Secret menus at fast food chains have been around for years now, but what was once spread through word-of-mouth is now easily accessible through numerous social media outlets. I never knew hidden menu items even existed until my friends – who worked at these places – told me about them. But that was over 10 years ago. Now, if I’m interested in ordering “off the menu”, I simply search for the restaurant in either Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter etc., and voila, it’s all at my fingertips.
Ordering a neapolitan shake at In-n-Out was the first secret menu item I’d ever ordered, and the only reason I knew about it was because my friend worked there. I remember feeling so special when I ordered that shake because I felt like I knew something that others didn’t. And that’s the key; making customers feel special. Fans enjoy being in the know and are more willing to talk about their favorite brands when they have personalized, unique experiences with them.
How Secret Menu Items are Created
Many secret menu items can be hacks that employees put together on their own, but most of the hidden menu items out there started as customer inventions that were passed on through word-of-mouth. People love to customize their orders because they feel like they’re getting exactly what they want, and it makes them feel special. Most secret items start as a mash-up or compilation of a restaurant’s typical ingredients, and once word gets around that these inventions are quite popular, the restaurants typically give them creative names so that employees and customers alike can better identify them later.
For example, a typical Big Mac is good, but it could be even better if it had quarter pounder patties on it. After multiple McDonald’s locations started seeing that same order pop up again and again, they decided to name it the McKinley Mac.
Some brands are even getting smart and creating secret menu items on their own and putting the word out through social and other media outlets. The reason for doing this themselves is to help enhance their existing menu offerings, and by providing the secret menu items “while supplies last”, it creates a sense of urgency for the guest to visit their restaurant and purchase one of these secret items. Besides creating a fear of missing out (FOMO) amongst fans, by only sharing the names of the secret menu items without full descriptions, brands are wrangling in intrigued customers. Many reasons people try new things is because they are curious. If a brand offers a nibble, a true fan will come seeking the whole pie.
Brands Should Encourage Customization
Some sit-down restaurants try to advise customers against customizing their entrées because it takes more time for the kitchen to prepare those types of items. However, for many fast food restaurants, it’s almost silly not to encourage customization because it allows fans to be their own food creators without actually being in the kitchen.
With social media, it’s easier than ever for fans to spread word of their unique creations, and brands should take advantage of that. Brands should be inviting customers to share their customized menu items on social media so that everyone can benefit from it. In doing so, brands are able to engage with customers in a fun way, and thus, create a stronger relationship with them. Not only that, but by knowing what unique creations customers are coming up with, they can then take that data and use it in a couple different ways. First, they can prepare their employees for future innovative orders by naming the ones that pop up time and time again. Secondly, the brands can analyze their consumer generated content to determine what types of ingredients and food pairings that their fans like so they can return to the test kitchen and come up with new, innovative items for their standard menu.
Selling secret menu items also allows front line employees to have fun with their customers. The employees themselves are most likely already experimenting with different kitchen creations, but when a customer excitedly orders something different than what’s on the standard menu, it gives the employees an opportunity to truly connect with them and be a part of the exciting guest experience.
Secret Menu Items are Socially Shareable
Consumers love sharing things on social media whether it be food, travel, retail purchases, and more. People thrive on experiencing things before anyone else, which is why they turn to social media for bragging rights. This FOMO notion spurs people to post experiences as soon as they happen. Guests want to be the first to experience a secret menu item and then, of course, share it with everyone they know.
Whether the brand is Starbucks, Disneyland, Jamba Juice, or Chick-fil-a, odds are customers are talking about their secret menu items online. One of the best hashtags for finding out about hidden menu items across various social platforms is #HackTheMenu. Besides finding this tag on Facebook or Twitter, the HackTheMenu website is really the one-stop “shop” for finding out about secret menu items at countless fast food restaurants across the country. They are dedicated to compiling knowledge from the social community into one place that offers the most interesting and tasty secret menu items available to us. In addition to HackTheMenu, I also personally enjoy Pinterest for this type of search. It’s my go-to for recipes, so when looking for other food-related items, I naturally turn to Pinterest. However, whether you’re searching for “HackTheMenu” or “Secret Menu Items” across the various platforms, you are bound to find new menu items you’ve never heard of.
Flickr / Photo by istolethetv.