Heinz Foodservice

Underground Eats

Secret menus

Secret menus generate patron loyalty, buzz and cult followings

Have a great recipe idea? Leave it off the menu.

Dishes available exclusively to patrons who know to ask for them have taken hold in both the quick-service and fine dining worlds – and for good reason. They create mystery and excitement and build loyalty among customers who, in turn, generate buzz through social media and word of mouth.1

West Coast chain In-N-Out Burger is regarded as the pioneer of the practice. Its secret menu, posted online only, has become the biggest non-secret in the world of eats. In-N-Out says its covert selection of dishes—which includes a protein-style burger that swaps lettuce for the bun and a meat-and-cheese-only flying Dutchman—grew from customer requests, but restaurants can also use the secret menu model to experiment with new offerings. Most hidden-in-plain-sight menus are promoted through social media channels or existing loyalty programs so restaurants can test new items with less expense and less permanence.2

Here are a few examples of secret, semi-secret and not-so-secret options available at restaurants: 

  • BurgerFi offers an off-menu Hippie Veggie with two grilled quinoa burgers served on a potato bun with a side of “neon” relish
  • Upon request, Chipotle will wrap a burrito in a quesadilla to create a “quesarito”
  • Burger King stuffs four burgers and four slices of cheese and bacon between the buns for its suicide burger
  • Los Angeles’ M Café’s secret vegan offerings include a loaded burger with tempeh bacon and fresh avocado and vegan chili cheese fries
  • Pasta-centric Maialino serves a gluten-free version out of its New York kitchen
  • Chicago’s Tavernita turns out paella to the first 10 guests who ask for it after 10 p.m.

Want to create a cult following?

Start your secret menu with these tips:

  • Approach it as you would any marketing campaign, with a strategy
  • Start small with a special sauce or a secret seasoning that can be added to any item
  • Release a password for a secret offering to your Facebook or Twitter followers
  • Start a loyalty club and deliver secret menu items to subscribers’ inboxes
  • Draw diners during off-peak hours by setting a time window for a coveted dish

1 Nation’s Restaurant News, April 2013

2 QSR Magazine, “The Secret’s Out,” April 2013

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