3 Easy Ways to Menu an LTO Without Adding Labor Costs

Trends July Article

A limited-time offer is a proven way of adding customers. Too bad it's also likely to add labor—unless an operator is crafty about the how's. Here's a peek at the tactics smart ones have used to roll out an LTO without hiking hours or training costs.

Swap one ingredient for another

With consumers’ increased interest in healthier, better-for-you foods, operators have the chance to offer new dishes that play into that interest. One easy way for operators to put an LTO on the menu that would involve no additional labels is to add a new option for a base ingredient. For instance, in burrito bowls or grain bowls, a new option can be quinoa (available for a limited time only!), or in stir fries, a salad option can be tested. This way, employees simply pick a different ingredient for the bowl—no additional training or labor necessary. And with quinoa entrees increasing on menus by 5.2% over the last year, and quinoa sides up 6.5%, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor, swapping a grain as an LTO can have a great payoff. At Sweetgreen, a fast-casual salad chain, the Mexican Corn Elote Bowl, for instance, features roasted corn and peppers, tomatoes, shredded cabbage, cilantro, local goat cheese, tortilla chips, sunflower seeds, warm quinoa, arugula and lime cilantro jalapeno vinaigrette.

Quality of ingredients can also be a big draw. IHOP’s recent promotion of a new burger patty was a blockbuster, in no small part because the chain pretended to change its name to IHOb—the ‘b’ standing for ‘burger.’ But franchisees were pleased—and the new burger wasn’t even new, per se—rather, the chain replaced its prior burger patty with a higher-quality grind that’s smashed on the grill. The builds were exactly the same; only the meat was changed, President Darren Rebelez told Restaurant Business.

Make ingredients multitask

Dessert LTOs are popular and are often successful, and best of all, they’re easy to create with ingredients that are already offered. For example, if a restaurant already offers ice cream and cookies, the kitchen can put together ice cream sandwiches as a dessert LTO without doing any extra work. Sandwich ice cream between two cookies for a basic dessert, or step it up a notch by dipping the sandwiches in DOVE dark chocolate and rolling them in chopped M&M’S® brand minis milk chocolate candies for a sweet combination that’ll have customers’ attention. At RAM Restaurant and Brewery, a casual dining chain with 24 locations, the white chocolate macadamia ice cream sandwich features vanilla ice cream layered between white chocolate macadamia nut cookies, rolled in coconut and macadamia nuts and dipped in milk chocolate. By using ingredients that are already there, no ordering is necessary, and by making items from components that are already on the menu, these treats come together fast.

Cross-utilize foods across the menu

To get the most out of prep work, operators can cross-utilize some ingredients to maximize profits. For instance, if a scratch-made chocolate sauce is typically used as an ice cream topping, how about using it in milkshakes or even as an indulgent drizzle for waffles in the morning? Alternatively, instead of just using quinoa-rice blends for dinner service, they can also be mixed with oatmeal, then topped with fruit and nuts to be offered as a breakfast porridge. Another Broken Egg Café is currently offering an LTO that’s exactly this—the Toasted Coconut Quinoa Power Skillet, with granola topped with coconut and orange-infused quinoa, blackberries, mango, watermelon and green apples.

When planning for an LTO, something that operators keep in mind is cost—not just of ingredients but of the labor it takes to make them. By swapping out ingredients, making foods multitask and cross-utilizing sauces, grains and other ingredients, operators can offer successful LTOs without having to invest in costly training and other labor.