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Summer’s here, and the living’s easy. This is the time restaurant LTOs begin to feature on local menus. We’re talking pizza 🍕, burgers 🍔, French fries 🍟, strawberries 🍓, and ice cream 🍨offered in a variety of popular ways. Lion’s Choice, famous for its roast beef sandwiches, premiered its strawberry harvest turkey salad in May. Priced at $7.69 and crowned with fresh strawberries, blue cheese crumbles, cranberries, walnuts, and turkey, it’s a sure winner.

While some restaurants can see a slump in summer sales due to the nature of their cuisine or locale, the opposite is true for for many others. Locals eat out more often because of outdoor events, and tourists flock to popular eateries to sample food like “locals”.

Food service profits can soar when the temperatures heat up. However, summertime is also one of the most brutally competitive seasons for restaurants. During this time, the survival of your brand will highly depend upon location, food selections, and supply chain logistics.

Undeniably, one of the best ways to distance yourself from the competition is to introduce limited and unique time offers (or LTO) to your diners. These dishes bring customers in with promises of delectable in-season delights they can’t find anywhere else.

In this article, we examine why your restaurant should consider LTO campaigns and how you can dominate the competition with some fantastic LTO strategies.

What is an LTO?

Limited Time Offers (or LTOs) are menu items that are only available during a specific time. So, if a restaurant offers grilled shrimp only during the summer months, that’s an LTO. Or, if your restaurant offers a month of appetizers for 50% off, that’s also an LTO. Any menu item or deal that’s only available during a specified time window is considered an LTO.

That said, if you’re interested in learning how to leverage coupons, gift cards, and other promotional campaigns to drive sales, check out our article about creating an LTO based on price.

Adding an item to your menu for a set period has a few intrinsic benefits.

  1. Consumer preferences39% of diners say that their tastes change with the seasons. Finding a way to offer them seasonal dishes is a surefire way to get them in the door.
  2. Cost: Buying fruits and vegetables that are in-season is a great way to cut costs. If you want to offer a summer blueberry salad, you’ll be paying 1/3 of the cost-per-pound for those blueberries than you would during the winter months. Not only do customers want to taste seasonal foods, but they also cost you less to offer them.
  3. Psychology: Undoubtedly, there’s some serious psychology behind seasonal offerings. A unique blend of loss aversion and fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) drives people towards seasonal offerings. 62% of customers fear that you won’t offer that LTO the next time they visit!

Each season has hallmark dishes that are associated with it, and customers welcome new takes on old favorites. However, putting a few slabs of grilled meat on your menu isn’t going to cut it.

How To Choose Your LTO Dishes

Summer restaurant LTOs in New York City

Limited Time Offers shouldn’t be a copy-and-paste formula.

Consider this: 45% of customers crave bold flavors during the summer months. Additionally, 48% of consumers want high-quality offerings. Use these statistics to your advantage!

4 Tips to Help You Build the Perfect LTO Menu

  1. Leverage food photography. Remember, a significant portion of your LTO traffic will come from online sources. You want to take vivid, beautiful photos of your dishes and display them proudly on your online ordering system.
  2. Think veggies and fruitsTechnomic’s 2019 Trend report reports that plant-based diets continue to be popular. With the recent arrival of “impossible” meats, seasonal dishes that feature plant-based ingredients may be a smart avenue to explore. Undeniably, meat is still popular: 73% of male customers consume beef regularly. However, a few vegetarian LTOs could shake things up a bit. And, don’t forget your summer beverages: ginger-flavored lemonade drinks have increased in popularity by 6% over the past year. Peach (6.8%) and mint (10%) sweet teas are also surging in demand. Above all, definitely leverage America’s favorite vegetable and avoid her most hated.
  3. Generations matter: Speaking of veggies, only 10% of Baby Boomers actually enjoy vegetarian dishes. Additionally, they’re much less willing to try something new. On the other hand, 63% of Millenials appreciate adventurous takes on conventional classics. Understanding generational differences can help.
  4. Get a little weird: French fries and burgers are undoubtedly hot commodities during the summer months. However, have you tried offering kimchi fries or hummus burgers? Strange combinations win customers. Think about Taco Bell. It’s made taco shells out of Doritos and created nacho french fries. On June 18th, it offered a free Doritos Locos Taco from 2-6 p.m. to any customer in all 50 states as part of its “steal a game, steal a taco” promotion for the NBA Finals. How’s that for an LTO?

The Anatomy of a Successful LTO Campaign in 8 Easy Steps

Let’s look at how you can set up an LTO campaign from start to finish.

  1. The drawing board first: Tap into your creative toolbox by analyzing consumer demands, internal data, and industry statistics. Plan your LTO items and the length of their promotions. Also, you’ll want to incorporate these items into your digital playbook (online ordering system as well as social media and email campaigns).
  2. Find vendors: After picking the menu item(s), you’ll want to find your vendors. Refrain from prioritizing just price considerations. Your customers want to know their food is fresh and responsibly sourced. 45% of consumers are attracted by the word “fresh,” while 38% are attracted by the words “real” and “made from scratch.”
  3. Create the menu: Now it’s time to take some mouthwatering snapshots of your chosen LTO dishes. Ensure that you incorporate them into your digital menu.
  4. Build a marketing campaign: We recommend investing in a digital-first strategy. Restaurants that use video marketing grow over 40% faster, and 75% of ALL consumers use Facebook to decide where to eat. Some food for thought. 🍽🧠
  5. Price your LTOs right: Remember that LTOs dishes are already popular! 48% of diners try LTO dishes at least once a month, and 30% of them eat them once-a-week. You don’t have to create demand. It’s already there. However, you can still use pricing to distance yourself from your competitors.
  6. Train staff: Remember to train your staff. You’ll want them to understand how the new LTOs are priced and when to try to cross-sell or upsell them.
  7. Launch your LTO campaign: Launch your new perfectly priced, delectable LTO dishes with radio, TV, and social media announcements. 🎉
  8. Track and measure success: Keep track of sales, inventory, and cost projections throughout the LTO period. Some dishes may become permanent summer fixtures.

The Top 3 Summer LTOs From 2017 And 2018

Want some great examples to steal from? These brands absolutely nailed LTOs in the last two years.

1. Little Damages Charcoal Ice Cream

LTOs aren’t just for the big boys. Little Damage in Los Angeles premiered a Goth soft-serve ice cream cone in 2017 as part of an LTO run.

And, the world lost… its… mind.

It was so popular it’s now a regular menu item.

Every summer, restaurants and ice cream parlors offer berry or rainbow-colored ice cream with lots of sprinkles. Little Damage flipped the script. This charcoal black ice cream helped grow its Instagram account to +250k followers, and some videos showcasing the ice cream have hit well over 30 million views on social media.

What Did Little Damages Do Right?

It took a seasonal item and added a splash of weird to it. Additionally, it leveraged social media platforms to spread the word. The combination of digital marketing, lush photography, and a killer recipe landed the Los Angeles ice cream shop a massive influx of traffic and plenty of attention.

2. California Pizza Kitchen’s Strawberry Shortcake

When people think about California Pizza Kitchen, the first thing that comes to mind is pizza. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to new menu items. California Pizza Kitchen has rolled its strawberry shortcake out a few times since its inception, and consumers love it. In fact, 62% of surveyed customers maintain that the dessert is “craveable.” California Pizza Kitchen included the delectable dessert in its 2018 summer LTO list, along with Sonoma grilled chicken flatbread and the Shanghai Power Bowl (seared shrimp with Black Heirloom Forbidden Rice and vegetables).

What Did California Pizza Kitchen Do Right?

Strawberries are at their lowest prices during the summer months, and that just so happens to be when consumers crave them the most. By creating an LTO based on seasonal cravings, California Pizza Kitchen took advantage of low prices without having to integrate the dish into its core menu. Additionally, it was able to keep the price of the dessert in-line with its existing pricing structure.

That was a win-win scenario.

3. Starbuck’s Dragon Drink

If we were to guess what the Starbuck marketing team discusses during brainstorming sessions, it would go something like this.

  • Does it taste good?
  • Does anyone else offer it at-scale?
  • Is it Instagrammable?

If all three are a check, it gets added to the menu. And yes, Starbucks has dominated the Instagram stage lately.

Additionally, Starbuck’s most recent LTO is a fit offering. The Starbucks’ website pairs the drink with a dark slate background, and its bright pink tone just begs to be featured on your next Instagram post. The #dragondrink has soared in popularity on Instagram, and influencers are flocking to the pink beverage. What’s in it: dragon fruit, coconut milk, fruit juices, mango, and ice. The Dragon Drink premiered in 2018 and is now a permanent fixture on its 2019 menu.

What Did Starbucks Do Right?

It put out a tasty drink that’s Instagrammable and faces almost no competition. Which restaurants are serving dragon fruit in the summer? Not many. Also, the pink drink fits perfectly into the summertime taste profile: it’s cheery, bright, and sweet. Perfection in a plastic cup!

LTOs in an online ordering centric world

We would’t be 9Fold if we didn’t address the 800-pound online ordering guerrilla in the room. Online ordering battles come to a frenzy during the summer months as made evident by the various third party giants that are pounding your inbox through til’ the end of the dog days of summer. The importance of LTOs is not lost on aggregators like Grubhub or Ubereats, nor should it be lost on a restaurant operators that want to keep themselves top of mind and engaged with their loyal customer base.

Creating an LTO that caters to your online ordering customers is not that far off from a traditional LTO. The same basic principles we outlined above still hold true, the two key differences can be found in the execution and in the tracking. Execution involves everything from gathering and segmenting your customer data properly to creating a unique offer (or set of offers) that gets to your customers heart strings. Tracking involves everything from real-time understanding of how your LTOs are performing to being able to comb through the data Post-LTO in order to understand and improve upon your restaurants digital LTOs going forward.

Final Thoughts About Restaurant LTOs

Limited Time Offers are a great way to boost profits, drive customers to your restaurant, and increase your online ordering orders. By leveraging smart marketing, intelligent pricing, and unique ingredient combinations, your restaurant can drive conversions with great LTO offerings.

That said, are you looking for an online ordering system to help you show off those beautiful LTOs? Contact us for a free live demo of our online ordering system. Our portal is image-centric, and you can quickly add new items and set up LTO campaigns with ease as well as have one of our customer success managers help you curate your own digitally focused LTO!