Why Limited Time Offerings are More Than a Passing Phase

Limited Time Offerings (LTOs) have been a staple of the restaurant industry, although their very nature is short-lived. For consumers, LTOs often bring to mind seasonal offerings that have become synonymous with specific times of the year. For restaurants, LTOs create new avenues to connect with customers and generate opportunities for chefs to expand offerings. Any quick-service restaurant endeavoring to increase consumer engagement and create a dynamic brand needs to consider making LTOs a significant part of their menu development.

As a proud part of the leadership team at Craveworthy Brands, the platform company behind 11 unique restaurant concepts, I lead day-to-day supply chain management, events, distribution, and of course, LTOs. Managing LTOs across multiple brands, I’ve seen how their activations strengthen brands not just from a marketing standpoint, but operationally as well. While brands rely on consistent quality and recognizable products, having a systematic deviation from the norm creates opportunities to explore new and exciting flavors while still preserving the core menu that has created a loyal guest following. From chefs looking for a challenge to consumers hungry for something new, LTOs can inject restaurants with a sense of excitement. 

The Creative Process Behind LTO’s

Before diving into the benefits of LTOs, it is important to think strategically about how its activation can drive foot traffic and how feasible it will be to source new ingredients. 

Here are the essential questions to ask yourself before designing an LTO:

  • Are there any consumer trends you anticipate in the coming months? 
  • What are new flavor profiles your competitors are tapping into? 
  • What kind of LTO would you be interested in?
  • What products are pain points to replace or avoid? 
  • What products would you like to see increased usage in? 

LTO’s fall into multiple categories with two common being off-the-wall items that generate brand awareness or affordable items that use popular and easily approachable ingredients. Deciding what kind of LTO best fits your needs, whether you are going to break with convention or lean into a larger trend will determine a price point based on the supply chain accessibility of those ingredients. 

Once you determine the nature of the LTO that best fits your needs, the fun can start. Depending on the brand and equipment requirements, I will work in a brand kitchen and other times my kitchen as I turn it into the testing ground for Craveworthy Brands’. An open mind is essential at this stage, and trial and error will become your best friends. Don’t limit yourself at this point but it is also imperative that you are willing to fail and walk away from an idea if it just didn’t work. Working with a team, other colleagues in the industry, or vendors can supply significant support at this stage. And for me, the collaboration with our team at this point is my favorite part of the process. All the tasting doesn’t hurt either. 

Here are the essential questions to ask yourself after designing an LTO, before marketing:

  • Does the LTO meet the pre-established goals of the LTO?
  • Are there other brands with the same or a similar product? If so, what makes this product different?
  • Would the guest base of your restaurant be interested in this flavor profile?
  • How can you effectively appeal to current and new customers with this LTO?

Once the LTO is developed and products specified, the strategic supply chain work begins. While it is important not to limit yourself during the development stage, designing an LTO that requires products that are not easily sourced is counterproductive as a successful LTO can only be offered if the restaurants have access to all the required ingredients.

The pandemic emphatically demonstrated that disruptions of food suppliers will impact the prices and availability of products. When strategically implemented, LTO’s offer dynamic solutions to supply chain issues in two ways: they can make use of unconventional ingredients with lower supply chain pressure, or they can use well-stocked, affordable ingredients in a new way. 

What are the concrete benefits of LTOs for your brand’s longevity?

A Tool to Target New Customers

According to a recent report by Circana, 91 percent of consumers claim to be more interested in visiting a chain if there are LTOs or new items available. LTOs tend to gain traction among new customer groups, especially if an LTO is tapping into flavors that are not menu staples.

For example, at Genghis Grill, we spiced up our menu of Asian-inspired stir-fried bowls with a jambalaya bowl inspired by the Cajun food of Louisiana. This menu item was a stark flavor deviation from our traditional offerings, but based on the guest response, has become a staple of our menu. Our team found a cohesiveness between the warm, comforting nature of jambalaya and our classic Asian-inspired rice-based dishes. While different, it still resonated with our core guests. 

Opportunities for Experimentation

LTOs are my outlet for creativity. They allow me to blend my overarching love of food with a passion for experimenting. The creative process of designing an LTO is a tightrope of balancing trending flavors, toying with the unexpected, and the future direction of your restaurant’s menu. In today’s age where innovative menu items might go viral in a matter of minutes, chefs need to be thoughtful about the ingredients they rely on.

For our Wing It On! Concept, we debuted our Lavaberry Pop Rocks® wings that used watermelon and strawberry Pop Rocks® coated in sriracha rub. This unexpected flavor combination gained popularity online. Don’t be afraid to try something new – the success of an LTO can be overall brand awareness in addition to the menu items sold.

Establish a Dynamic Menu

As mentioned earlier,  successful LTO’s may earn permanent menu placement. While it is important to do routine large-scale market research to assess the longevity of your menu, LTOs allow you to measure the popularity of a product specific to your customer base more rapidly. If it works well and demand remains consistent over a long period of time, it makes sense to incorporate it into your menu.

That being said, there is a psychological component that attracts consumers to invest in something that is “limited.” The implicit scarcity of LTOs might make consumers think they will be missing out on a great deal or an exciting trend if they don’t act fast. It is a balancing act to determine what to keep limited and what to incorporate as a part of your brand moving forward. 

LTOs are a powerful tool for businesses navigating the changing landscape of food and equipment suppliers. Whether you launch several new items annually or have recurring seasonal items, there is no limit on how you can creatively craft LTOs to further your business.