Foodie Friday, and this week I want to talk – very quietly – about secrets. You might be familiar with the fact that some restaurants have secret menus. They range from the unofficial like Starbucks (you pretty much have to describe to the barista exactly what you mean by a Red Candy Apple Frappucino) to the official but hidden menus at In-N-Out Burger which puts the hidden menu on its website.  McDonald’s, Chipotle, and pretty much every other chain has off-menu items, as do many top restaurants.

What I find strange isn’t that some customers are “in” while others are left wondering what that was the other table was eating.  No, what I think is really odd are those establishments that are themselves hidden.  These are restaurants – and many of them are very good – that go out of their way to hide.  No sign,  and often an unmarked door so you can’t be sure of the address.  In fact, The Times just reviewed one of these places (so much for keeping THAT secret)  and pointed out the restaurant is in a basement. It is closed four nights out of seven. Its sole offering is a $100 tasting menu that is not posted in advance. Substitutions are not allowed.  Not exactly a prescription for embracing the customer and yet the place got two stars (that’s damn good here in NY, folks) and you know it will be mobbed.

There are hidden places in other cities as well so it’s not just a NY phenomenon.  But it got me wondering why a business would do this.  I get the whole “the first rule of Fight Club is don’t talk about Fight club” mentality.  I know many people like to be in on the secret and know something that someone else doesn’t.  But given that Yelp, Urbanspoon, and other review sites are out there, the odds of keeping the menu and the business itself secret are pretty slim.  I mean there are even websites dedicated to outing these places. Why bother trying?

Maybe it’s the sense of belonging to something even if they’re not really “secret.”  Maybe it’s an incredibly clever form of marketing.  In a time when it seems as if every business is trying to get louder, these are standing out by making no noise at all.  Interesting, right?

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Filed under food, Huh?, Thinking Aloud

2 responses to “Ssshhhhh…

  1. WARNING: Secret menu items aren’t available at every single restaurant in every chain, but if you find a place that will do it for you, knows what it is, and has all the ingredients, you can put your personal spin on something the people in the back have spent all day making the same way — which is awesome. Get ready to get (more) dirty looks (than usual) at your local fast food chain. Below are all the secret menu item lists for all the most popular fast food chains in America. Hidden menu items are a blast to discover. Few people use them, but when you do, you usually look pretty damn awesome… unless that particular restaurant doesn’t sell what you’re looking for. THE RISK: If you’re wrong, or if they don’t know what you’re talking about, it does get pretty embarrassing, but then again, secret menu items are about adventure, nuance and street cred, aren’t they? Yes. Oh and they’re also about food. So, for the sake of your fast food eating habits, here are the best off-menu items to order: from secret drinks at Jamba Juice, to secret hamburger creations at Burger King. From horrendous creations of horror at burger joints, to little-known vegetarian options (like a veggie burger at Burger King.) The world is now yours. Enjoy.

  2. Barbara Uboe

    You know the old saying, “If you want to be heard, whisper.” Or of course, you could just be E.F. Hutton… 🙂

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