According to a recent industry study, almost 50% of consumers say it’s important that restaurants offer new menu items throughout the year. And more than a quarter of those consumers say they’d be willing to pay more for special items.
LTO’s can encourage guests to come in, and successful ones keep them coming back. In fact, more than 80% of consumers who enjoy their LTO say they’ll come back to order it again, and 75% will be motivated to tell their friends.
An LTO is similar to a special that your staff may share verbally or may be presented visually on a specials board, but often (not always) LTO’s also include some sort of savings, deal, or additional incentive to distinguish them from nightly or weekly specials. LTO’s can be available for an entire season of the year, or you may choose to offer them for even smaller periods of time, for example during a week in which your city is hosting a special event or around a holiday. As with any promotion, an LTO should reflect back on your brand and your overall marketing strategy.
Why are LTO’s Effective?
LTO’s create a sense of urgency and act on a consumer’s feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out) to drive demand in a specific period of time. By offering a limited amount of a menu item for a set timeframe, guests know that they have to prioritize visiting your restaurant if they want to experience that special LTO that everyone is talking about.
They can also be a good testing ground for items that you’re considering adding to your menu full-time. By tracking the numbers around the food cost, profit margin, and daily sales, you can learn if a menu item may be successful long-term. If so, you can play up the popularity of the item by saying, “due to popular demand, we’re adding this to our menu year-round!”
LTO’s also provide an in with local press who are often looking for time-sensitive coverage. As a writer, I really appreciate when local restaurants reach out to let me know their plans for LTO’s and other seasonal offerings before they go live with them on social media because it gives me time to pitch a story and then write and publish that story in time to make it relevant for my audience. For that reason, it’s important to consider your timeframe for rolling out LTO’s so that you have the chance to connect with people who can help spread the word.
Here are a few ideas that may help you get started with an LTO for your restaurant:
- Ask Customers. According to a recent study, 72% of customers say they want to contribute to the creation of LTO’s. Create an opportunity for input and feedback from customers to help improve your LTO’s, and in the process, be sure to capture their contact information (with permission, of course) so that you can add them to your mailing list (so they can find out about more LTO’s!).
- Embrace Seasonality. Here in Virginia, we pride ourselves on our exceptional tomatoes in the summer, so during that period of time, restaurants go above and beyond to come up with creative, exciting ways to use this local crop. Think about your region’s best produce. Maybe it’s Hatch chiles or Georgia peaches. Make a plan to develop LTO’s around these items.
- Turn Up Trends. LTO’s are the perfect opportunity to include trending items on your menu that may not otherwise be a fit. Follow food accounts on TikTok and Instagram to get a sense of what foods are trending, and then analyze if there’s a smart way to include them in an LTO.
- Go Wild. To help spread the word about your LTO, make it visually exciting and memorable. Play with scale, format, colors, and garnishes to create something one of a kind, and then share photos on social media and encourage your guests to do the same. (You may even want to build in some sort of incentive to share to make it even more exciting for guests.)
- Offer a Discount. An LTO can include some sort of savings, and that would be a welcome sight for most customers right now. Think about ways that you can combine or discount existing menu items in a way that feels special enough to drive customers to your restaurant.