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"Limited" success

Nine steps to a great LTO.

Your latest menu is a crowd favorite, so why rock the boat by introducing Limited Time Offers? Jeff Drake, president of the nine-unit Go Roma, a fast-casual Italian concept, cites three reasons: to keep the menu fresh and interesting for loyal customers, to drive traffic among new users and to incorporate flavorful ingredients that are “best in market” at that particular time. While your goals may differ slightly, many of the steps to a successful LTO are common to all.

  1. Get the whole team on board. R&D, distribution, purchasing, operations, training, marketing and finance all have to be involved from the get-go. Planning should begin anywhere from three months to a year before the LTO launch, with frequent team meetings.
  2. Listen up. The R&D team and outside consultants can spot trends, but so can customers, suppliers and front- and back-of-house staff.
  3. Don’t stray. An LTO should be a natural fit with your menu and product inventory, explains Becky Shell, director of marketing for several Raving Brands concepts. That means utilizing mostly existing specs.
  4. Be creative. Russell Bry, co-founder and executive chef of Go Roma, gets small batches of ingredients from suppliers so he can translate paper ideas into real dishes and foresee any distribution glitches. After some trial and error by R&D, a prototype is taste tested.
  5. Forecast. “Your goal is to have enough product to support an LTO for the length of its run without having surplus inventory at the end,” says Jack Odachowski, VP of purchasing for Bravo Development, a group that includes the Bravo, Bon Vie and Rio concepts. To minimize risk, he suggests working with current suppliers and using stock products to develop an item. “If your forecast is wrong, stock products can be returned or if there’s a shortfall, a regular supplier will make it up.”
  6. Do a test run. Go Roma tests a new item at one location to get manager and guest feedback before rolling it out system-wide. “We make sure the cost of goods is in line with the rest of the menu and the LTO isn’t cannibalizing other items,” Drake notes.
  7. Train the staff. To assure consistent execution, the kitchen at each location must be thoroughly trained in prep and presentation. But the training shouldn’t stop there. Shane’s Rib Shack (a Raving Brands concept) sends out a training guide for the front of the house, too, to introduce the new items.
  8. Market it. Start two weeks before the launch with a pre-promotion, using coupons, direct mail pieces and e-mail blasts. Go Roma targets its permission-based e-mail list or “E-Club” to entice loyal customers. In-store and point-of-purchase materials encourage trial and return visits once the LTO is underway; Shane’s uses table tents, banners, posters and employee T-shirts to spread the word and some of its franchisees purchase newspaper ads and radio and TV spots.
  9. Track it. An LTO should run at least six weeks. During that time, Odachowski suggests following several tracking strategies: Develop a demand vs. sales spreadsheet; monitor store, distributor and supplier level inventories; monitor real-time sales; and play “what if.”

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