Making you feel like a loyal insider, one “Animal Style with Extra Pickle” burger at a time.

By Gloria Hong

I will be the first to admit that I am guilty of ordering off menu. While I can understand that this might feel like a slight to the chef who worked incredibly hard to craft a thoughtful menu, but sometimes I’m just not hungry for what’s in front of me. One time, I saw a chef preparing his lunch behind the counter and pointed to the delicious chorizo sandwich and ask if I could have one of the same. There was an awkward pause, but when our eyes met and he saw the almost lustful look I was giving his sandwich, he gave a hearty laugh as he gave me his and made another for himself. Shameful, I know. But as I expected, it was a really good sandwich.

But now, I don’t have to feel ashamed. Don’t like what’s on the menu? That’s OK, because there is a secret second menu! You heard me. A SECRET MENU.

I’ve known about secret menus for years. My experience is primarily with the Korean restaurants I’ve visited with my family over the years. Typically, it’s unwritten but understood. You can tweak a dish the way you would at home (extra sesame oil in the stone bowl bi bim bap please!) or sometimes they can make you something that you are craving (fried salmon heads please!). It’s great customer service and guarantees you’ll be able to eat something you like – even if the restaurant choice wasn’t yours.

Some restaurants have started to use the secret menu to reward loyal customers – those who have experienced everything on their menu and could use a change. For example, I love the soft shell crab sandwich special at Porchetta and Co. The inherently sweet flavor of the crab gets a hit of muted acid with the Meyer lemon mayo, packaged in a crispy panko coating under a soft Portuguese bun. What could possibly make this better? Well, when you’re ordering you can ask to “gangbang” your sandwich – which means to layer porchetta above and below your crab.

Other secret menus, aren’t so secret. They create chatter and buzz while making people feel like they are in the know. For decades, In-and-Out burger has offered one and you can even find their “not-so-secret-menu” on their website. The Burger’s Priest here in Toronto used to have a secret menu posted on their Facebook page, but now it looks like you’ll have to use your favourite search engine to (easily) find it. This article on Toronto Food Trucks boils down the appeal of secret menus and offers some great insight on how to use them as a marketing tactic.

And look who jumped into the ring; Starbucks, the king of specific and special, has their own secret menu. 

Secret menus are a great way to make your regulars feel special and get potential customers talking.  I’ve even contributed to one. You can get a secret menu item called “The Gloria” sandwich at Porchetta and Co. Just so you know.