Fast-casual Velvet Taco has made an art out of the limited-time offer, developing a process to provide a new one each week of the year and reaping valuable consumer insights from the 52 LTOs a year, the brand’s president says.
“Across all the restaurants, every week we have our WTF, our Weekly Taco Feature,” said Clay Dover, who took over in March 2017 as president of the Dallas-based Velvet Taco, a division of Front Burner Restaurants LP.
The special menu item, which is the same each week in all seven Velvet Taco units, also takes advantage of the frequently used and often eyebrow-raising WTF acronym popular in text messages and tweets.
Velvet Taco has restaurants from Houston to Chicago, so providing a new item weekly in all the restaurants provides some hurdles, Dover said.
“The biggest challenge is the communication and coordination across the board,” Dover said.
Velvet Taco’s corporate team puts together the training materials, communicates those to the restaurants and offers ideas on promoting each LTO on blackboards and drawings.
“Every seven days you are introducing a new recipe,” Dover said. “It’s not an easy simple recipe. During Mardi Gras we did a gator taco. In the summer, it could be watermelon and shrimp.”
The Velvet Taco team schedules out the “edgy and modern” WTF offerings about four months in advance, Dover said, and relies on sales projections so the brand doesn’t get stuck with an excess of atypical products, such as recently used water buffalo.
“We strive to stay ahead of culinary trends,” he said. “One of the recent offerings was a jackfruit taco, which was popular with the vegetarian and vegan crowds.”
An upcoming offering is a mako shark taco.
The company does a menu tasting about every six weeks or so to hone each of the weekly recipes, and then recipes and training materials are sent out to the units. The restaurants send corporate chef photos of the taco after they are made to make sure the presentation is correct.
Dover said most of the WTF items require several steps, such as creating in-house versions of a chutney or a salad mix.
Each weekly taco feature is tracked and monitored, with an analysis done on sales per hundred tacos. “We know what will sell well and where in the menu takes from,” he said.
Because the WTF items usually carry a higher price tag, it helps boost check average. Velvet Taco’s average per person check average is just a bit higher than $12.
With the premium items in the WTF, they can be priced a few dollars higher than the typical menu tacos, Dover said.
The WTF LTO also positions Velvet Taco as an adventure in the customers’ minds, Dover said.
“This is just a constant flow of chef-driven, non-traditional seasonal tacos. It speaks to the fact that we are trying to put the food first,” Dover said. “Our guests are very Millennial driven. They want those new flavors, they want ethnic cuisines. They are not shy about trying vegetarian or vegan. They want mashups of flavors. That’s pushing us.”
Some of the WTF items contribute to social media conversation, he added.
Dover’s favorite was a Velvet Elvis, with a taco with fried bananas, house-made peanut butter, peppered bacon, Nutella, special blackberry jam, chopped peanuts and mint leaves.
“It was more of a dessert taco,” he said. “It was in January during Elvis’ birthday.” The singer was born Jan. 8, 1935.
“You hear people talk about them,” he said, adding that the company monitors social media channels for discussions about the WTF and compares those conversations to sales data.
“This provides us a bed of inspiration and trial and the data and research about what sells well,” he said. “We can use this in our menu innovation going forward. It’s a built-in trial and market research.”
Velvet Taco, founded in 2011, got a significant growth investment in 2016 from private-equity firm L Catterton. The brand was named a Nation’s Restaurant News Hot Concept the same year.
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