By: Sabrina Huda Sanchez
If you're like most business owners, you're always looking for new and inventive ways to increase sales. You may have tried a limited time offer (LTO) before, but are unsure of how it works or whether it's worth your time. Many of the most successful restaurants run LTOs throughout the year and with a little strategic planning, you can boost sales in the same way.
What is LTO food and drinks?
LTOs, or Limited Time Offers, is an effective strategy to drive new customers and attract returning customers to restaurants or retailers. This may refer to either a promotional deal or sale that is valid for a short duration of days or weeks. An example is a Buy 1, Get 1 Free promotion that runs for a holiday weekend.
For restaurants, LTOs refer to specialty food or drink items that may be seasonal such as peppermint mocha in the winter. They can also just be a trending item that is only offered for a limited time to capitalize off a temporary craze. For instance, in 2017 unicorn desserts and treats were all the rage and Starbucks made the viral Unicorn Frappuccino available for one week only.
The purpose of LTOs is to create a scarce and intriguing menu item that draws new customers in the door to try it, and hopefully convert them into repeats, but also to give repeat customers some excitement and variety.
Creating Limited Time Offers
When done right, a well-executed LTO can be a great way to drive traffic and sales. If you’re looking to create an LTO for your restaurant, keep the following in mind:
These guidelines apply to not just LTOs but anytime you create a new menu item.
1. Research popular trends and flavors in your area or region
Even if you run a chain restaurant, the regional tastes may differ so be sure to make adjustments. A summer drink in south Texas may sell a habanero mango smoothie but in Florida, it would be a pineapple mango smoothie. Both promote the season flavor of mango but in different ways. Here are some other considerations below.
a. Seasonal Flavors and Colors
Seasonality is one of the most important factors to consider when creating an LTO. When possible, try to tie your offer to a current event or trend, or use flavors and colors that are popular during that time of year.
The easiest way to start is to consider what fruits and vegetables are in season. Spring brings pastel colors and flavors like cherries, lemons, and kiwis. Summer is bright colors and flavors including strawberries, watermelon, and squashes. Autumn is synonymous with colors of foilage and pumpkin spice. Winter means red, green, white, and peppermint mocha. There are already common seasonal trends that you can use as a starting point to build off of.
b. Trending Food and Drinks
It’s also a good idea to tap into current social media food trends when creating your offer. One resource you can use is Tiktok; try searching "trending drinks on tiktok" to find the most popular ones at the moment. This will help to ensure that your LTO is relevant and interesting to customers.
The top trending food and drinks to keep an eye on include: plant-based options such, as Almondmilk and Beyond Meat, or, on the other end of the spectrum, visually stunning less health-focused drinks like Camo Matcha or the Pink Drink.
2. Test recipes in advance.
Another way to make sure that your LTO is relevant and will attract new customers is by testing recipes in advance. There are a few ways that you can create and test out the recipes before they go on your list.
a. Use existing menu items
Try taking existing recipes and reinventing them with the season. Specifically, a coffeehouse that sells lattes can simply add a flavored syrup to create a flavored latte like rose syrup for a rose latte perfect for Spring.
You can also take existing equipment into consideration. If your establishment has a blender, then consider what blended drink recipes you can make. Take a basic smoothie or frappe recipe and start adding different flavors. If your store has a milkshake mixer, you can begin tossing in different types of cookies or drink powders.
The most important thing to remember when building a new recipe is to taste at every stage.
b. Train your team
Make sure your team is on board and understands how the LTO works. They will be the ones interacting with customers and explaining the drink or food. If they’re not familiar with it, they may not be able to properly sell it.
C. Sample to customers
Before listing the specialty item on the menu and advertising it, sample it out to customers in small sample-sized cups. Once they try it, make sure to ask for their opinion. People are much more likely to buy something if they know what they think of it ahead of time.
Whether you are creating a promotion or selling a specialty menu item, you need to define the offer. What is the duration of the promotion or how long will you make the item available for sale? How much will it be? These questions must be answered before launch.
a. Duration of the Offer
When setting the duration for your LTO, keep in mind that you want people to take notice, but you don’t want it to last so long that people lose interest. A good rule of thumb is two to four weeks.
b. Creating a Sense of Urgency
One way to create urgency around an LTO is to limit the quantity available. This could mean putting a cap on the number of items that can be ordered or sold each day. Another option is to time the offer make it available for a certain period.
4. Marketing LTOs
Once you’ve decided on the details of your offer, it’s important to market it effectively. Make sure to promote your LTO through all of your channels, including online and offline marketing, social media, and email marketing.
a. Marketing Limited time offers on Social Media
When marketing LTOs on social media, it’s important to create a sense of urgency. You can do this by using phrases such as “limited time only,” “ends soon,” or “while supplies last.”
You can also use images that convey the feeling of urgency, such as clocks ticking down or people running out of time.
Speaking of images, you need to take a photo of your menu item. The perfect photo is eye-catching, bright, and has good lighting. You'll want to have your business name visible in the photo in case it gains traction online and viewers want to know where to get it. This can be done by using a custom printed cup, a watermark, or having your storefront in the background of the product.
Lastly, encourage customers to post pictures by creating a unique hashtag or giving them a discount for promoting. Yelp is the perfect platform for this kind of offer.
Social media can be a big driver for LTOs so if you don't already have business profiles, go create them!
b. Use In Store Displays to advertise LTOs
The simplest thing you can do to advertise your LTO food or drink is by using in-store displays. This can be something as basic as a poster or banner, or something more interactive like a model of the food or drink item sitting on the counter. Chances are, customers will want to see what they're getting before they order it, so use this to your advantage! Don't forget to place a sandwich board outside your store! Sandwich boards can create impulse buys from unsuspecting passersby that are attracted to an exciting graphic or photo of your LTO.
By following these tips, you can create a successful Limited Time Offer that will attract new customers and continue to drive existing customers back to try these specialty items. Offerings like this are a great way to increase sales and bring in new business.