You should never have a secret menu. However, an open-secret menu is a great idea. An open-secret menu is something that everyone could readily figure out or find. So it’s not a secret at all, but it has just enough mystique to come off as a special. In-N-Out does this well with their “Animal-Style” variations of the menu. With that said, it’s pretty easy to find their secret menu. If you have some special hidden menu item or nuanced specialty “Thing” that only some of your staff know about, it’s time to get that into the open. If only a handful of customers know about it, then it most likely has value, and you’re holding it back on sharing it. Find a fun way to show the secret menu. Possibly hide it with a special link on your website, or explain it as the “secret menu” because it’s out there, and you want people to feel special about ordering those items.
There’s also the McRib approach of taking a semi-popular item and then taking it off the menu and bringing it back every now and again. This tactic gives the feeling of exclusivity, which increases the sales of this item significantly more than it would sell if it were on the menu all year. Here is my pizza approach: I have about 20 specialty pizzas, so when we get a new idea to add to the menu, one has to come off. I take the “retired” pizza and add it to my slice of the night one day of the week. I pair it with a rare beer and make it an event that we push on social media and build a call to action that pizza would not garner otherwise.
Along with that, every time I do bring something back or add something new, it’s a new advertising opportunity. If you’re just about to open your restaurant and have a slew of ideas of what you want on your menu, start with the base items and slowly add each new menu item. This approach provides a new call to action each time you roll out an item. Sequential calls to action make your restaurant appear fresh and never stagnant. New items give your customers more reasons to come back to your restaurant as you start your growth. A slow menu rollout also helps a completely new staff avoid becoming overwhelmed.
For anything else you are willing to do or sell; it should be evident on your menu and website. Services like specialized pizza tours or making pizza at someone’s house to selling dough balls in bulk should all be listed somewhere clear and visible. If you’re willing to sell it, you should also be willing to put it on an official menu and advertise it. People will often say, “Oh, but that’s something I do on the side,” which means it’s an idea not being utilized. If people ask without you advertising it, then there is a hungry audience for it. Customers should have the opportunity to purchase it without it being their idea. If more than once are you asked about doing something, then it should be on your menu of items or services.
A great example of this is in Vegas. Steve Wynn got asked about his linens in the Wynn Hotel so much that he went a made a whole showroom near the casino floor of everything utilized in his hotel room. That way, hotel guests and non-hotel guest shoppers could see the Wynn-at-Home products, interact with them, and potentially buy them. For most purchases, the items get sent to the customer’s home. That’s taking a brand signifier and making it obviously available for sale, which you should do for every conceivable product or service inside of your four walls and not keep it a secret anymore.
MIKE BAUSCH is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Instagram: @mikeybausch