Analysis: the Most Innovative LTOs of the Year

potato fries on black ceramic plate, LTOs, limited time offers

Restaurants are getting rather creative with their limited-time offers, or LTOs, lately.

“LTOs can be a great way to drive business, but you have to know your audience and what appeals to them,” Leith Steel, head of insights at Carbonate, a hospitality marketing agency, told The Food Institute. “The offer should be something appealing and not easy to find elsewhere. The limited nature serves to drive people to try it now rather than postponing indefinitely.”

Datassential’s recent Foodbytes trends report examined consumer ratings of LTOs. Here are a few popular items that brands and restaurants are putting a new twist on:

  • Pickles
  • Eggs
  • French Fries
  • Hot dogs


Pickles have surged in popularity lately. According to Yelp, online searches for pickled-flavored foods were up 55% in the last two years. Restaurants have responded accordingly. Hungry Howie’s has a Pickle Bacon Ranch Pizza, Dave & Buster’s has Blue Moon Friend Pickles, and SONIC’s Pickle Juice Slush was rated as the most unique item in SCORES (Datassentials concept tool for measuring LTOs) from the past 12 months.


A breakfast staple, many are finding new ways to present this classic – First Watch’s Barbacoa Quesadilla Benedict, and Huddle House’s Prime Rib Tips Stuffed Hashbrowns are just a couple examples.

French Fries 

Fries are getting an upgrade in the form of BBQ Luau fries from Wienerschnitzel, Asparagus Fries from the Cheesecake Factory, and Crab and Lobster Fries from Glory Days Grill.

Hot Dogs 

Is there anything more American than a hot dog? Put a twist on the classic with a Honey BBQ Dawg from Buffalo Wild Wings or a Spicy Asian BBQ Slaw Topped Hot Dog from Nathan’s Famous.


Restaurants aren’t the only ones getting in on LTOs. Popular brands like Doritos are joining in. Here are a few unique retail products available to consumers, according to FoodBytes:

  • Doritos Spicy Mustard Chips
  • Wilde’s Protein Chicken and Waffles Chips
  • Brach’s Tailgate Candy Corn (flavors include hot dog and hamburger)


What’s the key to making an LTO work? Here are a few tips to making a standout, unique product, according to FoodBytes.

  • Take familiar concepts and combine to create something new
  • Change the way something is presented, like the shape or the color
  • Take risks


Peter Frey, chief brand officer at Sonny’s BBQ, shared his thoughts on LTOs and how Sonny’s has taken advantage.

How beneficial are limited-time offers to restaurants and brands?

“There’s a fine balance between how much a brand relies on LTOs to drive short-term traffic and long-term sustainable growth. Ideally, LTOs are strategically placed to drive core user frequency and attract new guests through brand-building promotions.

“Building a successful LTO pipeline requires promotions that meet the needs of consumers, improve the dining experience and are easy for operators to perform.”

What are the key elements of a successful LTO?

“Promotions need to be simple to communicate, easy for operators to execute and be true to the brand DNA. The most successful promotions are those that use seasonal drivers, are linked to brand equity, and have emotionally motivating benefits.”

Can you give an example of an LTO that worked for Sonny’s?

“Over the summer, Sonny’s BBQ introduced BBQ Bowls. Summer is a high traffic and critical sales period for Sonny’s BBQ, which made it the perfect time to be in front of customers with a fresh message that showcased innovation, value and our culinary expertise. This approachable LTO was a playful twist on familiar, classic BBQ ingredients. It tapped into our guests’ desire for choice and variety while also being inspired by the popularity of bowls throughout the industry.

“Leveraging existing ingredients, we empowered our guests with the ability to create their own BBQ bowl or choose from three Pitmaster Select options. The results showed the BBQ Bowls LTO was a tremendous success. The BBQ Bowl LTO delivered a +4.94% increase on total average receipts for guests and garnered five times as much earned press coverage as the brand’s previous LTO.”