The majority of consumers are oblivious to the phenomenon known as the “Secret Menu”. The most famous of these secret menus is the one at In-N-Out. With animal style fries and the 4×4, In-N-Out has succeeded in drawing in customers that are not satisfied with just any run-of-the-mill regular menu items and crave a “made-for-me” experience. This food trend is sweeping the nation and is a direct response from the QSR industry to compete with fast casual establishments.
So what makes secret menus so appealing to the consumer?
Customization: nothing is more appealing to the average consumer than a menu item that has been customized for them. Many secret menus originated from the desire for a consumer to mix ingredients already existing on a menu in a whole different way. This option to customize their meal serves to make the customer feel special and results in an increased likelihood of return visits.
Insider Knowledge: among Millennials, the desire to be the ‘cool’ kid translates well when it comes to secret menus. There is a badge of honor associated with being the first in a group of friends to try a new item. The sharing of the secret cements the relationship between the consumer and the establishment as well, while still providing the novelty that the customer craves. Among Millennials the use of social media serves as the major vehicle for sharing these experiences.
The secret menu also benefits the chain in several important ways:
Free Publicity: the secret menu allows the chain to add items without increasing their menu footprint, saving money on media and advertising. Social media plays a large role in this phenomenon with loyal fans posting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Who doesn’t want free publicity of this kind? Letting your loyal followers spread the word for you lends an authenticity to your menu offerings that cannot be cultivated through internal marketing campaigns alone.
Customer Loyalty: secret menus also serve another purpose for the chain, and that is to increase customer loyalty. Among Millennials, for example, there is a strong desire to feel special and unique. By offering these secret menu items to their loyalty program customer base, the chain can gain the allegiance of their most devoted fans.
Now let’s look at some of the more interesting secret menu items on chains around the country:
Considered the pioneer of the secret menu craze (their secret menu has been around since the 1970s when the term “animal-style” was first noted), the chain gives all of the credit to their fan base with this and other items on their (not-so) secret menu.
Animal-Style: burgers or fries topped with cheese, onions and a special sauce
Neapolitan: a shake layered with chocolate, strawberry and vanilla
The Flying Dutchman: a bun-less double burger with cheese
Mustard-Fried: get your burger slathered with mustard before it is grilled
Mc10:35: a breakfast McMuffin that substitutes a burger patty for the breakfast protein. Alludes to the changeover between breakfast and lunch service.
McG***Bang: yes, this one is a little vulgar, but it’s McDonald’s most famous secret menu item, consisting of McChicken sandwich stuffed in the middle of a McDouble.
Rodeo Burger: a single cheeseburger topped with onion rings and BBQ sauce.
Originally an LTO, it’s now on the secret menu due to ingredient availability.
Frings: an order of ½ French fries and ½ onion rings for those among us who want it all.
Poutine: French fries with gravy and cheese curds; if you are lucky they will have the cheese curds to make it.
Triple Down: the famous double-down with an extra breaded chicken filet with cheese and bacon.
Quesarito: the most famous item on Chipotle’s secret menu, it consists of burrito wrapped in a cheese quesadilla.
Nachos: order the salad with tortilla chips instead of lettuce for your own customized nachos for an upcharge.
With arguably the largest secret menu that has its own website, the majority of the items are created by fans of the concept. Here are a few of the more interesting ones:
Butter Beer Latte: take a typical latte and add caramel, toffee nut, and cinnamon dolce syrups and you have a great fall latte.
London Fog: originally a seasonal tea latte, it’s made with Earl Grey Tea, vanilla syrup and steamed milk.
Mojito Refresher: take a cool lime refresher and add classic and peppermint syrup¸ garnish with lime slices.
With a trend that is increasing in popularity, don’t you think it’s time you unlock the secrets to your own secret menu?