All Articles Food Restaurant and Foodservice The ingredients for a winning limited-time offer 

The ingredients for a winning limited-time offer 

Restaurant operators don’t have to create a new item from scratch to reap the rewards of increased sales and traffic from an LTO.

4 min read

FoodRestaurant and Foodservice

pumpkin spice latte LTO

Flickr user Push Doctor

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There are a handful of examples of restaurant limited-time offers (LTOs) that keep on delivering: Starbuck’s pumpkin spice latte, McDonald’s McRib and Taco Bell’s nacho fries, to name a few. 

But restaurant operators don’t have to create a new item from scratch to reap the rewards of increased sales and traffic from an LTO. 

And limited time offers are particularly critical in an era of restaurant industry recovery, as they spur buzz and excitement around a brand, often leading to both increased visits from brand regulars and new customers. 

In fact, Datassential’s Limited Time Offer Keynote report reveals that operators are offering more LTOs this year than last and more than half (54%) say they are a central part of their business.

An LTO can be implemented for a number of different reasons – whether it’s to test out an item that will later become part of the permanent menu, to put a spin on an existing item (like a burger with a new sauce, for example) or to try a totally new item in an effort to spur interest. For consumers, LTOs encourage repeat visits and inspire them to spread the word. 

So what ingredients make the most successful LTOs? Here are some keys: 

Don’t immediately discount 

Despite broader economic pressures, consumers won’t necessarily buy up a limited time offer just because it’s cheaper. In fact, many consumers, especially millennials, are willing to pay more for those that are priced at a premium.

Make it known and make it pretty 

Three in 10 consumers are driven to try an LTO because it looked good in advertisements or in photos in the store, so it’s important to consider color, texture, and presentation when building out a new LTO. And while being worthy of a social media post is not essential, it certainly can’t hurt. Younger generations are much more apt to want that Instagrammable shot of their food. The best combination is one that considers both flavor and photographibility. 

Make it easy 

As operators struggle with ongoing labor issues, inflation and sourcing, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the best performing LTOs are easy to make and make use of ingredients a restaurant already has. They also need to be easy to train staff to make.

Think beyond seasonal 

Sure, seasonal choices can make great LTOs, but there’s more to think about – particularly in a time when sourcing ingredients is very challenging. And while seasonal flavors are important to consumers, there are three factors that rank above in-season items when piquing consumer interest: fresh ingredients, premium/high quality ingredients and new/unique flavors. Focusing on creating items that competitors don’t have, while trying to focus on quality and freshness, is a way to build a strong LTO, even without a seasonal component. 

Let consumers decide

What’s the best way to get attention from customers and get their feedback at the same time? Let them tell you what they think. Consumers are most interested in voting on new flavors (60%) but a majority (55%) would also be willing to give feedback at a taste testing event, or to offer comments another way, including through social media. Operators say that word of mouth is one of the most effective ways LTOs are promoted, so getting consumers excited and invested in LTOs is a gift that keeps on giving. 

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Samantha Des Jardins is a copywriter at Datassential.

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