The Path Less Traveled:
Offering Limited-Edition Menu Items
With the holidays upon us, the tastes of the public have changed. Cravings abound for seasonally-specific flavors and the demand for menu items reflecting this increases between September and January. Take the case of Starbucks and their yearly Pumpkin Spice Latte. It’s a seasonal offering more popular than any of their other options, so much so that there are countdowns eagerly anticipating the release. The flavors of pumpkin, gingerbread, nutmeg, cinnamon, and peppermint are the most popular of the Fall/Winter season. Capitalizing on the high demand for seasonal flavors can generate more business and more attention, driving up profits and increasing your name recognition in your community.
Where do you begin? After crafting your LTO (limited time offer) with considerations toward your existing menu and local demand, it’s important to market it appropriately. Usual marketing methods won’t be as effective: customers need to recognize the differences between your regular fare and your seasonal offering. One such technique is to capitalize on FOMO, or the ‘fear of missing out’. Leaning into the fact that this item is both seasonal and limited can increase the general interest and desire to sample the product. Starbucks does this to an extent with regularly-featured menu items, like Pumpkin Spice, but it’s more obvious in their one-time items, like their Unicorn Frappuccino and their Crystal Ball Frappuccino back in 2017 and 2018. By emphasizing the fact that these drinks were one of a kind, extremely limited, and unique, the public bought them in droves, sending the concept viral.
Other than leaning into FOMO and focusing on the limited nature of your offering(s), it can be highly effective to tie your menu item into a local or national trend, event, or holiday. This can be a tricky line to walk: you don’t necessarily want to lean into religious holidays like Christmas or controversial holidays like Columbus Day/Indigenous People’s Day, but market research and regular interaction with your community should turn up a decent amount of marketing opportunities. There may be a local parade for Thanksgiving, perhaps, which utilizes both a national holiday (Thanksgiving) and a local event (the parade). Consider the following: Enjoy a plate of pumpkin pancakes before heading to the Thanksgiving Parade! It’s ready-made marketing that gives customers a strong sense of identity with your restaurant.
Of course, the ultimate goal with offering an LTO is to drive up profits. Cross-promotion can do wonders to aid in this: if your LTO is a fall-themed cocktail, for instance, consider pairing it with a popular entree you already serve. For a food LTO, such as the aforementioned pumpkin pancakes, add a side or appetizer you already offer. Tying your LTO into your existing menu not only lends legitimacy to your LTO, in that it seems more organic rather than capitalizing on a trend, but also serves as an excellent way to boost sales higher than offering an LTO alone. McDonalds offers their Shamrock Shake exclusively around St. Patrick’s Day, but although it’s certainly possible to order it alone, it’s often offered as a drink substitute in a regular meal or given a slight discount when ordered with food. Making connections to existing menu items is a crucial way to prevent poor sales, time and money wastage, and any possible customer backlash.
Offering LTOs is a great way to boost revenue, connect with your customer base, and revamp your menu temporarily. It’s not outside the realm of possibility for most eateries and the ROI is often worth the effort.