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5 Limited Time Offers (LTOs) Driving Restaurant Traffic

Shira Petrack
March 29, 2023
5 Limited Time Offers (LTOs) Driving Restaurant Traffic

Limited-Time Offers (LTOs) – adding special menu items or offering promotions for a limited time only – are popular in the restaurant industry. And while LTOs come in different types, they usually serve the same purpose – to generate buzz and increase traffic to dining venues. We looked at five different LTOs to understand how this tool helps drive visits to already strong brands. 

  1. Recurring LTO: Starbucks’ Holiday Menu 

From the annual launch of its now-iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte to the company’s yearly Red Cup Day, Starbucks has mastered limited-time offerings. The brand succeeds in owning its promotional calendar by leveraging annually recurring LTOs that create seasonal cravings for specialty Starbucks products. 

Foot traffic data shows the strategy is working. For example, the brand’s holiday menu – usually launched the first week of November – drives recurring visit spikes during the last two months of the year. 

  1. Nostalgic LTOs:  McDonald’s Special Happy Meals 

McDonald’s is another LTO master, with recurring LTOs such as the Shamrock Shake and customer-driven LTOs such as the Hash Brown McMuffin driving regular visit spikes. And to keep the LTOs fresh, McDonald’s also gets creative with its offerings. 

One of the brand’s most successful LTOs last year gave consumers the opportunity to tap into their childhood nostalgia – for a limited time – through the purchase of a Cactus Plant Flea Market Box, dubbed an “adult Happy Meal.” The adult Happy Meal LTO was met with intense demand and quickly sold out, with McDonald’s seeing a 37.6% year-over-year (YoY) traffic increase during the week of the launch. Two weeks later, on October 18th, McDonald’s launched another nostalgia-inspired Happy Meal LTO – the Halloween Happy Meal Pails – which once again drove YoY visits up dramatically. 

  1. Short window LTO: Wingstop’s Blazed & Glazed Flavor

Many companies keep their LTOs running for several months in order to build awareness and momentum around the new item. But some LTOs – such as Wingstop’s limited edition “blazed & glazed” flavor, released in honor of “420 Day” – succeed in generating a major buzz in under a week. 

The company released the cannabis-inspired flavor on April 18th, 2022 and discontinued it on April 22nd. But even though Wingstop kept the “blazed & glazed” wings in stores for just five days, visits jumped the week of the launch and remained elevated for several weeks after that. 

  1. Inadvertent LTOs: Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza 

Dining concepts usually use LTOs as strategic tools to drive publicity, visits, and sales. But some companies – like Taco Bell – find themselves launching inadvertent LTOs when they run out of much-anticipated permanent additions to menus. 

In Mid-April 2022, Taco Bell announced the return of the Mexican Pizza – which had been removed from menus at the onset of the pandemic – following a fan-led campaign. The demand was so strong that the first week the Mexican Pizza returned Taco Bell visits jumped by 45.9% relative to the previous week. The company quickly ran out of the ingredients necessary to make the popular product, making the return of the Mexican Pizza an inadvertent LTO. And when Taco Bell brought the item back in September, week-over-week visits jumped again. 

  1. Promotional LTOs: Olive Garden’s Unlimited Pasta Bowl

Not every LTO involves a new food product – limited time offers can also involve special promotions on existing menu items, and these types of LTOs can also drum up traffic and boost revenue. 

Following a two-year pandemic induced hiatus, Olive Garden brought back its famed “Never Ending Pasta Bowl” promotion between October 3rd and November 20th, 2022. During what was a difficult year for the full-service restaurant category, the return of the Never Ending Pasta Bowl brought patrons back to the Darden restaurant, with YoY visits to Olive Garden positive during almost all weeks of the promotion. 

LTOs Create Significant Opportunities in the Dining Space

There are many different types of LTOs, but most iterations share one thing in common – the potential to drive major visit spikes to restaurants and dining concepts. As consumers continue looking for ways to trim their dining budgets, LTOs can help companies attract patrons and give people a reason to visit their favorite restaurant despite rising costs.

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