Act Fast! How to Make the Most of Your LTO Strategy

Ironically, Limited Time Offers (LTOs) have been around for a long time in the restaurant industry, and that’s because they can yield impressive results. By offering a special menu item or deal for a short time, restaurants create a sense of urgency in their customers. This can increase excitement and drive foot traffic for new and existing customers. It’s all about boosting sales. When executed properly, LTOs really work.

According to recent studies, over the past five years the number of LTO menu items at the top 500 chain restaurants has increased by 64% and 48% of consumers report trying an LTO menu item every month. If you recall Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte, Applebee’s $1 Margaritas, Taco Bell’s Nacho Fries, McDonalds’ McRib, or the most recent Popeyes Fried Chicken Sandwich craze with wait times in line for over an hour, you’ve seen the power of effective LTOs in action.  These chains brought together all of their departments—culinary, marketing, supply chain, operations, finance and, often, franchisees—to develop omnichannel strategies that worked for their brands. Here is a high-level overview of the LTO process and some tips to make your LTO strategy a long-term success.

Concept - How does a restaurant brand come up with their LTOs? It’s best to base your decisions on data as opposed to gut instinct. An in-depth understanding of your customer base, survey results/customer feedback, as well as insights from past campaigns (both the successes and the failures) should take a lot of the guesswork out of the creative process. Involve multiple departments at this stage to ensure buy-in and excitement across your organization.

Marketing - Conceptualizing and marketing should go hand-in-hand. One of the reasons Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino took off was that the colorful beverage was so popular on Instagram – it was developed with that in mind. Social media marketing is powerful, but you must promote your LTOs across all channels (TV, radio, billboards, point-of-purchase, digital ads, geotargeting etc.) to ensure you are meeting your customers wherever they are.

Testing/Feedback - Testing your featured menu item will likely take place in stages; first in-house, in a single store, and then in limited markets before finally being rolled out everywhere. It is vital at this point to collect data from your test markets so you can make adjustments to your product and/or marketing plan if necessary, before rolling it out nationwide. Making adjustments at this point can save you a significant amount of time and money, and give your campaign a better chance at success.

Execution - When it’s time to launch your LTO, everyone needs to be on the same page. Make sure you have seamless, effective communication with your vendors and suppliers to ensure you don’t run out of product. Ensure that your restaurant is properly staffed and your staff is equipped to handle the additional traffic your LTO should bring in. Back-end restaurant software can be a huge help in ensuring that your inventory, scheduling, training, etc. goes off without a hitch.

Evaluation - During and after your LTO, you’ll want to closely monitor your restaurant’s reporting and analytics. Of course, you’ll want to track overall traffic and sales, as well as sales of your featured item, but you also may want to track server performance or other criteria during the promotion to increase operational efficiencies. The data you gather here should help you determine the ROI of your offer, and also help you in planning and promoting future offers.

Action Plan - Limited time offers often help restaurants make long-term decisions. It may be that the new sandwich that you successfully sold as an LTO becomes a permanent menu item and a customer favorite. You may discover how to attract a new market of customers that you previously had missed, or you may determine that a certain marketing channel works best for your business. Each time you run a new LTO, there are insights you can gather that can help your restaurant grow and thrive. Just be sure to act on what you learn.


Restaurant Magic was founded over 25 years ago with a single vision of providing restaurant operators better access to their operational data. With this access, operators can make faster decisions, optimize schedules, implement predictive ordering, and create a positive impact on their bottom line. Restaurant Magic provides insight to some of the largest multi-unit brands in the world, including Dairy Queen, First Watch, Smoothie King and MOD Pizza. If you are interested in finding out more about Restaurant Magic or scheduling a demo of our software visit www.RestaurantMagic.com or call 1-800-933-4711.