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What’s Up with Secret Menu Hacks, and How Do Franchisees Feel About Them?

Explore how franchise owners feel about the popularity and perceptions of secret menu hacks.

By Jeff DwyerStaff Writer
Updated 8:08AM 05/12/23

If you use a lot of social media, or if you’re a fan of any particular fast-food chains, then you’ve probably heard of secret menu items. Secret menu items, also often labeled as “hacks,” have become increasingly popular in recent years, but what exactly are they and how do franchisees feel about them?

What Are Secret Menu Hacks?

Secret menu hacks are items that are not listed on a restaurant’s official menu but can be ordered by customers who know the specific ingredients and preparation methods required to make them. These items can be created by mixing and matching existing menu items or by asking for modifications to pre-existing menu items.

Secret menu hacks are often shared on social media or by word of mouth. Some of these items become so popular that they gain a cult following despite not being officially recognized by the restaurant itself.

Some examples of secret menu items include:

  • In-N-Out’s “Animal Style” burger — a burger with mustard cooked into the patty, topped with grilled onions, extra pickles and a special sauce
  • Taco Bell’s “Enchirito” — a burrito stuffed with beef, beans, cheese and red sauce, then smothered in more cheese and sauce
  • Starbucks’ “Butterbeer Frappuccino” — Crème Frappuccino with three pumps of caramel syrup, three pumps of toffee nut syrup and a caramel drizzle

How Do Franchisees Feel About Them?

Now that we know what secret menu hacks are, how exactly do restaurant owners and operators feel about them? It can be a mixed bag.

From an operational standpoint, secret menu hacks can pose a challenge to individual owners and operators. Depending on how a franchisee plans for them, secret menu items can disrupt operations in the kitchen because they may require additional preparation steps or unique ingredients that are not normally used. From a front-of-house perspective, these types of items could cause confusion and slow service, especially if the item is not listed in the point-of-sale system. 

The cashier may need to manually enter the order, which can take extra time and create errors in order processing, resulting in longer wait times for customers. Additionally, secret menu items can act as a secondary menu that new employees will have to learn, which can be difficult. However, many franchisees also understand that secret menu hacks can help build brand loyalty in their customer base.

According to James Walker, CEO of the Cincinnati, Ohio-based Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant, secret menu items are a fun way for customers to customize their orders and feel like they’re in on a secret. However, they can also be frustrating for franchisees who are trying to maintain consistency across their stores.

“I believe operators need to try to balance the need to put guests first, as well as manage a menu that can be executed at a high-quality level without overburdening the restaurant,” said Walker.

R.J. Hottovy, the Head of Analytical Research at and a restaurant and retail analyst, agrees that secret menu items can be difficult to manage, but presents franchisees with a unique opportunity to build brand loyalty.

“It’s a nice way to build a sense of exclusivity and loyalty with your core customers,” said Hottovy. “Ordering a secret menu item can make you feel like you’re part of a club.”

However, both Hottovy and Walker believe secret menu items add value to franchises if executed well, and each agrees that menu hacks will likely continue to be popular for the foreseeable future.

“I think secret menu hacks can be a good addition to any restaurant,” said Walker. “For example, look at In-N-Out’s Animal Style burger. That’s been around forever. I’ve ordered it myself and absolutely love it. I would say secret menu items are always going to be popular.”

Although secret menu items have the potential to enhance customer loyalty and generate a feeling of exclusivity, they have their challenges. The success of these items depends largely on proper execution. Whether you love or hate them, it seems that they will remain a permanent fixture in the franchise restaurant industry. 

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