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Secret takeaway menus: Does your restaurant need one?

A recent survey asked the public about their opinion on menu pricing at restaurants in the US. Results indicate that only 35% of respondents felt they received fair value in menu pricing. 

In stark contrast, a renowned global fast-food chain known for its app-enabled purchases reported a notable 77% increase in customer spending. The secret? Hidden menus, also known as secret takeaway menus. 

What are secret takeaway menus? 

Secret takeaway menus, also known as hidden or ghost menus, are undisclosed lists not typically visible to everyday patrons. These menus usually offer specialised items or variations not found on the standard menu. 

These secret menus provide savvy consumers with an exclusive and diversified takeout dining experience.

The concept of secret menus is prevalent across many establishments – from local cafes to international restaurant chains. Many have enveloped this tactic within their business model, providing an intriguing peek into the vast potential of employing secret menus.

For example, several large-chain fast-food restaurants offer hidden takeaway menus that offer a variety of meals: 

  • KFC: As mentioned in our introduction, users of KFC’s hidden secret takeaway menu spent 77% more money. The hidden menu includes options, such as Build-Your-Own Bowl, Double Down, and Double Zinger. 
  • Burger King: The brand’s secret menu items include the Quad Stacker, Frings (half fries, half onion rings), and Frozen Coke Floats.
  • Starbucks: The multinational chain of coffeehouses offers Apple Pie Frappuccinos, Raspberry Caramel Macchiatos, and Island Breeze Drinks on its infamous hidden menu. 

Additionally, fast-food brands such as Taco Bell and McDonalds offer hidden takeaway menus. 

For non-patrons, the specific names of secret menu items may elicit confusion. That’s why consumers and operators in the food service sector should familiarise themselves with common secret menu offerings.

Generally, secret takeaway menus feature innovative combinations of various meal components. One of the most common approaches involves swapping sauces between different burger types or integrating elements from separate food items. Other modifications may focus on texture changes, such as crushed ice variants or deconstructed bread-based items. 

Simply put, secret takeaway menus allow for culinary creativity within familiar arrangements.

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Top reasons restaurants offer hidden takeout menus

While the allure of mystery and hype certainly plays a part, there are several strategic reasons restaurants choose to offer hidden takeout menus

Experimenting with different items

Essentially, secret menu items allow restaurant owners more creative licensing without delving into the complexities of menu engineering. Additionally, these offerings allow for experimentation with diverse products without the risk of a full product launch. 

Concealed menus allow a restaurant to gauge customer reception to novel culinary concoctions and determine demand before formally introducing the item into the regular menu. This reduces the risks associated with unsuccessful introductions and facilitates adaptable, customer-driven menu development.

Provide consumers with feelings of exclusivity

Exclusivity is enticing. This concept has historical roots, dating back to ancient Egypt when the privilege of mummification was exclusive to the societal elite. Fast forward to modern times, it’s akin to having special access to a clandestine establishment, such as a speakeasy. 

The human desire to be privy to confidential information creates a sense of uniqueness and excitement. The notion of accessing a secret menu taps into this allure of exclusivity, forging much more than just temporary excitement. 

It subtly curates a community united by shared secret knowledge without them necessarily acknowledging its existence.

Secrets are meant to be disclosed

Psychological research indicates that maintaining secrets often provokes stress, estrangement, relationship tension, and health issues. Individuals are inclined to divulge secrets to mitigate these adverse effects and experience relationships marked by trust, advice-seeking, and social support. 

Recognising this human tendency towards revelation, astute restaurant operators have capitalised on the phenomena with hidden menus. Rather than fostering an exclusive community, this strategy leads to widespread disclosure, transforming secret menus into trending topics on social media or compelling news stories. 

Consequently, secret menus not only intrigue individual patrons but also propel a restaurant’s brand to broader visibility.

How do consumers access these menus?

Primarily, these ‘off-the-menu’ offerings are brought to light through social media channels, insider knowledge, or by curious patrons inquiring about the possibility of a secret menu.

As for the benefits, the creation of secret menus often results in heightened brand buzz, bolstering customer interest and engagement. The thrill of exclusivity often propels clients to share their knowledge with wider audiences through social media platforms, thus enhancing brand visibility.

However, the sustained impact compared to the initial investment may vary across different establishments. For some, the hype may be fleeting; for others, it can morph into a unique brand signature, contributing to a sustained, positive brand image. 

Therefore, there are three key aspects to balancing the initial investment against long-term gains. These include understanding the clientele, aligning the secret menu to the brand’s positioning, and leveraging modern digital channels for promotion.

Other innovative things your food business can do 

Beyond the traditional application of secret takeaway menus, there are numerous innovative approaches to presenting these hidden treasures that enhance the customer experience and build brand intrigue. 

  • Customise the interior of takeaway food packaging: Use the interior of your takeaway packaging to print concealed menu options. This method not only creates an element of surprise but also ensures direct delivery to your customer base.
  • Custom-print grease-proof paper: Include sneak peeks of your secret menu on this classic packaging. A cryptic hamburger wrap can pique customer curiosity and stimulate conversation.
  • Communicate with customers: Use customer contact information judiciously to share secret menu details. A personalised approach can make consumers feel valued and help enhance brand loyalty.
  • Implement adaptive evaluation: Consistently test and update secret dishes based on customer feedback and trends. This will ensure your secret menu stays exciting and relevant.

In essence, creative presentation, coupled with astute marketing strategies, can amplify the impact of secret takeaway menus. Additionally, it can help drive customer engagement and improve brand visibility.

Ultimately, the key to a successful secret menu lies in well-instructed and adept employees who perfectly execute these special offerings. Their comprehensive understanding and enthusiasm for the hidden menu can heighten the overall dining experience. 

Furthermore, it can ensure patrons leave with not just a meal but a memorable interaction that encourages repeat visits and positive word-of-mouth. The secret takeaway menu, when executed strategically, can be a significant differentiator in a highly competitive food industry landscape.