If you’ve ever been to an In-N-Out Burger and ordered Animal Style fries and a 3×3 burger, you know the joys of ordering from a secret menu. The West Coast’s favorite fast-food joint isn’t the only place with a hush-hush menu, though.
Secret menus have exploded in popularity thanks to internet forums and websites like Hack the Menu. They add a sense of adventure to dining experiences and make customers feel like insiders. Having a secret menu can help boost upcharges and attract social media attention, too. If you’re looking for something to add a little excitement to your brand, consider creating one of your own.
How secret should the menu be?
If your underground menu is too well kept a secret, no one will order from it. If everyone knows about it, it won’t feel special. You want to strike a nice balance between cool and accessible. Start by letting your most loyal regulars in on it. Comp out a few meals and ask for honest feedback. If it’s all good, you might even suggest they post pics on their social media accounts.
When first serving your new dishes, try plating them in a special way that’ll draw attention from fellow diners. This could be a special flag stuck in a burger bun or a complex architectural achievement. The goal is to get people eating next to them asking “what is that?”
If you have a Zenreach hotspot, try adding a clue on your landing page. It can be as direct as “Join our WiFi network to get the secret menu.” Or you could make it a little more challenging and only offer it to guests on their fifth visit or the like.
What should be on the menu?
Your secret menu does not serve the same function as a special. You’re not trying to reduce food costs by craftily throwing together something vaguely interesting using salmon and veggies that are about to expire. It’s more about branding, so think excitement.
Do customers have any interesting special orders that taste good? Use those. Does your kitchen make an absolutely insane after-shift sandwich for themselves? Make it available to the masses. Don’t get too far away from your normal menu, though. You don’t want to have ingredients that’ll go to waste if people don’t discover your menu.
Baskin-Robbins’ secret menu is essentially created by combining existing flavors. It works just like Jelly’ Belly’s recipes. This tactic is easy to pull off and makes ordering a lot of fun. Even Pringles has gotten in on the action with a recent social media-driven ad campaign about flavor stacking chips.
Basically, you want to delight your customers with something they have to work a little to find, that tastes uniquely amazing and looks cool on Instagram. Don’t be afraid to go big. In fact, creating a giant sized ultra-decadent version of an existing menu item is a great idea. Check out the Monster Burger from Sessions at the Presidio for inspiration.
Give your staff a heads up
It’s worth noting the difference between menu hacking and having a secret menu. Menu hacks are created by customers and might not have your business’ best interests at heart. There are tons of articles devoted to saving money at McDonald’s with special grill orders. That’s not what you want.
The biggest problem with menu hacking is it can be a nightmare for your kitchen. When your crew is in the weeds, they don’t need some kooky nonsense from the internet wrecking their flow. It will also annoy your other customers if they have to wait longer.
Having an established, and slyly promoted, secret menu will keep things on track while allowing customers to feel special. Curate options and make sure your staff is trained on them so firing these orders is no more difficult than any other menu item. It’ll keep everyone happy.
For example, the Oregon-founded coffee chain Dutch Bros has about 80 oddball drinks you have to be in the know to order. Their staff knows them all. This keeps the line moving fast.
Attract social media influencers
Secret menu items are perfect material for bloggers, YouTubers and the Instagram famous. If you attract the right persona, it can provide an amazing signal boost to your brand. Many of these social media influencers have much larger audiences than the brands they’re excited about.
Joey Graceffa, a popular YouTuber with almost 9 million subscribers, filmed himself trying every single item on Jamba Juice’s secret menu (pro tip: White Gummi Bear is essential). As of this blog posting, that video has 375,000 views. His video about Starbucks’ secret rainbow menu has an astounding 1.8 million views.
To compare, most of Jamba Juice’s own marketing videos have under 2,000 views. Starbucks only has a handful of videos that beat Graceffa’s. And that’s after spending millions of dollars a year on marketing.
This sort of viral success is relatively rare and amazing to have. However, you don’t always need it. A foodie with a strong following in your town can drive business. Do some research and find people near you who might be excited to try your secret menu. Some influencers will want to be paid for their efforts. That’s ok, it’s just their hustle. It might even be worth it. However, many will come in for a free meal. Hit up the young and hungry first.
It’s still possible to attract the attention of mainstream media, too. Business Insider recently ran a video featuring Five Guys’ secret menu. It introduced the world to the wonders of double grilled cheeseburgers and President Barack Obama’s own menu hack, The Presidential (a regular cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, jalapeño peppers and mustard).
Keep it fun and you’ll delight customers
A secret menu might not solve all of your marketing needs, but it’s an excellent thing to try. It gives you something to offer customers that isn’t simply a discount. And it can spike online interest and build your brand.
Best of all, it’s fun. Involve your employees and your customers in creating and promoting it. This will create a sense of community you’ll be able to build on. Folks loves creativity, and no one wants to be left out. In that way, secret menus are really for everyone. Just don’t tell too many people.