Ever notice how the less available things are to us, the more desirable they seem? That’s the strategy driving Limited Time Offers (LTOs) for operators to upsell on-site promotions.
By Jack Kohane
Photography by Brandon Gray
“LTOs definitely allow us to have actual market research from guests about the quality and long-term viability of a particular dish from our consumers’ standpoint,” says Executive Chef Jason Rosso of Milestones Grill & Bar, an upscale casual style restaurant chain with 51 stores in BC, Alberta and Ontario.
Chef Jason uses LTOs as a tool to test the creative reach on each plate without having to commit for a longer period of time on a certain dish. “LTOs allow all of our 55 chefs across the country to create special menu items,” he continues. “It really gives the chefs an opportunity to help influence the direction of the Milestones menu.” He points out that LTOs are rarely used to promote pricier or more complex dishes, “…but they do give us a temperature check to see how creative we can get with our customers.
“Often, my menu creations for the LTOs are focused on what we can get on a large buy. For instance, we recently added a sticky Korean rib to the appetizer portion of the menu because we purchased 30,000 lbs. of a super-premium back rib that we would otherwise not be able to use in ordinary menu development. I often use the food-cycle trend when setting up our LTOs.”
Creating excitement through trial runs
Tapping into the resources of his brand suppliers, Chef Jason develops LTO initiatives that follow new trends or add a novel theme to a group of menu items. “Normally we try to run LTOs seasonally. At Milestones we generally call our LTOs the ‘Chef Menus’ and have them promoted as the specially created, slightly more adventurous part of our food program.
Branded partners can help operators find their LTO edge. Kyla Tuori, corporate chef at Unilever Food Solutions, for one, offers her clients a wealth of recipe savvy when they’re designing an LTO rollout. “We utilize information supplied by our Consumer Market Insights Team and research partners. However, each chef’s inspiration can vary depending on their experience and background,” she says from her test kitchen. “Operators use LTOs as a way to trial new menu items and drive traffic into their operation.”
The frequency with which operators should promote LTOs depends on their individual capabilities, she advises. National operators are more likely to have the capabilities and resources to carry out monthly LTOs; smaller regional chains may opt for a launch just two to three times a year. “The LTO planning process between QSR and casual dining is similar,” she adds. “But the execution and recommendations will greatly differ based on back of house labour capabilities, equipment, and trending within that particular channel.”
Finding the right LTO for the right clientele
LTOS are fundamental to the restaurant industry, but in rolling one out to guests, it must fit with the demographics and expectations of one’s clientele. According to Tim Marko, director of foodservice marketing for Heinz North America, getting the LTO right isn’t so simple. “You need to generate excitement and interest without continually extending the menu,” he says. A successful LTO campaign arrives with a product that’s perfect for a particular season and there’s a sense of immediacy around it. “A customer must want to get it before it’s gone,” he emphasizes.
In working with his operator clients, Marko says that the LTO has to make sense for them. “The key is to understand their individual strategies, as well as their menu preparation and timing challenges. All these aspects must work or it won’t be a satisfying experience for the customer.”
For Chef Jason at Milestones, creativity always has to be part of the LTO planning process. “Our home-style LTO last fall consisted of all of our chefs creating a home-style dish that was part of their childhood,” he recalls. “Due to our ethnically diverse group of chefs, the menu items were a collection of multicultural dishes.”
Chorizo mozzarella fritters from a Mexican chef, adobe prime rib poutine from a Philippine chef, a galbi-style rib-eye from a Korean chef, and a butter chicken risotto from a South Asian chef were just a few of the new dishes offered as part of the promotion. “It was quite successful.”
Top tips to roll out a successful LTO
- Give your LTO ample planning time as you may need to source new ingredients, plan for menu changes, and pay for advertising.
- Consider using customer comment cards, then focus on providing something new that people want.
- Utilize social media and your restaurant’s email marketing as a tool to promote your limited time offer.
- Keep it simple. LTOs don’t need to be complicated; the easier they are to describe, promote and sell, the better.