Menu Management

11 Lunch Specials That Can Help Boost Sales

By Dana Krook

A graphic illustration of a bento box

Dinner service tends to get all the buzz in the restaurant industry. 

But what about lunch?

The lunch rush provides a lucrative opportunity for savvy restaurateurs to capitalize on.

How can you beat the competition and get these diners to your restaurant for lunch? We’re equipping you with the following to help you draw in crowds:

  • Compelling figures about why you need to maximize the lunch rush
  • Who you can expect at your restaurant for lunch
  • 11 lunch specials that will bring in customers

With this information, you’ll see your lunchtime revenue skyrocket.

Why Your Restaurant Needs to Capitalize on the Lunch Rush

If you’re not serving lunch at your restaurant, you’re missing out on massive profits. Two thirds of American professionals spend $37 each week on dining out for lunch, or nearly $2,000 each year. Even if you can get just 30 diners during the lunch rush, that’s nearly $60,000 in additional revenue annually.

A study by Visa found that people eat out twice a week for lunch on average. With only 32% of working Americans never eating lunch out, there’s a big opportunity to get the patronage of the 68% of customers who do. Don’t miss out!

Coworkers having lunch at a restaurant and laughing together

Who to Expect During the Lunch Rush

Targeting the right audience can help maximize your chance for major lunchtime profits. But to do this, you need to know who to target.

So who should you expect to come through the door during lunch? 

According to a report by Visa, urban professionals, Millennials, Southerners, and high-income diners spend more on food each week than other demographic groups and are therefore more likely to be part of the lunch rush. 

Here’s what you should know about their spending habits and dining preferences in order to create lunch specials to attract them. 

  • Urban professionals dine out more often than rural residents and suburbanites. City diners also pay close attention to a restaurant’s online reviewswebsite, and social media presence before deciding to go to a new restaurant, so pay attention to your digital marketing efforts to attract this crowd to your restaurant for the lunch rush.
  • Millennials spend on average $44.78 each week on lunch, which is about $7 more than their older colleagues. Create high-profit specials or opportunities for upselling to maximize on Millennial customers.
  • Americans in the Southern states spend $200 more each year on dining out for lunch than their counterparts elsewhere across the country. Agreeable temperatures year-round make al fresco and grab-and-go lunch specials alluring to Southern diners.
  • Some high-income diners spend up to $9,383 on dining out for lunch each year (compared to $2,000 annually on average). Gourmet restaurants can capture these diners with upscale lunch offerings – such as prix fixe options – that are fast but have high restaurant prices.

Now that you know who you’ll see at your restaurant during lunch, it’s time to learn how to bring these customers in.

Coworkers having lunch at a restaurant and laughing together

11 Best Lunch Specials

It isn’t enough just to have incredible lunch menus to woo customers. You have to use lunch specials to bring new diners in and keep your regulars coming back. 

Ready to turn your restaurant into a lunchtime hotspot? Here are 11 specials to help you rule the lunch rush.

1.  VIP Lunch Special

Entice lunch diners with a rewarding loyalty program that incentivizes them to make a habit out of dining at your restaurant. Give diners a free meal after eating at your restaurant once a week for a month.

How can you implement this lunch special? You can go low tech with a punch card or high tech with a loyalty app. Or follow the lead of Zuni Café – one of the 10 best restaurants in San Francisco – and offer a rotating lunch special.

Why it works: Rewarding customers for their loyalty is low stakes for your restaurant and gets people into the habit of going to your place for lunch. A loyalty incentive turns one-off customers into regulars. 

Best for: Millennials and urban diners.

2. BOGO Lunch Special

Offer customers a buy-one-get-one (BOGO) deal for bringing in a friend or coworker who has never dined at your restaurant before. Create a system for verifying identity to ensure that existing customers don’t abuse the offer.

Why it works: Word of mouth marketing is one of the strongest forms of marketing. People are more likely to listen to a restaurant recommendation from a friend than from an ad. This BOGO lunch special rewards customers for spreading the word about your restaurant to others, and it brings their friends and coworkers closer to becoming regulars. 

Best for: Urban professionals, Southerners, and Millennials

3. Quick Pickup Deal

Offer a brown bag lunch option for customers who need food fast but didn’t bring a lunch to work. Make short to-go lunch menus with your most popular – and fastest to make – dishes. Make the customer experience even more convenient by setting up self-ordering iPad kiosks.

Why it works: The majority of U.S. workers spend only 30 minutes on lunch, and restaurants are typically associated with a longer lunch. If you can make it clear that you have quick offerings, you’ll be able to draw in busy diners. 

Best for: Urban professionals and Millennials

4. Speedy Lunch Special

The speedy lunch special is the dine-in version of idea number three. Give customers simplified lunch menus – perhaps three soups, three salads, and three sandwiches to choose from – with a guarantee that the food will come out in 10 to15 minutes. 

Offer mobile payment or pay-at-table options so that they can head out when they finish their meals instead of waiting for the back and forth that’s usually associated with paying restaurant tabs. You can speed the experience up even further by letting customers place their dine-in orders online or through an app. 

Why it works: The speedy lunch special fulfills the needs of people who want to step outside of the office or their home in the middle of the day but are too short on time to enjoy a leisurely meal.

Best for: Urban professionals, Millennials, and high-income diners

5. Prix Fixe Menu

A prix fixe menu (French for “fixed price”) is a popular lunch special because it’s convenient for both the diner and the restaurant. This lunch special is popular at both upscale and budget-friendly restaurants.

prix fixe menu typically offers diners smaller portion sizes of several courses. By providing customers with streamlined options, the kitchen can focus on quality and timing, rather than juggling dozens of different items during the lunch service. 

This type of menu is also great for offering sustainable foods that can’t be served in large portions, like foraged foods for example. What does foraging mean? Simply, foraging means foods that are sourced and picked from the wild, like mushrooms, berries, or nuts.

Why it works: Limited options give diners a quick turnaround, making it easier for them to add full service restaurants to their lunch rotation, instead of just quick service restaurants. 

Best for: High income diners, Millennials, and urban diners

6. Lunchtime Catering

Give groups and offices the perks of catering with the convenience of on-demand dining by offering quick-to-prepare catering packages for groups. Keep your lunchtime catering menu simple by only offering dishes that you can quickly and easily make in bulk. Enable online ordering and delivery to get more orders during the lunch rush. An example of a restaurant that offers online ordering for their customers is Red Carpet Italian Restaurant – one of the restaurants in our top 10 restaurants in Miami list.

Why it works: While catering orders typically require several hours (if not days) of advanced notice, on-demand lunch catering makes it easy for customers to order fuel for a last-minute lunch meeting – or a meeting that’s run into lunch.

Best for: Offices and urban professionals

A woman eating at a patio for lunch

7. Lunch Delivery

While lunch specials are typically associated with dine-in or pick-up meals, expanding to a lunchtime delivery service can help increase your midday revenue. Partner with PostmatesUberEats, or other delivery services to get your customers their food quickly.

Why it works: People spend less than 30 minutes on lunch. Reach those who want to diversify their meals but don’t have time to come to you by offering delivery.

Best for: Millennials and urban professionals

8. Midday Happy Hour

Fun shouldn’t only happen after work. Offer some midday drink specials!

If serving alcohol at lunch isn’t an option, create a mocktail menu to make lunchtime feel like it’s five o’clock.

Why it works: Lunchtime “happy hour” makes your restaurant feel like a midday vacation from work!

Best for: Southerners, Millennials, and urban professionals

9. Lunch Coupons

Buy a mailing list and send coupons directly to consumers and local offices to attract new clientele. Offer a discount or freebie like an appetizer with an order minimum.

Why it works: 80% of diners choose new restaurants based entirely on receiving a discount. Focus on delivery maximum quality food and service to turn newbies into regulars.

Best for: Millennials and urban professionals

10. Classic Lunch Combo

Offering a combo deal is a classic lunch special! Give the people what they want by offering pairs of favorites from your menu. You could offer a half sandwich, salad, or soup a la Panera’s You Pick 2 and combine them for a discount. 

Why it works: The lunch combo is a quick and simple lunch special that gives diners options so they don’t have to choose just one dish. 

Best for: Millennials and urban professionals

11. Lunch Buffet

Offer a dine-in buffet or takeout pay-by-weight buffet for your lunch customers. Keep quality top of mind by being selective about what you serve and ensure that you can make it in bulk while keeping it warm. A lunch buffet is easy for your team because you can serve the same meals every day. 

Why it works: A lunch buffet is great for lunch diners of all kinds. Those who can take their time and want variety can enjoy a dine-in service, while customers who are short on time but still want variety can pack a box. 

Best for: All diners

Take advantage of the lunch rush to boost your restaurant’s revenue. Implement creative lunch specials to appeal to Millennials, urban professionals, Southerners, and high-income spenders who rule the lunch crowd.

With the right specials, you’ll turn new customers into regulars, leading to tens of thousands in extra sales.

Photo of Dana Krook
by Dana Krook

Dana is the former Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.

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