The Limited Time Offer
Limited time offers or LTOs can be a great way to test the viability of new menu items, move inventory that may be close to its expiration date, or increase sales on a particular day of the week, enter “Doppio Frico Tuesdays” at Wholly Stromboli. When I began to write this story, I was eager to share all that I have learned over the last 15 years about releasing LTO’s and most recently The Doppio Frico — Fort Lupton Deep Dish. I began to think about the idea that if you are the visionary of your company, as I am, you’re probably the one who comes up with the creative ideas.
For us visionaries, LTOs can be a great outlet for our creativity, which keeps us motivated through tough times, feeds our souls and helps drive our vision for the future. While every business needs a visionary, we can tend to see the BIGGER picture and not the minute details required for a successful implementation. It takes a team of implementers to put these ideas into action — people with a more systematic way of thinking. As I reflected on our recent release, I started to think, why don’t I ask the implementers in my organization what it takes to successfully execute an LTO, and here’s what they shared.
Proper planning is key. “Tweaking things” as you go is hard on your team. Resolving questions such as, what is the desired look and feel of the dish, plating and whether it is an in-house only special in advance will ensure your rollout will go smoothly. Make sure that your training materials are rolled out to your team well ahead of the release date. Knowledge is power and this preparedness will spurn excitement with your team vs. stress and anxiety because they don’t know the plan. Lastly, lack of communication is perhaps the biggest pitfall in successful execution. We have to ensure that all team members, including those who work part-time, receive the communication and training needed” says Eric Frey, General Manager, Wholly Stromboli.
Timing is critical! Clashes with holidays, and events (parades, festivals or concerts), could put a damper on your release, not to mention that your team may be requesting these dates off as well, leaving you understaffed. Lastly, give your team enough time to perfect the process. Your team really wants to be able to execute flawlessly and sell your special with confidence! “Give them the training they need to fall in love with your big idea, instead of despising it because they feel incompetent or ill-prepared,” says Rowen Ben-Joseph, Front of The House Manager.
Determining the goal of the LTO is the first step and most critical. Is your desire to increase sales or move specific products from your shelves? Then we decide if it’s cost-effective. Look at COGS, price point and factor in how much labor you are adding to the overall cost. Knowing where you will put any new ingredients on your makeline, which positions in your kitchen will be involved, and how will they be affected are all keys to a smooth rollout, says Edgar St John, Kitchen Manager.
Accurate recipe costing is critical. Our margins are razor thin and profitability of the LTO is vital. Wasting labor and ingredients on a creative whim that is not profitable isn’t good business. Take the time to write a solid recipe, set your desired margin, cost out your recipe and set your selling price accordingly. Having a great recipe isn’t just about putting great ingredients together in a way that is appealing to your guests, recipes and sub-recipes that list ingredients, tools needed, yields, techniques and the process are key. Include pictures and videos if you can.
Additionally, if you are creating additional SKUs to your inventory, you’ll need time to research, source and test them. And don’t forget yield testing for items that have trim loss, says Eric Rickman, CFO & Co-Founder.
Give adequate time and space for media coverage. You can only get so far on word of mouth. Start your marketing campaign no less than three weeks before your launch date and don’t rely on social and print media alone. Get your team involved! Contests are a great way to get your team motivated to sell and don’t forget the heart of the house. You want your whole team invested. Take photos and post them on social or have a contest for the prettiest “pizza,” says Jordan Montoya, Director of Marketing.
If you are going to use table tents or other print media, invest in high-quality photos, graphics and professional printing. On the planning side, playing devil’s advocate can be an effective way to ward off potential issues before they happen. Ask yourself and your team what could go wrong and then make a plan and a backup to that plan, says Monika Jesser, Graphic Designer.
And finally, my two cents — Staying on brand is key! Think about what will resonate with your current customer base, and also consider the new guests you want to attract and connect with your brand long-term. By way of example, if you pride yourself on using quality ingredients in a cozy, well-appointed atmosphere with a $30 per person average, you wouldn’t want to attract guests who are looking for cheap eats with an under $10 offer. Your new customers could be disappointed that there aren’t any “deals” on your menu once the LTO has ended. While you may have gained new customers, they won’t stick around and may not bring the kind of word of mouth desired.
LTOs can be a fun and advantageous experience. Driving sales, attracting new guests and bringing a little variety to your team day are just a few things that I love about special offerings. When we work as a team to market, train, sell, plan ahead and execute we make it an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. Let there be no limits to the success of your limited-time offerings!
MELISSA RICKMAN is co-founder of Wholly Stromboli in Fort Lupton, Colorado, and member of the World Pizza Champions.