How do I build buzz around “secret” menu items?
– Chef, Philadelphia, PA
Secret menu items are not printed on the menu but are known to staff and available upon request. These items may be modifiers like In-N-Out Burger’s Animal® Style burger or totally unlisted menu items like Marc Vetri’s nutella pizza at Osteria in Philadelphia. There are a few reasons to market these items—they reward regular guests in the know, they can draw a repeat visit from a guest who didn’t know about the special item in earlier visits, and they give a server something special to offer via suggestive selling to increase check averages.
Like hidden restaurants or speakeasies, the challenge is in building the perfect amount of buzz—not so much that the secret item loses its marketing allure as an insider treat and not so little that you are missing opportunities for revenue.
Clare Pelino of Profile PR, says, “Some of our restaurant clients have secret menu items that a first time guest could never know about. If you ask your server, they might tell you about a special way the chef makes something upon request. One breakfast place had bacon pancakes, a staff favorite and not on the menu. When [servers] got to know you they would suggest you could try them. The best part was you could order just one like a side dish. Great way to boost the check average!”
In terms of building buzz, your servers are your best tool to introduce the idea as a perk to a favorite or fun guest. Alternately, you can encourage a satisfied guest to mention it in an online review so it becomes searchable but not too obvious. For a new item, sending out a few comps to regulars or a special occasion diner can help get things started. If your secret item becomes too well known, introduce a new one.
More on secret menu items here.