If you’re like most operators, you’ve reduced your menu to better cope with increased food costs, supply chain disruptions and labor shortages. Adding in unique limited-time offers (LTOs) can help infuse life into pared down menus. These specials not only create a buzz, but they also provide an opportunity to stimulate traffic and sales.
Over half (54%) of restaurant operators say that LTOs are a central part of their business1, and many (43%) launch an LTO anywhere from every month to every three months.2 Look for ways to improve LTO visibility while boosting profitability with these four tips.
Tap into seasonal flavors
More than half (55%) of consumers say they’d be more likely to buy an LTO that features a nostalgic flavor or item.2 Sometimes nostalgia comes from the season, as in pumpkin spice in the fall. Seasonal ingredients and flavors not only show customers that you are current, they are cost effective. Peak supply often comes at the lowest cost.
In the winter, leverage seasonal fruit and flavors such as tamarind, plantains, golden raisins, apricots and pomegranates. Among vegetables, you can usually find an abundance of bok choy, napa cabbage, asparagus, serrano peppers, bean sprouts and cauliflower.3
As you plan for winter specials, be sure to tap into the season’s two sets of dining sensibilities. After promoting holiday decadence, follow it up with health-forward choices in January as consumers think of dieting. Chicken and turkey are great protein options for the latter.
Incorporate food holidays
In addition to standard holidays, every month has social media food holidays that are perfect for inspiration and promotion. For example, the month of January is National Soup Month, National Meat Month, Apple & Apricot Month, Artichoke & Asparagus Month and National Staying Healthy Month. Jan 1-7 is Diet Resolution Week.
National Chicken Wing Day on July 29 is a popular micro holiday among operators. This year, Buffalo Wild Wings leveraged social media and its rewards program while offering customers six free boneless or traditional wings with any $10 dine-in purchase. The chain asked customers to use the hashtag #wingdebate to vote on whether they prefer traditional or boneless wings. It also encouraged its Blazin’ Rewards members to check in on the Buffalo Wild Wings app for a chance to win free wings for an entire year.4
Make your own holiday
Build a buzz around your brand with a holiday unique to your operation. For example, in June 2022, Popeyes celebrated its 50th anniversary with a multifaceted month-long promotion.
The chicken chain brought back a beloved side dish, Cajun Rice (formerly called Rice Dressing); offered five pieces of breaded chicken for $6.99; introduced Strawberry Cheesecake Fried Pie; produced a YouTube video in which five couples celebrating their 50th anniversary discussed their recipe for lasting love; and invited customers to nominate their love story for a chance to be featured in a Popeyes ad.5
As you create your own promotion holiday, factor in ways to leverage social media to draw attention. If you’re short on ideas, ask your social media followers. Some 72% of consumers would want to provide input to help operators create a new LTO.2
For example, McDonald’s invited fans to create their own “menu hacks” and post their ideas on social media. The result allowed customers to combine their favorites into different mega-sandwiches.
“This campaign shows that it has never been ‘our menu’ — the menu belongs to our fans,” said Jennifer Healan, McDonald’s vice president of marketing.6
Price it premium
By using a barbell pricing strategy, you can introduce premium LTOs that command a higher price. Often, consumers are more impulse-driven than cost-concerned when it comes to limited specials. In fact, 63% of consumers’ last LTO purchase was an impulse buy.2
You can more easily command a higher price for your LTOs if you incorporate high-quality ingredients, such as proteins that feature advantage claims. For example, some 76% of consumers say they would be more likely to purchase a poultry item at foodservice if it had No Antibiotics Ever, while 73% would be more likely to purchase the item if the poultry was humanely raised.7 Thus, sourcing and marketing can make a huge difference in customer buy-in.
Tex-Mex restaurant chain Chuy’s strategy going into 2023 will be to incorporate two or three LTOs per quarter in which at least one will be priced higher with the goal to excite both customers and employees.8
Overall, plan to boost your LTO success by tapping into the season, creating social media buzz and pricing for profit. You’ll create excitement and drive profits.
- Des Jardins, Samantha, “The ingredients for a winning limited-time offer,” Datassential News, Aug. 15, 2022, https://blog.datassential.com/news/ingredients-for-winning-lto
- Datassential Foodbytes: A Look at Limited-time Offers, 2022
- Datassential: Seasonality 2022
- “Buffalo Wild Wings Celebrates National Chicken Wing Day with Free Wings – and a Spicy Debate,” Inspire Stories, July 26, 2022, https://stories.inspirebrands.com/buffalo-wild-wings-national-chicken-wing-day-2022/
- Ruggles, Ron, “Popeyes celebrates 50th year with golden couples, deals,” nrn.com, https://www.nrn.com/quick-service/popeyes-celebrates-50th-year-golden-couples-deals
- Zilber, Ariel, “Hash Brown McMuffin? McDonald’s unveils fan inspired ‘menu hacks,’” New York Post, Jan. 26, 2022
- Perdue Proprietary Research, May 2022
- Ruggless, Ron, “Chuy’s Expects to Add Specials as it Continues with Pared-down Menu,” nrn.com, Aug. 5, 2022, https://www.nrn.com/casual-dining/chuy-s-expects-add-specials-it-continues-pared-down-menu