Menu innovation is coming at a faster and more intense pace as the competition for customers heats up. In restaurant and retail foodservice, limited-time offers have become more popular as an avenue to introduce new dishes. Over the past five years, LTO launches have increased by 64%, according to FoodService Director sister company Technomic.
LTOs and new menu launches also can spark interest and drive traffic in noncommercial operations. Lauren Hallow, consumer insights manager for Technomic, dug into the data and shared these essential ingredients for developing and marketing a menu item that’s right for your operation.
1. Set your objective
If your primary goal is to engage regular guests for several weeks or months, rather than days or weeks, then a limited-time offer with broad appeal and mainstream ingredients is the way to go: a riff on mac ’n cheese or a burger, perhaps. On the other hand, unique or novelty items (i.e. Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino) may build buzz and drive traffic, but only for a short period of time.
Niche items—those with seasonal or emerging flavors—fall somewhere in the middle: They generate excitement with a small audience and have the potential to attract new customers. Niche dishes, such as a butternut squash salad spiced with za’atar, can also help a dining program establish itself as innovative or trend-setting.
2. Consider the gender divide
Males gravitate toward meaty items, with 73% saying they consume beef at least once weekly and 51% saying the same of pork. As such, LTOs featuring burgers, burritos, bacon and ribs score high with men.
Women prefer cheesy items, such as mozzarella sticks, nachos and Parmesan bread twists. Half of females choose cheese as a snack at least once every 90 days, according to Technomic Ignite consumer data, compared to 36% of males.
Female guests also favor creativity, with 68% saying that the introduction of innovative menu items is an important factor when choosing a place to eat, according to Technomic.
3. Go by generation
Gen Z customers seek portability, with 38% saying they eat on the go more often than they did two years ago. Bowls, sliders and other handheld items appeal to this generation.
Meanwhile, millennials are into innovation. Sixty-five percent enjoy trying different foods and 45% favor menus that offer new or innovative flavors and ingredients. Recent LTOs that won with this age group include bacon Parmesan-crusted chicken and create-your-own lasagna.
4. Use descriptive, indulgent language
While you may not want a menu board to list every ingredient in a limited-time item, be sure to include enough appealing adjectives and details. Craveability increased by 14% when cheesy tots were described with the phrase “crunchy outside, gooey cheese and warm potato inside” instead of “bite-sized rounds of diced potatoes and melted American cheese covered in breading.” A description can also drive purchase: 29% of consumers were more likely to order the former item after reading its description, compared to 21% for the latter.
5. Better-for-you is big
Consumers are more likely to purchase and pay a higher price for items that use healthy-sounding words in the menu descriptions. Forty-five percent are drawn by the word “fresh,” 38% by “made from scratch” and 38% by “real.” Also earning points are “premium,” “natural” and “clean.”