At Fast-Food Joints, Try the Secret Menu

  1. Unimaginable Fast-Food Combos Are Available for Those Who Utter the Right Code Words at the Take-Out Counter

    LOS ANGELES, Oct. 20, 2007

    In-N-Out Burger. 6:00 p.m. I say to my girlfriend in line beside me, "I want a burger, but I'm tired of all that bun."
    A bearded 20-something walks past and says, "protein style, lady."

    Confused, I look at the menu. No mention there. But the cheerful teen behind the counter nods approvingly and asks, "you want it that way, wrapped in lettuce, not a bun?" Great idea, I say.

    And just like that, I'm in on the secret. Menu, that is.

    Turns out, that's just one of the many so-called "secret menu" items at this famed California fast foodery. (They're posted on the Web site, though not in the brick and mortar spot.)

    And it's only part of a bigger feast fad known as "the secret menu." Try the McBruschetta at the Golden Arches (toasted tomatoes, onions, bun), the Naked Chicken at Popeye's (meat, no breading), or the Short Cappucino at Starbucks (more intense brew served in a kid's cup).

    This is strictly grass-roots stuff, however. Most of these items are not official. (In-N-Out Burger executives deny a secret menu, calling the Web list a customer service.) They're the fruit of enterprising, empowered customers taste-testing their way into new territory on their local fast-food turf. The top combinations rise like cream to become unofficial "secret menu" items that spread through word of mouth and repeated orders.
    Big shots in swanky nightspots have always been able to order a sirloin seared to personal taste. But custom eats for the common man are relatively new.

    According to a number of food experts, it's part of a feasting frenzy fed by Internet chatter and the explosion of foodie reality TV shows -- "Top Chef," "Hell's Kitchen," etc. -- that makes everybody feel like a gastronomic insider, no matter their budget.
    The secret menu appears to be on the upswing, so I decide to taste-test this theory on local terrain. I press Monitor intern, Alison Tully, into service. She hits Jamba Juice and Starbucks; I take the rest.

    In-N-Out, which used to be the Golden State's own fast-food secret with its freshly stamped fries and authentic shakes, is known for its helpful servers. It's also famous for offering a select, few items on that glowing outdoor board -- basic burgers, shakes, sodas, and fries.
  2. Secret Menu cont'd . . . .

    I speak my secret desires -- in proper lingo gleaned from the Web site -- into the squawk box, "a two by two, animal style, and a neopolitan." Translation: a two-patty mustard burger, with everything, including extra sauce and grilled onions, and a three flavor shake (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry). The box cheerily blasts back, "Pay at the first window, please. Have a nice day!"

    Say goodbye to the days of "Five Easy Pieces," when Jack Nicholson couldn't get toast at a coffee shop because it wasn't on the menu.

    Things get stickier for Alison at Starbucks.

    "We don't have a secret menu," says the barrista, who won't give his name. He points to the overhead menu. A nicer cohort nearby rolls her eyes and offers Alison "anything she wants," which is of course, the soul of the secret menu.

    Over at Jamba Juice, however, she hits the sweet spot, scoring the distinctly non-health-bar-sounding White Gummi Bear (a complex smoothie concoction that tastes like the rubbery candy), Strawberry Shortcake and Push Pop smoothies, no questions asked.

    Apple-cheeked teen server, Daryl, says, "The majority of our customers order secret menu stuff."

    Why is this, I ask a national food expert by phone. "Cachet," answers Joyce Weinberg, president of New York Food Tours, a culinary-adventure firm. "Who doesn't like to be in the know?" Besides, she adds, this is the "my" generation. "They've all grown up thinking they can have the world their way."

    It's a win-win, says Paul Dholakia, an associate management professor at Rice University in Houston. It's pure genius from the restaurant's point of view, he adds.

    "It's the best way to get around the barriers we've all put up against commercial messages that I've seen in a long time," he says. "People actually seek these things out."

    Just like me, and now ... Alison. But suddenly I need to know -- how far can this go? I try out my new, have-it-my-way persona at a local mall smoothie counter, Surf City. I peruse the menu, then order what I dub the "Berry Pleaser."

    "Make me a medium with blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and a hint of mango." The server squints, then hauls out three brightly colored jars. She dumps red, blue, and yellow globs into a blender. One short burst of whirrr! later and I give her an approving nod. All secrets should be so delicious.

  3. I knew about the secret menu at In and Out, but didn't know about Jamba! I'll have to see if they can make me a Gummy Bear shake.. that sounds delish.
  4. I think its more of a case that they don't wish to mention such things as it can reflect on restaurants in the wrong way. Most of these 'secret menu' items are much more calorie dense, so they aren't on the official menu. A recent story here talked about Mcdonald's menu item a Quadruple double pounder. having 8 slices of meat and cheese (EWWWWWWW lol) and contained i think one and a 1/2 health days intake of fat. After 'supersize me' do you think any leading take out would really want this to represent their company?

    however there always is the 'secret menu' option at subway where you can opt. to have your bread hollowed, and hence carbs reduced. the only thing is they cannot toast your sandwich since the crisp shell will burn more readily.
  5. How do these people know about the secret Jamba Juice menu items....I can't find them on the web site. I guess that's why it's secret?
  6. ohh, i want to try the gummy bear smoothie now too. anyone know what fruit and juices are used in it??
  7. As soon as I saw the title of the article I was like "ANIMAL STYLE! :yahoo:" I love In-N-Out so much. If I lived in SoCal I would weigh 1000000000 lbs.

    Taco Bell has a somewhat secret menu, too. You can pretty much order anything they've ever sold, even if it's not on the menu anymore. Not only will they make it for you without complaining, 9 times out of 10 the correct name of the supposedly non-existent item will be printed on the receipt ;)...
    thanks for the link! PS... I love your sig!! It made me laugh!
  9. Great post!

    My own choice from the golden arch (when I have the cravings) is the 4 piece Chicken McNuggets... less than 200 cal. All in the portion control. ;)
  10. My mom used to buy us encheritos (sp) from Taco bell all the time when I was a kid, they were so yummy...but when I got older I noticed that they'd disappeared from the menu. It's nice to know that I could go to Taco Bell if I wanted to and have them make me one.
  11. ooh thanks for sharing. I'm gonna have to try this gummi bear...
  12. I hope that they encourage the enthusiasm in Australia. Last time I got dragged to McDonalds with friends and asked for a meatless cheeseburger I got laughed at :s
  13. ^ I used to eat that ALL the time when I was a vegetarian.

    When I ordered it in Montreal, they laughed like it was the funniest thing they'd ever heard. I ordered it in french AND english a dozen times and they kept asking what I wanted. I said just make it with everything but the meat! When I got it, they had put a slice of cheese on the bun and squashed it like a grilled cheese. It didn't have the condiments or anything, just bread and cheese. I thought it was pretty funny :p