limited time offers in restaurants
by Laura-Andreea Voicu

If you see “Hurry! Limited-time offer!” advertised by your favorite restaurant or one you’ve been meaning to try, what’s your response?

Do you feel a sense of urgency? A need to jump on the offer before it ends?

That’s the beauty of limited-time offers. They’re an easy way to encourage potential customers to visit your restaurant today rather than putting off their visit. With limited-time offers, you can promote new or seasonal products, drive traffic to your restaurant, and bring in new customers.

What are limited-time offers?

Limited-time offers, sometimes referred to as LTOs, are promotional offers that run for a clearly defined period. In restaurants, these might include offering a discount on specific menu items or certain days for a set time. Limited-time offers can also include special menu items that aren’t always available or one-off restaurant events.

Limited-time offers differ from other promotional offers because they only run for a short period. If your restaurant always provides a discounted lunch menu or a senior citizens’ discount, that’s not a limited-time offer. An LTO might include promoting, or offering discounts on, seasonal menu items for a month or a single weekend of deals.

A classic example of a limited-time offer is the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. First introduced in 2003, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is a seasonal beverage sold at Starbucks during the fall. It quickly became Starbucks’ best-selling drink.

Pumpkin Spice Lattes taste great – but they also have a specific marketing tactic based on their limited-time availability. An article on Pumpkin Spice Lattes in Forbes noted the following:

products that are available only for a limited-time have a kind of built-in marketing that can grow in impact over time.

How do limited-time offers drive sales?

You don’t need to be a huge business like Starbucks to benefit from limited-time offers. LTOs are essential to small business management and marketing and can help your restaurant drive sales in several ways.

1. Create a sense of urgency

The main reason limited-time offers are so effective is that they create a sense of urgency and scarcity. If a menu item is only on sale or discounted for a short period, customers are encouraged to visit the restaurant sooner rather than later.

Restaurants use language like “today only,” “this weekend only” or “while stocks last” to promote limited-time offers. When customers see this messaging, they’re less likely to put off visiting the restaurant.

2. Attract new customers

Whether you run a restaurant or a virtual law office, bringing in new customers is essential to any business’s survival. Customers are often wary of restaurants they haven’t tried yet. As a result, owners must work hard to encourage customers to visit them for the first time.

A limited-time offer will encourage them to give your restaurant a try. It could convert them from a first-time customer into a regular.

3. Reward loyal customers

Loyal customers are arguably even more important than new ones in the restaurant industry. Delicious food and excellent service are, of course, essential if you want to bring customers back again and again, but limited-time offers help too.

Limited-time offers encourage your loyal customers to return and make the most of them. This will keep your customers loyal by rewarding them with special discounts and new menu items.

4. Promote new products

A benefit of limited-time offers that can also help drive sales in your restaurant is that they allow you to test and promote new products. Adding new menu items to your restaurant can be costly, especially if those products turn out not to be popular.

With a limited-time offer on new menu items, they’ll be more likely to sell. You can also get feedback before adding them to the menu permanently and at full price.

How to run a successful limited-time offer in your restaurant

1. Make customers want it NOW

A sense of urgency is part of what makes limited-time offers work so well. That said, you need to create this urgency if you want your restaurant’s LTOs to succeed.

The wording is a big part of this. Make it clear that this offer is limited. Urgent language like “ends today!” or “get it before it runs out!” encourages customers to act now. Be honest about how limited the offer is – don’t tell customers that an offer ends today when it’s actually running all month.

If you create a strong enough sense of urgency, customers will be eager to book a table at your restaurant or place an order right away.

Make sure that whatever booking system you have – whether it’s an old-fashioned telephone, a business phone system managed by cloud PBX solutions, or a table reservation system – can handle a sudden influx of bookings.

The same goes for online ordering. Choose an online ordering system that will ensure you won’t lose any orders from hungry customers wanting to try your limited-time offers.

Free Online Ordering System & Promotions Module Create your own limited-time offers in minutes

2. Promote online

Putting a sign outside of your restaurant advertising your limited-time offer is good. Still, for a really successful limited offer campaign, you should advertise online too.

That means promoting your offer across all your social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – and via email too. If you don’t already have an email list for your restaurant, set one up today and reward customers with a one-off discount if they sign up.

Read more: Restaurant Email Marketing Done Right: 12 Ideas to Woo Customers

If you use any customer relationship management (CRM) software, make sure you promote your limited-time offers there as well.

3. Inform your staff

You’ve advertised your limited-time offer, and you’ve got customers coming in. But your credibility will quickly fall apart if your restaurant employees aren’t adequately informed or prepared for the LTO.

Make sure your staff is well aware of the offer and prepared for it. If you use a POS system for small business use, and it comes with pre-loaded menu items, make sure you update it with the offer. Do everything necessary to fulfill the limited-time offer smoothly for customers and your employees.

Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte leverages the association between fall and pumpkin spice flavors – so much so that the two are now almost synonymous. Making the most of seasonal trends and events will help you market your limited-time offers effectively.

Times of the year have different flavors and menu items associated with them. Pumpkins, apples, maple syrup in fall, gingerbread and peppermint in winter menus, and coconut and pineapple in the summer are a handful of examples of seasonal flavors.

You might also like: 10 Restaurant Food Promotion Ideas to Say Goodbye to the Summer Season

You can also make the most of other trends and events. Release a limited-time product for a local event, a celebratory day like St Paddy’s Day or the Super Bowl, or in concurrence with a sports event or TV series finale.

Download our Food Holiday Calendar for 2022 to get more ideas of restaurant promotions you can use for various food-related holidays.

5. Offer something special

Limited-time offers should encourage customers to purchase today because they are getting something unique and exclusive out of it. That’s what makes limited-time offers like Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte or McDonald’s Shamrock Shake so popular.

Limited edition menu items that are only available for a short period give a sense of exclusivity and can increase the average order value at your restaurant.

Read more: How to Increase the Average Check in a Restaurant

Combine this with an online marketing campaign that promotes your exclusive LTO, and you’ll be offering an exceptional and sought-after menu item.

Another tactic that gives an LTO an extra sense of exclusivity is partnering with another business to create a joint limited-time menu item.

This could be a local brewery, an attraction like a cinema or theatre, or even another food establishment. Both businesses will advertise, helping you reach more customers and strengthen your local brand identity.

6. Get the price right

The restaurant industry can learn a lot from eCommerce pricing strategies. Ecommerce businesses look closely at the competition’s prices and weigh this carefully against their customer base and their brand’s unique selling points. Pricing your limited-time offers in your restaurant should be no different.

An LTO should have a price that’s an incentive for your customers. If your limited-time offers are discounts, make sure the prices are enticing for new customers. If you’re offering a limited-time menu item, don’t make it so expensive that customers won’t give it a try.

Leveraging limited-time offers in your restaurant

An effective limited-time offer campaign is well advertised, priced just right, and will excite both new and loyal customers. LTOs are a great way to drive traffic to your restaurant, bring in new customers, and even try out new menu items.

Ultimately, limited-time offers are great because they aren’t permanent. That means if an offer isn’t working, it’ll come to an end anyway. LTOs allow you to toy around with different offers, prices, and menu items to see what works best for your business.

Author bio:

Grace Lau – Director of Growth Content, Dialpad

Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, an AI-powered cloud communication platform for better and easier team collaboration. She has over ten years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for leading branded and editorial content strategies partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content. She has written for sites such as Smile.io and UpCity. Here is her LinkedIn.

photo of GloriaFood blog writer Laura-Andreea Voicu
Laura-Andreea Voicu

Laura-Andreea Voicu is an experienced content writer with a knack for marketing and SEO. She delivers business-optimized content to help restaurants boost sales and grow their brand.