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