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Shhh. It’s Not on the Menu

Shhh. It’s Not on the Menu

Years ago, living in Southern California, I was introduced to the concept of a secret menu. A coworker, with all of the enthusiasm of someone who had stumbled upon the Dead Sea Scrolls, ushered me into a world of “off menu” or “secret” ordering at a popular fast food hamburger destination, In-N-Out.

This not-so-secretly guarded menu consisted of items that were not-so-out-there derivations of what was already on the menu. So, if you carefully approached the counter and asked with utmost confidence, you could get anything from a grilled cheese sandwich, a 4-decker burger, or just about anything grilled with mustard. The novelty was somewhat lost on me, but I guess feeling special and “in-the-know” are priceless.

Seems that the sort of guerilla marketing that In-N-Out engaged in more than a decade ago is somewhat of a savvy marketing move that others are more than willing to copy. NPR recently ran a story about such secret menus, and how they capture the imagination of bored consumers everywhere (no surprise that such “secret menus” are largely limited to chain fast food operations). As reported on NPR, “If you have a secret menu or if customers know the secret menu, they feel like they’re insiders,” says Bret Thorn, senior food editor of Nation’s Restaurant News, a trade publication. “They feel kind of a personal connection to the restaurant; they feel they know something that maybe not everybody else does. And everyone loves that.” Now places like Panera Bread (doing for bread what Starbucks has done to coffee) are jumping on board with things like sandwiches without bread that you could order covertly, or the McDonald’s “Monster Mac” which consists of an emboldened Big Mac with 8 “meat” patties.

The lingering question is should we care? Are diners at such establishments so bored that they need the gimmick of such “secret menus” to feel special? Is the world coming to an end?

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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6:15AM PDT on Apr 16, 2013

This is definitely not true at the fast food joints I've been to. I've seen people try to order a breakfast item a couple of minutes after breakfast time ended and were just told they were too late for it.

1:55AM PDT on Apr 4, 2013

Thank you :)

6:23PM PDT on Mar 31, 2013

Don't buy anything that is not labeled organic, natural means nothing at all, only higher prices . Even your good old natural potato chips and nuts cooked in vegetable or cotton seed oil all gmo. People wonder why 1 in 50 children have autism, vaccines? Maybe Monsanto....Stick to the brands that have been true to organic, not the one's that are now producing organic because they are foreseeing future loses. They have been selling you food that is not fit to eat and now beginning to provide organic. Why now? Their profits. People are becoming aware of this epidemic. Every study of vitamins prove they are ineffective and cause more harm them good, don't support any vitamin at all, natural or not .They do not work. They waste resources to produce and transport them...Go green..... eat green.....

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7:31AM PDT on Mar 30, 2013


8:15PM PDT on Mar 29, 2013


11:38AM PDT on Mar 29, 2013

for those that eat burgers you can get grilled onions at IN and Out just by asking

11:32AM PDT on Mar 29, 2013


11:25AM PDT on Mar 29, 2013

hamburger is really disgusting food for me

5:35AM PDT on Mar 29, 2013

Don't eat hamburgers!

4:31AM PDT on Mar 29, 2013

Thank you

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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