Secret Menus Aren’t Just for Restaurants


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As a product-based business or brand, the ultimate goal is to have customers love you. They can’t do that unless they meaningfully interact with you. One way to do this is to create a “secret menu.” Developing a product that’s spread by word of mouth allows select customers to become insiders. In turn, you create interest, like, then love for your business.

A Lesson from “Swingers”

In the cult classic “Swingers,” Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau follow a friend down an alley as he pulls on random doors. They’re all locked, but he finally pulls open one indistinguishable door. Behind the door was Los Angeles’ coolest club. Only an insider would know about that door.

That’s the magic of a secret menu.

Secrets of a Secret Menu

Restaurants have successfully used the secret menu strategy for years. The most famous might be In-N-Out Burger, whose basic menu is simple: burgers, fries, and milkshakes. Over the years, it adapted to customer whims. Now, the secret menu is not-so-secret, but knowing you could get something special still holds allure for most customers.

Your business can receive many benefits when employing this restaurant-inspired strategy:

1. Customer Marketing: When you provide select customers with information or products that no one else has, it’s natural for them to start bragging about it. Bragging is actually marketing for your company.

2. The Cool Factor: A secret menu and a regular menu contrast cool with uncool at one company. Even if your business is über-hip, the shininess wears off as more people join the bandwagon. A small team pumping out secret items will keep your company on the cutting edge without a lot of innovation risk.

3. Brand Focus: Successful businesses target niches and only create focused products. A secret menu allows you to pare down offerings to the mass market while playing around with new possibilities behind the scenes.

Roll Out Quietly

In-N-Out Burger proves that there are degrees of secrecy in the secret menu world. A hidden menu of offerings doesn’t have to be top secret to be successful. But the most notable thing about a secret menu is that it’s shared customer-to-customer, so it’s important to articulate how you won’t share the information. The best thing to do is to let a few select customers in on what’s happening. It’s something you offer to only the best customer.

The primary objective of a secret menu is to give your customers something interesting to talk about. When deciding what to offer, aim for extremes: fastest, smallest, biggest, the most expensive. To be akin to PR initiatives, it has to be interesting and noteworthy.

Restaurants aren’t the only ones that can employ the secret menu strategy. Look around at your business and your customers. It shouldn’t be hard to dream up ways to make them “insiders.”

Stephan Aarstol
Stephan Aarstol is the CEO and founder of Tower Paddle Boards, an online, manufacturer-direct brand in stand up paddle boarding. Tower Paddle Boards was invested in by Mark Cuban on ABC's "Shark Tank" and was named one of the top 10 success stories in the history of the show by Entrepreneur Magazine. Stephan is an entrepreneurial thought leader and online marketing expert.


  1. This is the first time I have heard of a secret menu…. very interesting marketing strategy! I wonder if McDonald’s has a McSecret burger. I’ll have to dig a bit and see what “secret” item I could possibly order that would surprise and amaze my friends. I have to wonder what secret menu Tower Paddleboards might have! I love Tower!

  2. Hey Lisa! Glad you like the article! Yeah, secret menus are all over the place. BMW’s M-class is a good example, as it started as a secret menu way back in the day just for core car nuts. Now it’s more mainstream. I don’t know about McDonald’s, but I know one of their subsidiaries Chipolte has one. Go in and ask for the Nacho’s and watch the staff squirm. My success rate is about 50%. Ha!

    As for Tower’s secret menu, you have to be an insider to hear about it. As a SUP Crew founder, you’ve likely already been leaked some of what is coming!


  3. Also ask for the Quesarrito at Chipotle. It’s a quesadilla burrito! Secret Menu items are definitely fun and usually cost a premium, which is smart business when the people in the know will always want to order it to feel elite and exclusive.

  4. Good stuff. A lot of this boils down to word-of-mouth, something a lot of brands overlook because we get caught up in providing short term metrics from digital marketing.

    Keep up the great work Stephan/Tower!


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