Unveiling the Mysteries of a Restaurant’s Secret Menu

Starbucks has started to gain a loyal grade-school-aged customer base because of certain indigenous twists that they have brought to a few of their best-selling drinks to make them more kid-friendly. Walk into a Starbucks in Manhattan and ask for a cotton candy Frappuccino. The barista will create an official offering by adding raspberry syrup to a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino. The essential key to unlocking this secret surprise package is to know that one such secret exists. It is always fun to be “in the know” of secrets right?

Starbucks has made use of this genius restaurant marketing strategy to attract young audiences into the brand loyal circle – without spending any additional resources on it. Starbucks also refers to this phenomenon as a pleasant surprise because of the myriad concoctions that people order with their Frappuccino, resulting in the development of Starbucks’ secret menu.

Secret menus exist in many other popular restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King, In-N-Out Burger, Taco Bell too. 


Secret menus are the latest craze in the restaurant industry. It is a fun-filled, engaging way for restaurants to create buzz and drive traffic. A variety of unofficial and unadvertised favorites of foodies have now made their way into secret menus. 

A secret menu will not be displayed in a venue or on the public menu card. But, when ordered, restaurants will cheerfully curate fun filled variations of existing menu items based on customer preferences. 

A secret menu is a dish or drink that is not advertised by a food establishment, yet made available to a customer on request. Secret menus are customized plates and drinks tailored to bestow exclusivity to the otherwise normal culinary offerings.


Customers who created funny and even unpalatable concoctions from regular menu items for their own entertainment and gratification set the ball rolling on the trend called ‘Secret Menu’. These historical creations were then passed onto others by conventional word of mouth. 

Restaurants were only quick enough to hop on the bandwagon and spread news of their secret menu via social media platforms. Secret menus have now broken out of their cocoon and become highly mainstream, providing restaurants with a brilliantly new modus operandi for marketing. 


As a famous quote goes, “In a world where everyone is overexposed, the coolest thing you can do is maintain your mystery”.

Needless to say, restaurants would want to guard their secret menu in a great manner. They would not want others to know what strategies they are devising regarding their secret menus. Restaurants specifically do not want their competitors to know what is on offer ‘underground’ in their restaurant. So, they remain as secretive as possible with their alternative menus. 

Sometimes, restaurants also keep their secret menus underexposed so that they do not suffer the risk of a well-informed customer getting to know about the side effects of any of the ingredients used and relinquishing the brand forever. 


If you are a restaurateur asking, “Should I offer a secret menu?”, the answer is nothing but YES. Customers learn about restaurants through word of mouth and secret menus help to achieve positive word of mouth

If you wish to capitalize on the benefits resulting from the buzz of secret menus, then make sure you promote it well on social media platforms. Tell the world loud and clear through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or any other social media platform that you have secret menus to offer diners. Start having fun by experimenting with your normal, mundane menu. For example, share high quality images of your cheese curds with “the secret sauce” asking people to visit the venue to know more. Before you realize, people would be dashing into your restaurant to give a first-hand try of your mystery menu.

By offering mouthwatering recipes via your secret menu, you are judiciously capitalizing on the customers’ craving for everything that is latest, cool and exclusive – an opportunity that they will never let go.


Now that you know what a secret menu is and the benefits of having one for a restaurant, let us now discuss how it works and the ways to create it. All you need to do is to follow 5 simple steps:

i) Involve the Restaurant Staff:

By involving the staff in your secret menu brainstorming sessions, you will be able to receive suggestions that are absolutely out of the world and sales-sensitive. If they are not able to provide suggestions, make them participate in a trial session where they taste the testers and give their honest feedback from a customer’s point of view. As soon as the secret menu is in place, the staff must be asked to greet a regular customer and find out from them if any customization is required. This will make customers feel special and also give them clues that there is some surprise lurking behind the regular offerings.  

ii) Pick Adventurous or Unexpected Items or Ingredients:

Brainstorm ideas to introduce adventurous concoctions or unexpected combinations into your secret menu. Refer to food trends online and include those ingredients for your ‘mysterious’ recipes. If you are not confident about the choices, you could run trials with a few customers and offer discounts for their valuable feedback. Make appropriate adjustments according to the inputs received and then add it to the secret menu to be offered to the initial set of customers.

iii) Be Creative While Naming It:

Since secret menus are all about fun, adventure and arousing curiosity, naming the concoction is as important as formulating it. Items on the secret menu must be given exciting names so that they seem different from the ones on the public menu and induce interest.

iv) Bringing the Secret Menu Item Online:

Bring the secret menu to the official website and app and send coupon codes to the restaurant’s newsletter subscribers. This way, a group of selected audiences will be informed about an exciting meal offered exclusively to them. While adopting this method, it is important to ensure that the restaurant’s website or app has cyber security elements and is guarded against online information theft.

v) Keep Testing and Promoting:

If one secret menu item has gained popularity and is driving traffic, revenue and brand recognition, it means that the strategy is working in your favor. You must now introduce more such concoctions to meet the expectations of customers. So, continue the testing, involve the staff and keep a close watch on social media for trending food items. Keep encouraging the team to suggest the secret menu items to regular customers and motivate them to post about it on social media. The challenge here is that once a secret menu item gains popularity, it must be moved out of the secret menu mandating you to keep inventing more such concoctions. 


Although a secret menu creates buzzworthy headlines, there are several things about it that restaurants hide from customers. They keep their most delicious items to themselves for reasons best known to them. 

If you wish to know the real secret, restaurants do not actually have a secret menu. This phenomenon that is considered trendy can actually turn out to be a great nuisance for the hard working employees of the industry.  

Apart from the bitter fact that a secret menu does not probably exist, there are other reasons for avoiding ordering from a restaurant’s secret menu.

i) Employees Are Clueless:

When customers mention or order secret menu items, employees might have no idea about what you are talking about. Unless the person at the counter is informed about the secret menu item just like the customer, the latter might end up getting only a perplexed look instead of an exciting secret menu item. A restaurant or its employees might always not be able to comply with every odd customer request.

ii) Customer Is Disappointed:

Even if a customer is able to convince the waiter to customize the order with secret menu items, the result might sometimes be disappointing. This is because, most of the time, the person taking the order is different from the person preparing it. Therefore, the result of the unconventional concoction might turn out to be different from the expectations, leading to disappointments.

iii) Reduces Operational Efficiency:

It is true that secret menu items slow down the pace of every process. Secret menus are mostly served by coffee shops and fast-food outlets that work in a fast-paced environment. Employees literally have everything memorized and work expeditiously to serve customers correctly, within minutes. While adding extra ketchup or using almond milk instead of whole milk are easy alterations, preparing a strange request could turn out to be tedious for them. This slows down their efficiency, hinders the pace of other processes and also creates the risk of getting yelled at by hungry, waiting customers. The movement of the queue becomes slow as the staff is trying to figure out what exactly you want. This will annoy customers who are waiting to place a genuine order.

iv) It Might Get Expensive:

Restaurants have fixed prices for their menus. If a customer asks for a totally different, customized version of the menu (in order to make it a secret menu), restaurant workers will not have a standard system to charge you accordingly. So, customers end up paying for every ingredient included as per their choice – making the secret menu more expensive than the regular offering. Also, prices will vary from one individual to another making price tags mentioned by others on social media or word of mouth unreliable.

v) Workers Get Into Real Trouble:

During certain instances, restaurant staff might truly not be able to execute a customer’s weird order. And when they do bravely declare it, the customer gets annoyed at being disrespected. Customers will not be ready to accept the fact that after serving them with a customized order, the employee might lose that job.

vi) Unavailable Online:

Ordering food from a restaurant’s website provides a great customer experience. Although most restaurants allow guests to edit and customize their food orders, they still do not offer the option to create dynamically different secret menu items. So, it must be understood that if an item does not appear on the online menu, it is safe not to order it.


i) Animal Fries by In-N-Out:

This secret menu from In-N-Out is a delicious fry box filled with the richness of American cheese, the crunchiness of caramelized onion and their signature sauce. It is a must try for people who love crispy delicacies.

ii) All American Burger by McDonald’s:

This famous ‘secret menu’ of McDonald’s is for those who prefer a simple, refreshing meal. It is a modest beef patty, ketchup and pickles placed between hamburger buns. The All American Burger is a nice little snack (priced at $1) for anyone who wants a quick meal. Also, complement it with a drink to enhance the experience.

iii) Cold Buster by Starbucks:

If you are feeling depressed or sad and looking for something that will enliven your spirits, head straight to Starbucks and order one of its most popular secret menu items – The Cold Buster. This stress buster is made with equal proportions of steamed lemonade and hot water with an exhilarating immersion of Jade Citrus Mint green tea bag and Peach Tranquility herbal tea.

Brands such as In-N-Out, McDonald’s, Starbucks, KFC, Taco Bell etc. have benefited a great deal from such secret menu items. 

Social media users cannot keep anything secret at all. Within a few weeks of Starbucks releasing its secret Unicorn Frappuccino, Instagram was flooded with more than 150,000 images with the related hashtag. With consumers becoming increasingly savvy about sharing information on social media and websites like Hack The Menu offering reviews and opinions, a predominantly positive buzz is created about the brand and its new offering. 

Secret menu items also allow restaurants to experiment with their offerings. New food and drink offerings can be tested by restaurants without any huge investment or a great amount of risk. Since secret menu items help restaurants gain a loyal customer base, they resort to this low-investment, rewarding marketing technique. 


People always love to be a part of secrets. So, they love secret menus as well. They love to feel important and also admired by others. Such menu items give them a sense of importance. When people order a product from a secret menu, they indulge in pure excitement of being a part of an exclusive ‘insider’ club. 


  1. If the secret menu that you (as a customer) order is so secret that even the restaurant staff do not know about it, then describe your order in detail to the staff member. Mention every ingredient that you want to be included into the preparation. Since you are putting together a customized order, a staff might not have been particularly trained in it. So, make your order requirements specific.
  2. Before beginning to make any order for a secret menu item, ask if the restaurant will be able to get it done for you. This is because you are making a custom order which is not a very known menu item.
  3. Do not slow down an efficient working process in the name of making a custom order. And if the employees say they cannot get it done, do not start an argument with them. Employees might not want to lose their jobs in the process of fulfilling your bizarre request.


While managing a secret menu, you are trying to fulfill customer expectations to the greatest level possible. If it is not executed properly, you might end up obstructing the mechanism of a properly functioning system. Both the front and back-house employees should be oriented to accommodate requests for secret items that the restaurant has decided to introduce. 

The restaurant should distinctly state the acceptable recipe modifications so that people do not digress too much and make weird requests with unavailable ingredients. Also mentioning the modifications that would be discouraged will avoid hassles between the customer and the restaurant.

Constant communication between front and back house staff is also essential for updates about availability of ingredients. Creating consistent expectations on both ends is essential to make the secret menu a valuable asset for both the restaurant and its brand.

Secret menus have the ability to prevent food waste


It is essential for any restaurant to have its menu online. The secret menu is no exception. It must be given a significant online presence to attract customers by arousing their curiosity and induce greater online orders. 

Making use of an affordable restaurant website builder and app builder that results in professional and stunning outputs is important. With an enticing restaurant website in place, inducing greater sales, revenue and brand recognition becomes extremely easy. The websites that you create must have an integrated online ordering system wherein your secret menu can be accommodated too.


In order to harness the marketing superpowers of a secret menu, use it judiciously on the restaurant’s digital platform (the website) and promote it through social media and loyal customers. Since the secret about this type of menu has now been unearthed by us, derive the best benefits out of it for the sake of your restaurant’s financial growth and stability.