The idea behind secret menus is a fun one: that a customized order was requested so many times (thanks to word of mouth), the kitchen just knows how to make it — even though it never shows up on the menu. It’s like an urban legend, but for foodies!
The kinds of secret menu items are varied, but just a few examples at popular quick service restaurants are:
Burger King’s Rodeo Burger
The BK burger gets onion rings and barbeque sauce added.
Potbelly Sandwich Shop’s Fireball
Their meatball sandwich gets topped with chili.
In-N-Out Burger’s Animal Style
This burger has lettuce, tomato, pickle, extra spread, and grilled onions all on top of a beef patty that’s been smothered in mustard before getting cooked.
This is the burrito (with your choice of fixings) but with the regular tortilla replaced with a quesadilla.
Starbuck’s Rainbow Drinks
These are a variety of colorful concoctions made from a mixture of fruit juices, berries, coconut milk, soy milk, matcha, and flavored syrups, depending on which color/flavor you want.
Simple, right? Well the thing is, if you want to order off a secret menu, you’re going to have to be brave.
Yes, there are some secret menu items are pretty well known among all franchises. For instance, Animal Style is a not-so-secret secret at In-N-Out anymore – it’s even mentioned on their website. And if it’s a local favorite restaurant with only one or a handful of locations, your chances are high that the secret menu is something known by all the staff.
But because there are so many individual locations for nationwide franchises, some of those locations (and their employees) might not be in on the secret. If you’re worried about causing a hassle for employees who have never heard of what you’re ordering, try doing some online research and see if any diners have found places in your area that roll with the secret menu.
Still, there’s always the chance (even after research) that you’ll get up to the counter, confidently place your secret menu order and the cashier will simply blink at you. So what do you do then?
Well, be prepared to explain what your order is to them – many quick service and fast casual restaurants are trained to accommodate custom orders with items they have on hand if asked, but you still need to tell them what you want. It’s not as much fun as saying your order like a code-word, but you’ll still get to try something most customers don’t even know exists.
But if you’re nervous, start with a secret menu item that has simple instructions, despite the fancy name. For instance, an off-menu “Dirty Chai” at Starbucks is just a Chai latte with a shot of espresso added. So, if the barista looks confused, explaining how to make it won’t be a problem.
There’s also the chance that a secret menu item is so unexpectedly popular right now (like Starbuck’s recent Rainbow Drinks, for instance) that the kitchen has run out of the ingredients to make it. Do your best to be patient with staff, especially if they’re checking to see what alternative order they can make for you.
You should also be prepared to pay a little more for those secret menu items. If it’s the same as a regular item but with special toppings included, those toppings will get added to the regular cost of the item. Same goes if the secret menu item is a jumbo-sized version of a regular menu item. The extras are going to cost extra.
While tipping is not a given in fast food/fast casual restaurants, if you’re ordering a secret menu item and the cash register has a tip jar, it’s not a bad idea to throw in a few extra dollars when you pay for your meal.
Consider tipping especially if the cashier and cook are unfamiliar with this secret item, but still accommodate your order. When you have staff members making the secret menu experience fun for you, it’s only appropriate to thank them for going with the flow and obliging your request.
Plus, getting tipped will encourage staff members to bring the same level of fun when the next person comes in to order from the secret menu!
Want to explore a little of what makes Rewards Network restaurants so special? Here are the 25 most talked-about program restaurants of last year: