LTOs increasingly make the restaurant world go round
By Keith Goldman/California Tortilla COO, co-founder & chef
Menu innovation and creativity is the stuff that gets most restaurateurs up in the morning. Discovering the foods and flavor combinations that customers go crazy about is the prize — the kind of affirmation and delight that keeps us all coming back for more. And it's also the stuff that acts as daily career fuel for restaurant culinary teams.
That's why limited-time offers are so integral to your restaurant's success: They not only bring both new and old customers in, but keep them "tuned-in" to what your brand is doing in anticipation of what's coming next. That's also why I'm so surprised that more brands don't use LTOs more often.
At California Tortilla, more than half of our current menu is comprised of our best-selling LTOs. If you don't continue to evolve your menu, customers will eventually get bored and experience menu burnout. I believe it is imperative for restaurant brands to lead the charge with changing food trends.
How do you begin?
Start with a flavor trend. Look at food trade publications, visit new concepts and study the dishes gaining popularity in big cities. This kind of "research" will help you find what new foods consumers are leaning toward.
Then with a flavor in mind, you can begin to develop a great-tasting product. But remember, LTOs centered around new flavor trends require careful planning, plenty of testing and should start with an element of authenticity.
For example, when we created our version of Korean barbecue at California Tortilla, it was important that the main distinguishing ingredient — Korean barbecue sauce — remained true to its origin. After research and some trial-and-error, we discovered gojuchang (red chili paste) was the key ingredient to making an authentic-tasting sauce.
Once you start testing your recipe, make sure the item is simple enough to execute easily within your system. The culinary team must understand the mechanics of the restaurant and know which skills are needed and available to execute a new menu item.
The item also needs to be financially smart. Bringing in new products for LTOs requires working closely with your distributors to find ingredients they have access to and then establishing inventory PARs that will be depleted by the end of the offering period. And of course, most importantly, any LTO should be profitable for the operator and affordable for your guests.
It's all (or at least a lot of it) in the presentation
Once you have the perfect LTO, they way you implement it in your system and bring it to customers is key. Here are some of the steps in making a successful implementation happen.
- Provide an LTO kit for your locations: This should include detailed information about the new products, as well as training guides and how-to videos.
- Consider dispatching corporate trainers: This is a best practice step that puts trainers in each store to show operators and team members how to properly execute and deliver your LTO.
- Marketing makes it happen: Great-tasting LTOs pique customers' attention, but only if they know it exists. Digital marketing and social media are effective tools for spreading the word.
- Pictures are worth a thousand words: Strongly consider scheduling a photo shoot to use in posters, as well as counter displays and table toppers. But take care to ensure the food you photograph looks just like the food you will serve.
The best LTOs perform because the brand's customers already trust the chain and want to try something new. But to ensure your idea has performed well, measure its sales. At California Tortilla, the brand's benchmark for a successful LTO execution is when it makes up 20 to 25 percent of sales in a particular menu item category, or 5 to 10 percent of total sales.
If your LTO performs well, consider adding it to the regular menu. Another option is to choose to bring the offer back seasonally as a recurring menu item that guests look forward to each year.
Limited-time offers can distinguish a restaurant. So go ahead and push your culinary boundaries. In the end, this kind of continuing menu innovation goes a long way toward making your brand stand out in a crowded and competitive field.