Don Bye
Blog, Operational Efficiency

Limited-time offers (LTOs) like McDonald’s’ Shamrock Shake, Taco Bell’s Naked Chicken Chalupa, and Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino are some of the most popular LTOs in recent QSR history. (OK, the Shamrock Shake has been around forever, but it’s so good we had to include it.) Introducing a successful limited-time offer can be difficult, but here are some tips from an LTO strategy that will make you the next QSR craze.

New or newly upgraded items work best

Despite the runaway success of the Shamrock Shake, a limited-time offer should be more than a minor twist on a classic menu item. Customers generally look for one of two things in LTOs: new products to try and different takes on their old favorites. Take what your customers already love about your restaurant and try something new with it. A little bit of market research can go a long way here, but isn’t absolutely necessary — a quick look at your best-selling items can give you a starting point.

Do you sell more sandwiches than any other menu item? Think of a sandwich that you’ve never offered before. Do your customers love ordering tater tots as a side? Offer deluxe tots that come with extra toppings. Wish you sold more desserts? Try a sundae with unique toppings, and serve it with a collectible cup.

This is one area where you shouldn’t look to your competitors for inspiration. Be unique with your LTO strategy, and tailor your offerings to your store’s style and your customers’ desires.

Capitalize on what’s trending

We tend to think of trends in a negative way — “Oh, that’s just a fad. It won’t last.” Well, when it comes to marketing, get that notion out of your head, and embrace trendiness. There’s a reason brands like Arby’s are using their social media accounts to make memes instead of sharing promotions. Trendy brands encourage customers to participate in an experience instead of just purchasing a product.

Being trendy can be tough. By the time you figure out what’s “in,” it’s probably already on its way out. Find inspiration by looking to your social media team, or, if possible, your kids. No one else has a better pulse on what’s hot, and making that connection with your customers will be well worth the effort.

Remember, they’re “limited”

LTO strategy isn’t all dependent on the brand’s decisions. Restaurant Operators need to be flexible on LTOs in terms of the timing – specifically the end date.

While you may be off the hook as an operator because the menu item is, quite literally, a limited time offer, so your audience should know it won’t last forever. On the other hand, the customer’s timeline isn’t always the LTOs timeline, and we’d hate to disappoint our customers!

So, as the programs wind down and food and/or packaging is no longer available, operators need to be aware of removing the point of purchase material and, more importantly, communicate with cashiers and service personnel on scripting responses to customer requests and offering alternative items.

Dare to be bold

When it comes to limited-time offers, you don’t need to play it safe. Try something new, something gutsy, something you’ve thought about before but never dared to try. If it fails? It was a limited-time offer, so try something different next time. But, if it succeeds? You could have your very own Shamrock Shake or Szechuan Sauce, with legions of customers driving miles and miles just to get their hands on what you’re selling.

If you need a hand coming up with ideas, look to your team members. No one knows your menu better than they do, and they definitely have ideas about what LTOs might work.
Limited-time offers can be unpredictable. Your best idea might not land with your customer base, while your last-second idea might be the one that hits it big. Don’t be discouraged. LTOs are your chance to take risks and be bold. Use these tips to build a basic LTO strategy, then try a few things and see what works.

Learn from the Shamrock Shake — even the simplest idea can make a lifelong impression.

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