Limited time offers accomplish several things. They can help you test new menu ideas, build brand awareness and even create a buzz in the community. While menu consistency is important, consumers also crave something new.
Introducing an LTO allows you to give your customers new menu items on a consistent basis without changing your regular menu. “We’ve been offering LTOs about once per month for a year,” says Hunter Eastman Swartz, founder and c.e.o. of Chicago-based Eastman Egg Company. “We offer LTOs to give our customers more variety, a chance to try our new menu ideas, and to give our teams the opportunity to experiment with different flavors.”
Often an LTO may even end up on the regular menu, sometimes replacing other menu items. “We use LTOs as a way to experiment with new menu items without making a full commitment,” says Diane Matheson, director of marketing at Buffalo Wings & Rings. “If an item is successful, it may replace a slower moving item on the menu. For example, our popular Potato Pile-On replaced the Potato Skins.”
Not every limited time offer will be as successful as the next, but here are a half-dozen ways to give your LTO a better chance at success.
1. Be more creative
New and delicious flavors are great, but if you can also add a cool and interesting element to your LTO, you can have the upper hand over your competitors. “Our most successful recurring LTO has been our Artist Series, which includes limited-edition burgers made in collaboration with, and designed to celebrate, artists,” says Meghan Dwyer, manager, brand marketing at Umami Burger in L.A. “We’ve done collaborations with recording artists like Slash, Mayer Hawthorne and The Black Keys, chefs like José Andrés and Michael Voltaggio and actors and actresses like Mindy Kaling and Andy Samberg.”
“Our Craft Pie Series features a craft pizza, craft beer and gelato,” says Drew French, founder of Athens, GA-based Your Pie. “Our most successful one to date has been the Peach Prosciutto Pie paired with Sierra Nevada beer and peach sorbet; it worked in every Your Pie market.”
2. Factor in frequency
Featuring your most popular LTOs less frequently can get guests excited about what you have coming and give you additional time to build excitement. “We offer The Artist Series about twice a year; this allows us to offer something new and different to loyal guests as well as encourage trial among new customers,” says Dwyer. “The short window of availability creates a sense of urgency to drive guest traffic during our slower seasons.”
“We used to run our Craft Pie Series monthly but now we do it every 10 weeks,” says French. “We found that when we ran it monthly, by the time guests got excited, it was time to switch; now we have more time to test it out since each LTO has its own training, sourcing, etc.”
3. Add a charity element
Who doesn’t love a restaurant that gives back to local charity? Integrating a cause into your LTO is just one more way to draw attention to your offering while doing something good for the community. “We recently started the InsPIEring Communities program where franchisees in individual markets partner with an organization of their choice to donate pizzas and proceeds raised through sales of our Craft Pie Series,” says French. “Our individual stores now compete against one another to see who can sell the most.”
“Each artist we collaborate with for the Artist Series also selects a charity and $1 from the sale of each burger goes to that organization,” says Dwyer. “The combination of the culinary creativity, artist involvement, and charitable component make The Artist Series very promotable, especially with media.”
4. Get the word out
If you’re going to spend the time to create a limited time offer, make sure you tell everyone about it—including the local press. “New and innovative gets attention,” says Dwyer. “We promote our LTOs through PR, digital marketing, social media and in-store marketing.”
“LTOs give us an opportunity to tell a story about a new flavor we're interested in or submit a more topical idea to a food publication that we wouldn't necessary want to offer day-in day-out but lets us demonstrate our culinary range,” says Swartz.
“We use a variety of digital tools to spread the word,” says Matheson. “Sharing crave-worthy photography and offers via social to in-store POS to traditional forms of media that reach our consumers when they’re hungry.”
5. Mind your brand
“Stay true to your brand DNA, while being creative,” advises Dwyer. “It wouldn’t make sense for us to suddenly offer wood-fired pizzas. However, our pizza burger was a huge hit when we offered it in collaboration with Eater for their first National Pizza Week.”
In addition to minding your brand, consider your goals with the LTO. “Understand your goals and your consumer,” says Matheson. “Keep it simple, be unique, and get your staff excited.”
6. Know your limits
“Keep operational execution in mind,” says Dwyer. “It’s great to have something created by a world-renowned chef, but if your kitchens can't recreate it every day with sufficient volume, the promotion will not work.”
Swartz agrees, adding, “Create an LTO program that is repeatable. An LTO program often starts from inspiration that may or may not be repeatable, and once you do it, people want it to keep going.”