The Art of a Successful Restaurant LTO

The restaurant limited time offer (LTO) is an industry staple. When properly executed, customers respond by driving up demand and creating buzz. Here are five key ingredients for your restaurant’s LTO.

7 min read
Successful Restaurant LTO

Everyone wants to be the first to discover something new — and your restaurant’s customers are no exception.

The restaurant limited time offer (LTO) is an industry staple — giving consumers an opportunity to be part of a unique dining experience.

When time is limited and the offer is appealing, customers respond by driving up demand for an item, talking about it, and increasing its popularity. What could your restaurant develop as its signature LTO?

Its success will depend on a number of factors, including how buzzworthy it is, how long it’s available, and its perceived value — to name a few. And you don’t need to limit yourself to specific seasons. An LTO can be successful any time of year if it has the right ingredients.

We’ll walk you through some tips to success when creating a restaurant LTO. Here are the key factors:

1. Exclusivity or high-quality

According to Technomic’s 2020 Future of FSR: Family Style and Casual Dining Consumer Trend Report, 43% of consumers say it’s important for food service locations to offer signature items that they can’t get elsewhere, and 41% say it’s important to offer menu items with unique flavors. 

Expensive and/or organic ingredients can help boost a restaurant LTO’s success by turning an ordinary food product into a luxury item. Other times, it’s just an LTO’s exclusivity that attracts customers to your restaurant to get that one thing they can’t find anywhere else.

2. Buzzworthiness

People talk. Given the popularity of social media in today’s world, a little talk can easily spread across the internet like wildfire — potentially giving your restaurant its moment in the limelight. Sometimes, all it takes for an LTO to achieve cult status is visual appeal — what some call ‘Instagram-worthiness.’ It’s one key way for a dish to generate hype or buzz. Other times, it’s simply a tongue-in-cheek concept — like Popeye’s IDK meal for undecided eaters, touted as, “The perfect meal when your partner doesn’t know what to eat.” The key is to make it something that people want to share and talk about.

3. Perceived scarcity

Another factor in determining an LTO’s potential for success is its scarcity — how long it will be available. Limited availability of an item creates urgency for the consumer who believes that they need to act soon or miss out on the experience. 

Make sure to have just enough supply of an item to last the length of the limited time offer, and then make it unavailable. The beginning and end dates of an item’s availability should be clearly communicated in promotional materials to entice your customers to give it a try.

IDK Meal

4. Good value

One key to success with a restaurant LTO is an appealing price — giving customers a reason to go out of their way or try something new. 

Many restaurant managers look at their current LTO as a loss leader — assuming that the sales revenue earned through selling accompanying dishes makes up for the low price of your offer. It’s often standard practice to offer a lower price for a premium LTO to attract enough interest and ensure customer satisfaction, but consider what makes the most sense for your business. 

5. Seasonality or trending flavor

Because consumer preferences tend to change depending on the season, many successful LTOs align with the time of year or specific holidays, such as Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, or Halloween. 

Every autumn, we see restaurant brands stepping up their pumpkin, chocolate, and cinnamon offerings. Winter squash begins to appear on the menu, along with other harvest foods in autumn’s palette — roasted carrots, persimmons. And the same is true of summer, when watermelon-flavored drinks and cucumber agua frescas arrive; and winter, when candy canes begin to appear sprinkled on muffins and cakes. A creative restaurateur can come up with an LTO for any time of year.

The final key ingredient to a successful LTO: knowing your customer.

Nobody knows your restaurant’s customers better than you do. Only you know the answer to whether they’d be more likely to go for harissa french fries or a peanut butter and jelly muffin. Don’t be afraid to try out a few ideas to see what works for you.

Once you have a clear idea of what you want to offer, it’s easy to create an LTO for your restaurant in DoorDash with marketing promotions. When customers log on to the DoorDash App, they’ll see your promotion in the Offers Hub — front and center. 

To sign up for Menu Item Promotions (or other promotions) in the Merchant Portal, click on "Grow Your Sales" and then "Explore Promos." You can customize your offer dates and details and start whenever you’re ready — and you can choose to give an offer more visibility using the ‘Promote Menu Item’ feature.

Interested in checking out DoorDash Marketing? Existing partners can explore further in the Merchant Portal. And if you’re new to DoorDash, get started here.


Diana Donovan
Diana Donovan


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