Food Trends | Marketing | Limited Service Restaurant | Full Service Restaurant | Menu Planning

8 Strategies for More Effective LTOs

Jul 01, 2019

How to take your LTOs to the next level
When you consider all the benefits, it's little wonder the median number of limited-time offers (LTOs) has increased 82% at limited-service chains and 80% at full-service chains since 2010.1

• LTOs drove restaurant visits for more than 50% of consumers in the past month
• Half of consumers have ordered an LTO in the past two weeks
• After consumers experience an enjoyable LTO, 82% will return to order it again, 75% will tell other people about it, and 65% will return to order something else.1

But not all LTOs strike gold and the price of a dud can be unacceptably high. In this article, we'll cover eight strategies to make your LTOs worker harder to satisfy your customers and build your bottom line.

1. Start by putting a twist on your existing menu items
Research shows the most successful LTOs take a dish the customer is familiar with and make it special simply by adding an indulgent ingredient or two.1 Think truffle mac 'n' cheese.

This approach has multiple benefits. First, by starting with something your patrons already know, you can be sure they'll understand what your LTO is, eliminating uncertainty that can stifle their urge to order. Second, putting a twist on an existing menu item can make it easier for your kitchen staff to learn and execute flawlessly.

2. Make sure your LTO items are aligned with your menu and brand
While it may be tempting to jump on the street taco bandwagon, it wouldn't make much sense for a pizza joint. Your customers are coming to you to satisfy a craving based on your theme and brand (Mexican, seafood, etc.). Going too far afield with your LTO can be confusing for them. Make sure the LTOs you develop are something your customers could reasonably expect from a restaurant like yours. They should help define and enhance your brand, not dilute it.

3. Take extra care in how you name and describe your LTO
Again, in the spirit of making it easy for patrons to say "yes" to your offer, think carefully about the words you choose to name and describe it on the menu. Use words that convey how special and unique your LTO is, but stick with terms you know your customer base will understand. A name or description that goes over your patrons' heads can be a costly and preventable error.

4. Run your LTO for at least one month so the buzz can spread
Most operators run their LTOs for between one and three months knowing that it takes time for word to get out about their brilliant special offering.1 Commit to offering your LTOs for at least a month to give your advertising (both paid and word of mouth) enough time to work.

By the same token, running an LTO longer than three months can diminish the urgency customers feel to purchase it before the promotion ends, so don't go overboard.

5. Play it again, Sam
When you find an LTO your patrons love, bring it back on a regular basis. Research shows that returning LTOs are among the most successful, satisfying customers who already love the item and look forward to ordering it again.

Seasonal LTOs are a great fit for this approach and rank #1 in terms of consumer interest (78%), followed by value-priced LTOs (76%).1 Capitalize on the popularity of the seasonal flavors and items that make sense for your menu.

6. Invest in great imagery of your LTO
The old axiom "we eat with our eyes first" still rings true, especially in the age of social media where engaging visuals are the coin of the realm. Appetizing photography of your LTO is a must have. Invest the time (or the money) to get tasty imagery of your new item to use in social media, email blasts and in-store point of sale materials like posters, counter cards and table tents.

If you're a do-it-yourselfer, there are countless online tutorials that can teach you how to take great food pictures with little more than your phone and natural light.

7. Train your servers and staff on the LTO well before launch
Your staff needs to be able prepare and explain your LTO consistently to patrons from day one. This goes without saying, yet is often overlooked to operators' detriment. Practice preparing the item so you have an idea for how long it takes to prepare and can troubleshoot operational challenges before you invest in the ingredients. Let your staff taste the LTO so they can share their personal experience and enthusiasm with customers, and make sure they understand the terms used to describe it.

8. Involve your customers in the creation of your LTOs
The development of an LTO is a valuable opportunity to engage your patrons and get a deeper understanding of the tastes and dishes they're craving. Fully 70% of customers say they want to contribute to the creation of LTOs.1 What better way to reduce the risk of a flop than by getting feedback right from the source?

Bring them to the table
With careful planning and execution, LTOs can become an important and profitable part of your operation. Research has shown that 45% of unit operators estimate that a strong promotion generates at least a 10% lift in sales compared to a month without an LTO.1 Smart LTOs can also help you define and differentiate your restaurant from the sea of competition. Unlike an LTO, these benefits aren't going away anytime soon.

For more tips on developing successful LTOs, download our FREE ebook "The Power of LTOs."


1 Datassential Menu Trends Keynote, 2017