All About Limited Time Offers (LTOs) 1.1

The Opportunity

Limited-Time Offer — We’ve all heard the phrase before but what exactly is an LTO? Why are LTO’s important? What can an LTO do for your restaurant? How do you plan an effective LTO program? How do you train staff to execute the program properly each time? Follow this blog series to discover what you need to consider while crafting, implementing, and adjusting your existing or new LTO Program.

What is an LTO?

A Limited Time Offering (LTO) is an item added to a menu for a short time frame. It should be planned and have a specific purpose. It is like a Special, but it is not discounted in price. It is also like a Feature, but it is not a signature item. LTOs are time-bound to reinforce the notion of being unique and fleeting, which is motivating to patrons.

Utilize an LTO when the following is needed…

  • Representation of seasonal, competitive, on-trend, or locally-relevant flavors.
  • Balancing business in the offseason.
  • Reinforcement of the restaurant brand/origin/roots/difference.
  • Broadening appeal to new patrons, new occasions, new day parts.
  • Creating a sense of urgency (change patron habits, induce more frequent visits).
  • Testing ideas for future offerings on an ongoing basis.

The most successful LTO programs are developed with specific goals in mind — goals that support the overall business objectives. It is important to outline the goals of an LTO program before you start. In the industry, there are five types of LTO concepts in which help to craft goals of a program.

Five Types of LTOs are:

  • Broad Appeal > Engage Core Guests
  • Re-imagined Heroes > Engage Core Guests & Drive traffic
  • Emerging Flavors & Trends > Drive New Traffic
  • Diet Centric Niche Item > Drive New Traffic
  • Novelty Item > Generate Buzz

It is key to remember that there is no “right” answer when choosing an LTO concept. Each concept serves a purpose, and it must be decided which concept will best support the menu develop and brand strategy.

Additionally, it is important to allow the process to unfold for development, testing, implementation, and assessment. Creating a program that utilizes three or four LTO items a year allows you to react and adjust operationally. It also allows your patrons to experience the special offerings a few times. This helps to unlock the full potential of the Limited-Time Offer for your team, the business, and your valued patrons.

Who can benefit from an LTO Program?

If you have interest in an LTO, here are factors to consider if it’s right for you.=

Essentially, any food seller can benefit from an LTO program. From single-venue food trucks to large restaurant operations with multiple locations and national accounts, including a variety of menus and service models.

Think about it — Starbucks offers Pumpkin Spice Lattes only during the fall season. Taco Bell has a revolving door of LTO items that cycle out monthly. The consistent theme in these examples is that each operator follows an LTO program, not just a one-off item or event. Though the approaches are different, each program benefits the operator’s menu development and brand strategy.

If you can do the following, you can benefit from an LTO program…

  • establish goals for the program that connect back to business objectives.
  • obtain new ingredients that are not currently on the menu.
  • use infrastructure to hold new inventory.
  • train front-of-house and back-of-house staff.
  • promote the new item (verbally, with signage, on the menu, digitally).

Whether you are looking to increase sales, give your current patrons something to look forward to, entice your future patrons to visit, or to boost your profits, an LTO program can be your solution!

Why should you choose an LTO Program?

Once you realize that you can develop an LTO program, consider if you should.

Perhaps you have tried an LTO and found it to be complicated.  According to Restaurant Business Online,

“Over the past five years, the number of limited-time items has increased 65% at Top 500 chain restaurants and retail operations.”

LTO items have seen growing popularity, and there are many reasons to develop a program to drive your business. These reasons include…

  • increasing sales and/or profit.
  • reinforcing brand identity.
  • highlighting key differences from competition.
  • trying ideas from the staff.
  • attracting new patrons.
  • overcoming “hyper-competition”.
  • tapping into the incentive of FOMO (fear of missing out), which creates urgency.
  • generating public relations mentions.
  • appealing to current patrons in a different way.

According to The Delphi Panel predicts that by 2030,

“Restaurants operators will be more likely to implement more local, targeted and customized promotions, as well as healthier options, plant based options, items for sophisticated palates, and global cuisine.”

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All About Limited-Time Offers (LTOs) Series 1.2

Continue to THE SOLUTION section of this series and read about developing a team, determining items, crafting a plan, and getting feedback.

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