Whether you’re looking to shake things up at your restaurant or simply generate some extra profit for your bottom line, a smart (and often low-risk) opportunity is the classic LTO, or “limited time offer.” These are dishes that do not currently reside on your menu, that you can advertise as a special offering. Critical to the advertising of the dish, however, is that it be perceived as fleeting. It can’t just be unique. It has to feel rare.
An LTO should also never be a “sale.” If your LTO isn’t going to make you money (providing it sells well), it’s not worth doing. Think of your limited time offer more like a daily special or soup du jour. Now extend that to several weeks.
One of the more popular ways to incorporate an LTO into your repertoire is through a seasonal-appropriate offer. Seasonality doesn’t just mean holiday-inspired, either. It can also be tied into a local tradition or special event. For instance, if you’re a sports bar and your city is hosting a special sporting event, get creative and tie an appetizer or special sandwich back to your home team. Just make sure the promotion doesn’t violate any copyrights, or disrupts the feel of your own brand.
There are also seasonal flavors that consumers look for to get into the spirit of that time of year – peppermint and eggnog for winter, berries and lemonade for spring and summer, apples and pumpkin spice for fall. Provided adding these flavor profiles fits with your overall brand, incorporating tastes and ingredients that customers anticipate (and understand as tied to a short window of time already) can be a significant draw.
Besides seasonal fare, an LTO is also a great way to try out new recipes and branch out your ideas before putting them on the menu permanently. If a dish resonates with your guests, you know you can confidently move it onto your main menu and keep it around. If not, then you can always replace it with another LTO or refocus efforts on just massaging your main menu.
Whatever you decide to do with a limited time offer, make sure it’s a star – an item that’s high profit and (potentially) high popularity. The idea is that you’re offering something very special for this very short time. If you market it right and sell it at the right price point, it could be a huge seller for you.
True, if you’ve never sold this particular item before, you might not know what the popularity of the item is for your customers. Still, you should always be aiming for a high popularity factor based on what you do know about your regular customers. Aim for the stars, as it were.
Once you decide on a particular limited time offer, you need to decide how long you plan to run it. Not only can this help you decide how much of each ingredient to order, but an end date will also help create the sense of urgency you’re hoping to generate. This notion of this item being in short supply should boost demand thanks to the idea of FOMO … something we often can’t help ourselves from feeling: “fear of missing out.”
A clear end date will also help you avoid guests walking in two weeks after an offer ends and being disappointed they missed it, over lack of communication. Now, if you decide to extend the LTO beyond the original end date (say your pumpkin spice latte is doing so well, you want to keep it on your coffee shop menu well into November), that’s still an option. Just make sure to then let people know the offer has been extended.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to advertise … advertise … advertise. Social media can be one good way to get the word out about your LTO, but certainly using radio and print ads can also be productive so long as the offer’s duration makes that a viable marketing option.
Also, don’t forget to train your servers to mention the offer before taking orders, perhaps immediately after taking their customers’ drink orders. If you can have them designed and printed in time (without breaking your budget on short-team signage), consider producing a table tent or menu insert that explains the LTO.
Something to keep in mind – just because your LTO was a financial success doesn’t mean the only conclusion is to put it on your main menu, especially if it’s a seasonal dish. Consider instead bringing this particular LTO back once a year. Think about McDonalds and their infamous McRib.
It’s something that fans of the item look forward to enjoying year after year, and always lament its passing once it’s unavailable again. Not only are yearly LTOs a great way to keep that excitement for the offer itself going, but it also helps build your restaurant brand as a whole. It gives your business the potential to be known for that yearly annual offering, and helps building loyalty that translates into dollars.
Want more ways to boost your bottom line when times get tight? We have five surefire ways in our free eBook “5 Ways to Market Your Restaurant During Slow Times”: