How to Order From a “Secret Menu” Without Feeling Dumb

I have long enjoyed exploring the foodie corners of social media, scrolling through countless photos and videos of delicious food. In the process, I discovered dishes I had never heard of at popular restaurant chains―secret menu items.

Having special drinks or foods not listed on the regular menu is quite common for fast food chains and even sit-down restaurants these days. Often these secret menu items have been created by the powers that be at the restaurant or are small “hacks” that have been invented by customers or employees and have become very popular.

“With so many restaurants active on Instagram and influencers using both Instagram and TikTok to spread marketing and awareness, it has become immensely easier for customers to be exposed to new restaurants, emerging food trends and to secret menu items that were once inaccessible”, Yuliya Buslovich and Nina Hadzibabic, creators of the Instagram account food @bknyeatstold HuffPost in an email.

Even though ordering from the “secret menu” has become much more common in recent years, the idea of ​​doing it myself still seems incredibly awkward and embarrassing. Added to these feelings are the many online forums and opinion pieces suggesting that it might actually be rude or otherwise ill-advised.

So how can you order a secret menu item without feeling weird or being a bad customer? Below, etiquette experts and foodies share their tips.

Consider the context before ordering.

“Not all ‘secret’ menu items are created equal,” said Nick Leighton, etiquette expert and co-host of the “Were you raised by wolves? podcast. “Some are not really a secret and are quite common, like the ‘Animal Style’ burger from In-N-Out or the nachos from Chipotle. For those, go for it. But when things get more exotic and it’s a more obscure and time-consuming reconfiguration of existing ingredients, a deeper discussion is needed.

Take a moment to reflect on the timing and the context. If you’re at a McDonald’s during a slow time of day with hardly any other customers, maybe you can order a Mc10:35 ― a McDouble combined with an Egg McMuffin ― in a way that does not cause significant inconvenience to staff or other diners.

“But think twice about going through a drive-thru and ordering something that takes 10 minutes to explain and another 10 minutes to do,” Leighton warned.

Monica and Bruce Wong, the couple behind the Instagram account @ny.foodieechoes this advice.

“When ordering that secret menu item, watch out for the worker preparing it for you!” they told HuffPost in an email. “They’re already busy placing normal orders and if that secret menu item requires the worker to add important steps to a process, it could add significant stress to them and save other orders.”

Do your research in advance.

Before embarking on your secret menu journey, try to do some research beforehand.

“Don’t assume all Starbucks baristas know how to make a ‘Purple London Steamer Trunk,'” Leighton said. “If you’re ordering off the menu, you’ll need to know exactly what’s in it and how it’s made.”

Reddit can be a useful place to find out what exactly is on different chains’ “secret menus” and what those dishes entail. Find out if there is a particular way to order the item in question.

“Google in advance what’s on said secret menu and then reference it,” said Lindsey Metselaar, creator of the Instagram account @dontexpectsalads. “For example, in Hillstone Midtown, you say, ‘I’m going to take the chicken fingers off the menu. “”

If you want to be more prepared, you can even save an image of the dish or drink to your phone.

“Nowadays with social media, you see these secret menu items every time you open your feed. They’re a lot less ‘secret,'” the Wongs explained. their topic without feeling awkward or weird is to show a photo or video of where you first saw it, which could be from your favorite Instagram or TikTok account.”

Just ask, but do it politely.

If in doubt, don’t be afraid to just ask about the secret menu or a specific secret item. The worst thing that can happen is that you won’t be able to order that thing and just have to buy another one instead.

“It all depends on how you ask,” said Jodi RR Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. “You want to be nice and polite, never allowed. Depending on your personality, you can be deferential or direct. ‘Ah… yes… I heard there was a delicious unicorn smoothie… can I have one?’ Versus ‘I would like to order the unicorn smoothie, thank you.’”

Diane Gottsmanan etiquette expert and author of “Modern label for a better lifenoted that the word ‘secret’ can conjure up negative emotions, so if that makes you feel weird, you can just refer to things as ‘off-menu’ items.

“You can say something like, ‘Do you still offer the calamari and calamari pasta plate’ that’s not on your menu?” or ‘Are there any off-menu specialties you can recommend?’ “, She suggested.

Gottsman also emphasized using a pleasant, natural tone of voice when asking questions about off-menu items.

“Rather than feeling like an undercover spy asking for a special dish, treat it like a routine, emotionless question,” she said. “The special dishes that are not included in the menu are not out of the ordinary and the waiter will let you know if they are no longer available.”

Be prepared for a no.

“When ordering something custom, it’s polite to first ask if your menu item is even possible today and use a tone that acknowledges you’re aware you’re making a request for something that isn’t. isn’t standard,” Leighton said. “Be prepared to take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Smith noted that there’s no harm in asking about a secret menu item as long as you understand if they’re unable to help you with it.

“The venue is never obligated to accommodate an off-menu request, so approach the situation with an open mind,” she said. “If your request is denied, have a backup order handy. And, you can ask if there is another day or time they could comply.

If they are able to create that secret menu item for you, remember that the deal doesn’t end there.

“Accept any additional charges on your bill that may result,” Leighton said. “And don’t forget to tip.”

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