The Ultimate Guide To Ordering Secret Menu Items Like A Pro

Objectively, foodies are some of the coolest people around. Eating food? As a hobby? Yes, please! We love foodies for their relentless pursuit of the next best thing, their fearless curiosity, their dual taste for the refined and the obscene, and their creativity. These innovative epicures refuse to settle for stuff as unoriginal as coffee with cream, no — they want a blended coffee that tastes exactly like raspberry cheesecake and looks pretty, too.

And you can count on a foodie to make it happen. That raspberry cheesecake coffee drink? They call it the Raspberry Cheesecake Frappuccino on the Starbucks secret menu. For years, hungry creatives have thought up wacky, yet mouthwatering, new ways to enjoy foods that already exist at famed food spots like Five Guys, Panera Bread, Chipotle, and more. These awe-inspiring secret menus are circulated online on blogs, social media, and even in the news. 

Secret menu items are typically uber-modified variations or combinations of restaurants' regular menu items, giving gourmands a fun, exclusive-feeling new way to dine at spots they already know and love. The thing about secret menus is that they're more or less a secret to restaurants and restaurant employees. So, ordering secret menu items can be a bit confusing and sometimes nerve-wracking. 

Have no fear, fellow foodie. We've got the ultimate guide to ordering secret menu items like the fearless food lover that you are. So read on and go enjoy that Mountain Meat sandwich!

Do your research

The first step to successfully ordering off of a restaurant's secret menu is to find it. A quick online search should land you plenty of results, but once you've discovered a dish you'd like to order, don't grab your keys — yet. Even if they carry all the necessary ingredients to make the dish, some food chains will refuse to serve secret menu items or modified dishes.

Dig around a bit to find out whether other people have actually successfully ordered that secret menu item. It also helps to take location into consideration — some fast food chains carry different menu items in different regions. We'd suggest confirming that several other customers have successfully been able to order the item in question before trying it out for yourself.

Secret menus aren't typically officially endorsed by restaurants, so walking into In-N-Out and asking for a "Scooby Snack" might have the staff saying "ruh-roh" when they don't know what the heck you're actually asking for. Other restaurants, like Del Taco, actually require you to say a secret password if you want to purchase from the secret menu. So, make sure to look around at a variety of sites and social pages, check out reviews from real people, and know your order like the back of your hand before you step up to the counter.

Double check the menu first

When looking around online for tasty secret menu items to try, you may find some that are actually too good to be true. Whether it's a seasonal dish, a discontinued item, or simply a hoax, some of the secret menu hacks posted online may not actually exist.

To save yourself time, disappointment, and a potentially awkward encounter, take the time to ensure that the food you're trying to order can actually be made. Once you've discovered a secret menu item that you'd like to try, go ahead and look through the restaurant's real menu.

Confirm that each ingredient that makes up your desired secret menu dish is also present on the restaurant's official menu. Then, compare your secret menu item to similar dishes on that menu to see if A) this so-called "secret menu item" is actually already a dish offered on the restaurant's menu, or if B) there is a simpler, potentially less expensive way to order it contrary to what you've found online. For example, a popular Starbucks secret menu drink is dubbed the "Medicine Ball," but it actually exists on the Starbucks menu as the Honey Citrus Mint Tea — there's no need to waste emotional energy reciting ingredients or saying the phrase "medicine ball" after all!

Check for official secret menu items

While perusing inspiring secret menu items online, you'll likely be looking at recipes posted by foodies on blogs or social media. Before you start looking into reviews of secret menu items and memorizing your order, it can help to check if the restaurant in question actually promotes its secret menu in an official capacity.

Starbucks, for example, has notoriously added popular secret menu items to their official menu, like the Pink Drink and the Medicine Ball. Likewise, Dunkin' Donuts reports that its cake batter-flavored coffee was inspired by fan-made menu hacks. McDonald's has followed suit, adding four new items to its official menu that were inspired by secret menu creations, as per Entrepreneur.

Some restaurants take it a step further and really capitalize on the hype surrounding their secret menu creations. In-N-Out, for example, has an entire menu section dedicated to its "Not-So-Secret-Menu," which makes seeking out and ordering these mouthwatering creations much simpler for customers. On the other hand, Chik-fil-A outright denies having a secret menu but shares some tasty creations to inspire the creative and the hungry on its blog. Many fast food chains (including Taco Bell) do the same, sharing unique menu hacks on their own websites without quite referring to them as "secret menus."

Checking out the blog or news section of your favorite restaurants' websites could be a better way to find secret menu items that are officially endorsed by the company and are likely more accessible than fan-made creations.

Be patient with staff

Working in the public-facing service industry is not a walk in the park. Fast food and restaurant workers often have to deal with some pretty rude or impatient customers, so keep this in mind when you're ordering secret menu items.

Remember that most secret menus are actually secret, which typically means that the restaurant staff isn't trained to know what these menus are or how the dishes are made. A McDonald's employee reported to The Sun that while workers aren't trained to make secret menu items, most staff will make the item if the customer can explain what it's made up of.

Some savvy restaurant employees even get creative with ingredients themselves. Fox Business shares a TikTok posted by a Chik-fil-A employee who shared their own favorite combinations of menu items. Though thousands of viewers liked the TikTok posted by @Promisehorne, user @Yourgirlconny commented that the Chik-fil-A location they were employed at "stopped doing anything not on the menu" before including the self-explanatory hashtag #tooshortstaffed.

It's likely that restaurants and fast food spots across the country are facing staff shortages, so remember to have patience with employees. If they refuse to make your secret menu item, shrug it off and order something you already love off the menu — and don't forget to tip!

Order with confidence, but prepare to get denied

Sometimes, walking into a restaurant and ordering can feel overwhelming. Regardless of how many times we've done it before, some anxiety still creeps in, whether we're worrying about messing up the order or pronouncing something incorrectly.

When it comes to ordering modified items, or the ultra-modified items found on secret menus, that anxiety is heightened. Don't be afraid to start out by letting the restaurant staff know that you're trying to order an off-menu item. This way, confusion can be minimized even if the staff can't or won't make your order. And if they aren't able to make your order, that's the worst that can happen!

Whether it's due to location, staffing shortages, or lack of ingredients, restaurants may refuse to make secret menu items no matter how confident or polite you are. Be prepared for this to happen, and try having a regular menu item in mind as a backup!

Have a backup plan in mind

Restaurants and fast food eateries have notoriously experienced staffing issues since the pandemic began, but consumers are still ordering and dining at a normal pace. This means that staff can become overwhelmed and overworked. Couple this with pressing supply chain issues and you might find that some restaurants simply can't afford to deviate from their playbooks — all of which is to say that you need to be prepared in case a restaurant cannot or will not serve you a secret menu item.

If you've memorized your order and mustered up the courage to recite it to an employee only for them to tell you "no," you may be a bit dumbfounded. Don't lose hope, and don't walk away empty-handed. Go in with a backup plan, whether you think of a simpler way to order the secret menu item or have another real menu meal in mind. This way, you won't feel too disappointed not getting what you'd hoped for, and you'll still go home with something yummy.

Try to order online

Even if you've got your secret menu item ingredients memorized or ready to show an employee on your phone, you still might feel a little awkward ordering in person. Fast food eateries and other restaurants often offer the ability to order online, and this could be your saving grace. Some secret menu items with moderate modifications, like Starbucks secret menu drinks with various add-ins, for example, can easily be ordered online.

Likewise, many online ordering services include a feature wherein customers can write notes to the staff explaining special requests. You can try using this feature, but always be prepared to have some potential extra charges added to your order or for the restaurant to decline your requests. Ordering secret menu items online can be particularly beneficial if you're ordering at a busier time, as it will give staff extra time to read and prepare your meal.

Be prepared to pay extra

While some secret menu items, like the 2-for-1 burrito bowl at Chipotle, are actually hacks meant to save you money, most of these innovative eats will cost you more than you might think.

Lots of secret menu items are combinations of various ingredients and dishes already on restaurants' regular menus. Likewise, many of them are prepared differently than the regular menu items would be, which makes them so desirable and special — drinks that are blended rather than shaken, double-fried french fries, and so on.

When you're asking for extra ingredients and effort from staff, don't be surprised when your bill is higher than normal. You may have to pay per ingredient or incur an upcharge for special preparation. Keep this in mind before you order, and don't give staff a hard time about it. Since you're likely to pay more, it's also a good idea to make sure that the secret menu item you want is going to be worth it, so don't forget to read reviews online!

Keep an eye on TikTok

Secret menus are generally unofficial creations thought up by innovative foodies all over the world. As such, there are an innumerable number of secret menu items that exist with new ones created all of the time. While some notorious secret menu items, like In-N-Out's Animal Fries, have been around for decades, many are brand new and are made with seasonal or newer menu items.

If you're looking to find new tasty inventions and menu hacks, look no further than the app that's probably already open on your phone: TikTok. Countless secret menu items have been invented and gone viral on the platform, making it the go-to for foodies who want to share their creations.

Simply search "secret menu" and you'll find tons of videos with mouthwatering eats from McDonald's to Dairy Queen to Olive Garden, as well as popular local spots. What's great about finding secret menu items on TikTok is that more often than not, the comments section is filled with useful insight regarding whether certain food chain locations can make the dish or if it's worth ordering at all.

Create your own secret menu item

Not all secret menu items are created equal. Though some secret menu items are culinary treats created by the restaurant chefs themselves, others are just not good. Often, the appeal of a secret menu item isn't its taste, but its level of audacity — we think that some foodies probably ask themselves, "just how outrageous can we make this cheeseburger?"

Maybe you've found that some secret menu items simply aren't worth trying. Maybe you'd like to try creating something a bit healthier (like some of these Olive Garden secret menu hacks) than what's offered on a restaurant menu. Or maybe, you've just got a particular taste and aren't enticed by the secret menu recipes you've found online. Don't forget: Secret menu items are just creations thought up by mostly regular, everyday customers just like you. That means you can go right ahead and create a secret menu of your own.

Whether you modify an already-invented secret menu item to fit your liking or create one completely unique to you, don't forget to be patient with staff, come prepared with a backup plan, and order with confidence.