The Secret Behind Secret Menus

The Secret Behind Secret Menus

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For most, fast-food slang when ordering has become almost a second language. “I’ll get a number two with an extra side of fries but hold the pickles on the burger” or “one iced venti with two pumps of caramel and whole milk, please” is common lingo these days. But sometimes if you listen closely, you might catch something out of, well, order.

“I’ll get the Land, Sea, and Air Burger with a McAffogato, please.”

As it turns out, there’s an entire world of fast-food ordering that most people don’t know about … the world of secret menus.

What’s the Secret?

Turns out, not only does McDonald’s offer the perplexing Land, Sea and Air Burger, consisting of a beef patty, chicken, and fish, but also they serve a variety of other different items too. Items like the Monster Mac, a colossal-size burger towering high with eight beef patties, or the Pie McFlurry, consisting of a traditional McFlurry topped with a slice of warm pie, are just some of the secrets they keep hidden behind those golden arches.

But it’s not just McDonalds that offers a secret menu. In fact, pretty much most of them do. Whether it be an Incredible Hulk from Taco Bell a whopping five-layer burrito filled with guacamole and cheese) or an Apple Pie Frappuccino, complete with apple juice, caramel, and syrup from Starbucks, there’s a little something for everyone. It only takes a little online sleuthing for customers to find the secret menus to most of their favorite eateries.

While this may seem a bit odd, after all the saying goes secrets don’t make friends, according to Johnson & Wales University’s Patricia Bowman, who teaches in Providence and online, they might not make friends but they do create loyal customers. “What makes them so attractive to the customer is they feel like they have the password to the unknown and that rush of having something no one else knows about,” she said.

Fries Out of the Bag

But if these items aren’t on any official list, it begs the question of how they were created in the first place. For that, Bowman said it likely starts with the customer. “It all begins when a customer requests something they had somewhere else and the employee tries to recreate the original,” she said. “Since the employee is familiar with the product line from working with it every day and they also have a creative side, this new menu item is created and it is off and running.”

From there, Bowman said it probably becomes a word of mouth, where word of the new item spreads like wildfire from customer to customer until it reaches the ears of higher-ups in the company. There, if the secret menu item has become popular enough to gain such a great level of attention, the company moves to the next step of the process, the test kitchens. “They all have test kitchens in which they are constantly creating. Some of these menu items make it to the store level, but some do not,” Bowman said.

From Secret to Exclusive

However, it’s also the bottom line that that’s a key motivator for these companies. “What is so lucrative about the secret menu is they do not require any ingredients that are not already in house or available to the units seasonally. Therefore, the secret menu item is not really costing the company any money,” Bowman stated.

But with the items being so successful paired with the low cost it takes to make them, why don’t companies just put the secret items on the real menu? For that answer, it all comes back to competition within the industry. ”Franchise restaurants need to stay relevant and competitive. As the food industry continues to grow and evolve, these secret menus may become the one thing that allows that restaurant to stand out. Remember, it is no longer a secret if everyone knows.”

Places with Secret Menu Items

  • In-N-Out Burger:
    • Secret Menu Item: Animal Style Burger
    • Details: A classic burger with grilled onions, extra spread, and mustard, creating a savory and slightly tangy flavor. Fries can also be ordered “Animal Style” with cheese, spread, and grilled onions.
  • Starbucks:
    • Secret Menu Item: Pink Drink
    • Details: A refreshing and Instagram-worthy beverage made with the Strawberry Acai Refresher, coconut milk, and freeze-dried strawberries. Not on the official menu, but popular among Starbucks aficionados.
  • Chipotle:
    • Secret Menu Item: Quesarito
    • Details: A secret menu burrito where the traditional tortilla is replaced with a cheese quesadilla, creating a delicious fusion of a burrito and a quesadilla.
  • Jamba Juice:
    • Secret Menu Item: White Gummi Bear Smoothie
    • Details: A fruity and tropical smoothie inspired by the popular gummy bear flavor. It typically includes peach juice, soy milk, lime sherbet, pineapple sherbet, orange sherbet, and raspberry sherbet.
  • Panera Bread:
    • Secret Menu Item: Power Steak Lettuce Wraps
    • Details: A protein-packed option featuring thinly sliced steak, avocado, and hummus, wrapped in lettuce instead of bread, offering a low-carb alternative.
  • Shake Shack:
    • Secret Menu Items: Peanut Butter Bacon Burger, Quad Burger
    • Details: The Peanut Butter Bacon Burger combines sweet and savory with peanut butter sauce and smoky bacon. The Quad Burger is an off-menu item featuring four beef patties for the ultimate burger experience.

Want to learn more about earning your BS – Culinary Arts and Food Service Management with Johnson & Wales University’s College of Professional Studies? For more information about completing your degree online, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].

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