The Inside Scoop on Secret Menus

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The Business of Customization
2-14secretmenus-imageIn order to better meet customer’s changing tastes and customize to their individual needs, several food chains and restaurants have developed “secret menus” that have struck well in further developing a loyal customer base. Secret menus are items offered by an establishment that is not on their printed menu. In looking at the success of some of the better known secret menus, it seems that these items fare better in a food chain that focuses on tailoring to their varied customers’ tastes.

In terms of the blogs and customer reviews, the favorite so far in secret menus have been at In-N-Out Burger and Jamba Juice. If you go inside an In-N-Out Burger and ask for a secret menu, the person at the register will tell you that it’s not a real secret since they have been serving the items for many years. In fact, according to the manager at a local In-N-Out Burger, the restaurant has been offering customized menu items ever since they first opened its first restaurant in 1948. Some customizations are available at no additional cost; those that use inventoried items such as cheese, meat, and buns cost extra. While it’s not on the printed menu, the extra items are entered into their point of sale registers. Secret menu items listed on their website are: Animal, Wish burger, Grilled cheese, Protein style, Flying Dutchman, Double meat, Fries well done or light, Neapolitan shake, and Choco-vanilla swirl shake. Such secret menus have made their fast food chain seem more like a diner where patrons can order customized menu items.

According to several customers at In-n-Out, “the secret stuff” makes them feel more connected to California while making them more satisfied with their orders. If you check their web blogs, the secret menu gained its hype in the year 2005 by college students, those in the 20-30’s age range and out of state visitors who enjoyed being connected. As for others, secret menu seemed a great way to develop a web community where people could discuss different menu items offered locally that they can share on the web.

In terms of other secret menus, Jamba juice developed its “secret” menu items that focus on flavor and fun rather than health. Secret menu items noted have been Strawberry shortcake, White gummy bear, PB & Jelly, Starburst, Fruity pebbles, Push-pops, and Skittles. Customers over time have created their own smoothies, some being more popular than others. According to several customers, the underground flavors make the place seem more exciting.

A quick run down on secret menu offerings at other establishment:

  • Starbuck’s has a short cappuccino but is not much of an improvement over their regular items for a strong following.
  • McDonald’s is franchised and too regulated in order to sell secret items, but one offered a surf and turf with a filet o’ fish served on top of their burger.
  • Wendy’s is rare for customized items, but one offered a twice baked potato.
  • Pizza Hut/KFC has a combination pizza topped with chicken tenders.

In looking at the various secret menus, what makes some successful is that ironically, it needs to be well known enough like In-N-Out Burger’s, yet secret enough to not end up on their permanent menu which wouldn’t make it a secret anymore. Creativity, fun, and improvement over the existing menu is a must for the items to be a hit with a sizeable following. That the food chains go out of their way to customize has translated into higher profits for chains such as In-N-Out that boasts higher pay for their employees with benefits. Their store managers earn just under $100,000 annually and have been with the company an average of 13 years. While such returns can’t all be attributed to secret menus, it is evident that customization did play its part.

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