Successful LTO Menu Strategies You’ll Want to Consider This Year

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With Pumpkin and Peppermint mania upon us, we’re reminded of how a short-term menu offering provides instant excitement at our favorite restaurants. Limited-Time Offers (LTOs) are a powerful tactic to reengage loyal customers as well as reach new ones. The positive impact of an LTO menu on traffic and same store sales is well documented across industry channels.

In fact, 48% of consumers surveyed in a recent LTO study by Technomic report trying a new limited time menu item at least once a month.  So, as food marketers, how do we better support foodservice operators and earn our products a highlighted place on menus?

Historically, LTOs have been promoted through simple table tents, server communication, and traditional advertising measures. However, QSR magazine predicts social media advertising will be the top food marketing method used by restaurants in the coming year. And today’s successful LTOs are already leveraging social to amplify their offering.

Presenting new buzz-worthy or fear of missing out (FOMO) triggered LTO menu items to potential operator partners helps garner attention on the “inside.” Operators are more receptive if they are in the know and feel part of the conversation from ideation. Helping operators enhance their business KPIs and extend their LTO ROI is a win-win for all parties. Especially if a specific product or ingredient already exists on their menu.

Here are five creative social media-fueled LTO ideas that achieve the “FOMO effect” and can be a great benchmark for your food brand. 

Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino LTO Marketing EvansHardy+YoungThe “Instagram Worthy” Beauty Queen

Take a picture, it will last longer. Limited time offers offering visual appeal have great potential for going viral on social media. Starbucks’ Unicorn Shake is a perfect example. The global coffee chain took a play from the extreme dessert craze playbook to entice customers, and it worked! According to UBS research, the Frappuccino generated roughly 180,000 Instagram posts in just one week. Restaurants are trying harder than ever to produce aesthetically pleasing “food eye candy” since they cannot control the quality of the photos posted of their food. The prettier food, the more attention the restaurant receives. So when presenting a potential new LTO to an operator, it is important to keep the notion of “Instagram-Worthy” top of mind.

Pumpking Juice LTO Seasonal Food Marketing EvansHardy+YoungSeasons of Change

Seasonal flavor offerings are nothing new in foodservice. They’re the OG of the LTO space. And they still prove to be effective when marketed appropriately, especially by way of social media. Why not take a fun out-of-the box approach when thinking of an LTO idea? I Love Juice Bar launched its “Save our Pumpkins” campaign to promote seasonal ingredients found within their new fall-focused drinks. The Autumn Spice and Ginger Spice smoothies were both made sans pumpkin. The anti-pumpkin campaign twist sparked media interest and was a conversation starter for customers. Another option is focusing on seasonal happenings. For instance, Chipotle offered free guacamole on National Avocado Day. They promoted the offer exclusively through social media and experienced their highest recorded digital sales day in company history. The free scoop of guacamole drove sales up by 60%.

McDonalds McRib Cult Following Food Marketing EvansHardy+YoungCult Following

McDonald’s McRib “is back.” Once a year this (somewhat strange) LTO keeps consumers excited and on the hook. The McRib has its own Facebook page with over 35,000 followers. The page prompts consumers to create websites, groups, and social posts dedicated to locating stores where the sandwich is available. It’s a marketer’s social dream! Do you have a brand that can achieve this kind of cult following? If so, try presenting a reoccurring LTO theme and offer it as an exclusive.  Help the operator promote the menu item ongoing with a targeted multiyear social marketing plan.

iHop Stunt Food Marketing EvansHardy+YoungStunt Masters

In anticipation of its 60th anniversary, IHOP announced they would be changing their name to IHOB through a string of social media posts and tweets. Despite debates on the success of this campaign, the name-change move got a lot of people talking. IHOP’s popularity skyrocketed in the week following the unveiling, and disrupted the chain’s former pancake perception. Although the promotion may not have increased headcount, it did put IHOP’s expanded burger menu on the radar of almost everyone on social media. Despite the fact that the chain had been serving burgers since they opened their doors in the 1950’s!  Now, if they only coupled this effort with a robust multi-tiered LTO program it could have pushed them past the tipping point of success. When considering promotional stunts, be sure to draft a long-term strategy when talking to operators. Show them how to tease the program on social media but also follow through with a strategic in-store support game plan.

Wendys Harvest Salad Seasonal Marketing Food Advertising EvansHardy+YoungGive a Little, Take a Little

Some LTOs try the Happy Meal Effect by offering social savvy followers a freebie or collectible item. Take for instance Wendy’s recent efforts. To celebrate its launch and the first day of fall, they offered a free portion of their new Harvest Salad only to those who downloaded their digital app. Consumers were happy with the free salad, but Wendy’s also captured valuable customer data and new costumers to boot! Social and digital apps go hand-in-hand. Be sure to your plan accounts for an operator’s app if they have one.

The Future of LTOs is Very Social

As you can see, the driving force behind all of these menu items is a powerful marketing campaign and strong social media. The success of an LTO menu depends on its publicity. Using social media tools like Facebook and Instagram is essential to successfully marketing a profitable new menu item. When an LTO is marketed and executed correctly, it builds a loyal following, boosts brand excitement, attracts foot traffic, and most importantly, increases sales. Bottom line, in order to fully amplify your brand’s message, food marketers must stay ahead of food and social marketing trends to effectively reach consumers and operators alike.

Emily Nordee PR Director EvansHardy+Young
Emily Nordee, PR Director

After earning degrees in both Nutritional Science and Viticulture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Emily spent several years working at top NYC communications agencies. Now she’s brought that big city energy and in-depth knowledge of food marketing to us, where she plays a leading role on the California Walnuts, Lamb Weston and Avocados From Peru PR business.