Modern times have helped take some of the luck out of conjuring successful secret menus. With POS data capturing and compiling every customized order guests can concoct, developing a secret menu can be as straightforward as reading the data and building codes and cache for off-menu favorites.
Having those dishes hardwired into the POS—even if they aren’t on the menu—can speed up ordering. But secret menus have another perk, says Mike Rypka, founder and vice president of culinary and marketing for Austin, Texas-based Torchy’s Tacos. In today’s climate of menu simplification, secret menus also are a weapon for expanding the menu. Instead of a 12-page booklet at Torchy’s, Rypka added seven tacos to a menu for in-the-know guests.
In order to drive sales, operators still need to generate buzz for the hidden offerings. “There’s no better advertising than word of mouth—it builds anticipation for people,” says Rypka. The trick is to tease, and make the experience of ordering off the secret menu distinctive to the guest.
Make them work for it
For Torchy’s original release a few years ago, it recorded a reading of the secret menu, then reversed the sound and posted the audio online for visitors to decode. Now, when Torchy’s moves into new markets, it recycles the existing recording. Hitting “enter” on its home page makes a Secret Menu flag pop up, which is customers’ gateway.
Giveth, and taketh away
Torchy’s has posted photos and descriptions of its secret menu items on Tumblr for one day, then taken them down 24 hours later to build up some urgency. It also occasionally posts photos to social media with no description to get its followers to ask for more, Rypka says.
Don’t avoid upscale
Secret menus aren’t limited to QSRS and fast casuals. At Coquette in New Orleans, chef-owner Michael Stoltzfus instituted “No Menu Tuesdays” during the slow period from late June through September. Each Tuesday, guests are offered a $45 prix-fixe five-course dinner ($70 with pairings); the theme is announced, but not menu specifics. Now, Tuesdays are the busiest weeknight, Stoltzfus says, with waitlists for reservations.
Feed the viral beast
While it won’t publicly admit that it has a secret menu, Starbucks took advantage when one of its off-menu drinks went viral to prolong its selling power. About a month after the #PinkDrink craze began organically in social media, the chain created four more colored drinks and posted a picture of all five rainbow beverages to Instagram, along with instructions for exactly how to order them.