, and not at the pick-up counter), to getting and finally disposing of your dishes (now done by the staff).

Secondary was the improvement in the decor, which converted Pollo from something I’d rather take home to eat to an actually enjoyable dining experience.

Did The Food Taste Better?

Finally, the important question–did the food actually taste better? I can’t say I eat there often enough to know the difference. My gut reaction was that the food looked the same, but tasted better. It’s possible that the food went through a transformation as well, but I think it had a lot to do with the new ambiance and presentation of the restaurant.

Lessons

This is the most dramatic improvement to a food establishment I’ve ever seen. I think anyone that operates a business can take away some key lessons:

  • Drastic, positive improvements create a lasting impressing in your customer’s mind.
  • Bad service makes a good product look bad.
  • Great service makes a decent product look great.
  • Businesses must learn from their competition and evolve.
Most importantly, a struggling business is never out of options–there are opportunities to make critical improvements that will convert on-the-fence customers into loyal patrons.
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One thought on “Repackaging the Product Works: Pollo Tropical Case Study

  1. I bet it actually DID taste better, not necessarily because there was any change to the food, but because our surroundings and perceptions have a big impact on taste.

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