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What is a Secret Menu?

Tyler MartinezAuthor

Secret menus, also called hidden menus, are dishes or recipes that a restaurant can make, but has decided not to advertise, in order to build intrigue and allow customers to feel like they’re in the know. 

How are secret menus created? 

Customers are observant and creative. They’ll quickly figure out what ingredients you have available, so they can ask to modify recipes to their tastes. 

Word-of-mouth is a powerful tool. When customers see other regulars ordering custom dishes, they’ll start to request modifications of their own. And inevitably, they’ll suggest that others do the same! 

Enterprising chefs can take advantage of the creativity of their customer base, and embrace requests from their regulars. They might even work with them to craft secret menu items, that can easily be prepared from ingredients their cooks already have on hand. 

Front-of-house staff who are familiar with the menu can also get tired of eating the same things every day. This can inspire them to modify recipes or create new ones, and recommend those custom orders to regular patrons.

You can also decide to build creating a secret menu into your menu engineering analysis. Once you know which items are super profitable and super popular, and which ones need a few changes before getting to star status, you can decide to create a profitable menu item to keep secret — adding allure and encouraging guests to share about it on social media.

Why do restaurants have secret menus?

Secret menus are a great way to build loyalty. Once a customer knows that your restaurant is willing to make a dish to their specific tastes, they’ll return for that experience. People like to know they’re valued, and to feel like they’re in on a secret. 

A secret menu will make those in the know feel like they’re part of an “in” group, keep them coming back, and inspire them to spread the word to others! 

It can also show the front-of-house staff that their knowledge of the menu is appreciated, and their input is encouraged. And since they’re fans of the secret menu items, you can rest assured that they’ll passionately recommend those items to your customers.

This all works to create an air of mystery and excitement around your brand. 

Should you have secret menu items?

If you have a solid base of regular customers, devising a secret menu is a no-brainer. It often requires very little work from you, your chefs, or your staff. Be open to your customer’s ideas, and you may just find that they’ll craft a secret menu for you! The same goes for your staff. Why edit menus or pay to advertise specials? Your staff’s natural rapport with your patrons is all you’ll need to guarantee success. 

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How to manage your restaurant’s secret menu.

Managing customer expectations is a big part of a successful operation. Secret menu items can throw a wrench in an otherwise well-oiled machine, if not handled properly. Both front and back-of-house staff should be ready to accommodate requests for any secret menu item the team has decided to embrace.

Imagine a customer walking into a coffee shop, and ordering a “secret” drink they read about on the internet – but that the barista on shift doesn’t have a recipe for. It’ll lead to disappointment and frustration for all parties involved. 

Be sure you’re clear about what recipe modifications are acceptable, and which you’d rather discourage. Considering what ingredients your line cooks, baristas, or other staff regularly have on hand is a good place to start.

So is determining how much time it’ll take to make the item. If it’s complex and requires the staff to go out of their way, they’ll likely resent the recipe and inadvertently slow the pace of service.

Facilitate communication between front-of-house and back-of-house staff, so modified recipes don’t get out of hand. Create consistent expectations for both staff and customers, so that your secret menu is an asset to both your restaurant and your brand.

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