what is a secret menu
by Laura-Andreea Voicu

Have you heard about Chipotle’s Burritodilla? It’s a slimmer version of Quesarito, shaped like a quesadilla with two tortillas filled with cheese and toppings.

Or how about In-N-Out’s animal-style burger? The monstrous burger with mustard-cooked beef patty layered with tomato, grilled onions, lettuce, pickles, and drizzled with the restaurant’s closely guarded sauce formula.

Mouth-watering right? But why wasn’t it in the menu the last time you checked?

That’s because these concoctions are part of secret menus. But what is a secret menu? A clever marketing tactic that makes customers feel like they are part of an insider club.

It gets them the thrill of exclusivity, taking advantage of the ever-rising social value of being “in the know.”

As restaurants and other food industry-related businesses like food ERP systems compete in the online space, secret menus are making a massive emergence in digital platforms.

If you’re looking for an effective restaurant growth strategy, this is a new addition to the list.

So what does a secret menu consist of? What are its benefits? How does it work, and how can you make one for your business?

This post will answer all those questions. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll get an excellent idea of what is a secret menu and how to take advantage of one.

Let’s zest out some cool secret menu ideas!

What Is a Secret Menu?

A secret menu is an unadvertised dish or drink of a food establishment. The name gives it away; it’s a food you won’t see listed on a menu for the public to order.

Secret menus are customized private plates and drinks made to engender exclusivity for the regulars. It aims to build customer loyalty by making them feel in the loop about something special or secret.

It’s like Starbucks’ steamed lemonade infused with either peach tranquility herbal tea or jade citrus mint tea, which they refer to as Cold Buster. It’s not on the menu, but it’s something you can order if you know they concoct a drink like that.

Just by telling you about the Cold Buster drink, don’t you feel that you’re subtly part of a secret club for Starbucks’ drink lovers?

Funny enough, what’s meant to be a secret is exciting to share. Hence secret menus are a clever way to drive buzz and customers.

If the secret menu food or drink hits the spot, it makes regulars bring friends over, creating a wider circle of the secret-knowers.

It’s a stirring marketing tactic (yes, pun intended) that thrills people to order, knowing they’re in for something most people don’t know about.

Best of all, it’s a low-cost strategy to generate buzz for your food business online.

Ironically, secret menus are not created by food entrepreneurs. It started with customers trying to devise weird mixes from classic menu items for fun.

These concoctions were spread by word-of-mouth, and soon restaurants realized it’s an interesting marketing ploy. So they tried doing it with excellent results.

What’s the Point of Implementing a Secret Menu?

It Starts a Whisper Campaign

Hearing about good food from a stranger online is one thing, but hearing it from someone you know is a different story with a towering outcome that benefits you.

You see, word-of-mouth marketing never lost its power. It just shifted in the online space. This type of marketing gets peer recommendation and social proof in the picture, critical factors in scaling a business.

Just think about it:

You’ll be more likely to check out a food item if a friend vouches for it and even adds that not everybody knows about it, keeping the “special feel” in the story.

It’s Exclusive

Wanting to feel special is human nature. Customers want to feel they’re a “regular” in your restaurant because a regular gets treated special and gets their hands on exclusive perks.

If you treat your customer as a regular, they become loyal. When they become loyal, a secret menu item can be a perk you can offer them to keep the relationship.

Customers thrive on a sense of adventure; they want a sprinkle of excitement with their purchase experience. Secret menu items give them that and keep them coming back for more, knowing the restaurant treats them a little more special.

Simply said, you can offer a unique customer experience that other online industries like affiliate marketing or FBA services (selling on Amazon) can only dream about.

This is a great integration for your app loyalty program.

It Drives Online Orders

A secret menu item offered exclusively in an app, or a website will drive online sales, which in the current circumstance, is the ideal place for doing business.

Brick and mortar restaurants have limited space, limited seating capacity or have been advised to pause operations as part of the pandemic restrictions.

Having secret menu items available online will move customers to continue ordering even if they can’t be catered to physically. Top that off with diverse paying methods like using cryptocurrency.

It’s Free

Secret menus aren’t just clever marketing tactics because they build loyalty; they’re also clever because they’re cost-effective.

With secret menus, you don’t have to draft new menus, create print ads, or make online ad campaigns where you need to hire graphic experts or subscribe to graphic software.

You can post about it on social media, integrate it in a newsletter or make personal calls to regulars using predictive dialers to complete the work faster. Word-of-mouth will do the rest.

Even Howard Schulz, Starbucks’ CEO, said the results are a pleasant surprise, especially because they didn’t have to spend any additional resources for it.

This is unlike online stores selling anything under the sun, from home equipment and event costumes to beauty products that require spending heavily on ads.

How Secret Should the Menu Be?

Ideally, you shouldn’t secretly lock it up in a vault; nobody will order it if that’s the case. It shouldn’t also be too public because it will lose the exclusivity feel.

You have to strike a balance between being exclusive and accessible. To start, offer a secret menu meal to proven regulars. Ask for feedback, and if they like it, suggest they post about it on social media to pique the curiosity of family and friends.

You can even come up with a gimmick of getting regulars on a short online stream to introduce the secret menu item to them. This makes the offer more exclusive.

What Should Be on the Secret Menu?

Ask regulars for feedback on any special order they liked. But don’t stray too far away from the standard menu and the typical ingredients you use.

Ideally, a secret menu item should be a mix and match of ingredients you already have. You want to avoid getting new ingredients for it, so it doesn’t go to waste in case not enough people will discover the secret menu item.

Simply said, use existing ingredients for a new concoction or recipe.

Earlier, I’ve mentioned that secret menus are cost-effective because they don’t need ads. Using existing ingredients will be another reason why secret menus are economically wise.

How to Set up a Secret Menu

Now that we’ve answered the question “What is a secret menu?” we’re down to the best part. We’ll talk about how a secret menu works and how you can create it.

There are 5 simple steps you can follow.

1. Loop in Your Staff

Tell your staff about the plans, and they might be able to suggest killer secret menu items that will drive up sales. If they don’t, tell them of a trial phase you will enact and brief them about encouraging testers to give honest feedback once test items are deployed.

You can even tell them that they can conveniently forward their feedback through your website. You can use chat plugins or social inboxes for this.

Also, when the secret menu is in place, telling your staff to congratulate the regular will help make customers feel more special.

2. Brainstorm Ideas and Pick Items or Ingredients

Other than utilizing existing items and ingredients, pick adventurous concoctions or unexpected mixtures.

To know if it will work, you can label trial mixes or dishes as special and offer free tastes in exchange for feedback. Adjust accordingly to the input and offer to regulars to get your initial set of customers.

You can also capitalize on food trends you see online.

3. Think of Creative Secret Menu Item Names and Descriptions

Time and again, I described secret menu items as fun, engaging, or adventurous. Coming up with creative names will reflect these descriptions. Plus, it adds to the exclusivity of the item seeing that it’s named slightly different from what they’ll read on regular menus.

4. Take the Secret Menu Item Online

Offer the dish or drink in the app or website, and use coupon codes sent to newsletter subscribers. These strategies will make the exclusive few aware of an exciting meal offered only to them.

Just be sure your app or website can offer a level of cybersecurity against online information theft. That way, customers can give their personal information with peace of mind.

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5. Continue To Test and Promote

Getting successful with one secret menu item isn’t a reason to lay low. In fact, this proves the marketing strategy works, and more concoctions could mean higher revenues.

So keep testing, collaborate with your staff, and check out viral food items on social media. Then keep reminding your team to suggest the secret menu item to proven regulars and asking them to post about it on social media.

A secret menu item will be publicly known as more regulars tell about it to others in time. If it reaches this point, you can leverage digital marketing services, growth hacking tools, or referral systems to get a wider market reach.

But this also means you have to take this out of the secret menu, which is another reason you need to invent more.

Last Thoughts

Major food industry players have reached success by using secret menus, and you can too. It’s a subtle, effective, and clever way to foster exclusivity that will result in brand loyalty.

Offering discounts is good, but creating secret menus spikes online interest, creates a sense of community, and opens your doors for more scaling potential.

It’s fun to try new things out; it’s way more fun if you can generate more revenue because of it. So take advantage of secret menus, and see how effective they are in building brand loyalty and bringing in recurring customers and brand advocates, minus hefty costs.

Author Bio

Burkhard Berger is the founder of awesomex™. You can follow him on his journey from 0 to 100,000 monthly visitors on www.awesomex.com. His articles include some of the best growth hacking strategies and digital scaling tactics that he has learned from his own successes and failures.

photo of GloriaFood blog writer Laura-Andreea Voicu
Laura-Andreea Voicu

Laura-Andreea Voicu is an experienced content writer with a knack for marketing and SEO. She delivers business-optimized content to help restaurants boost sales and grow their brand.