I have been intrigued by the recent media coverage about secret menus that many restaurants, fast-food joints, and even coffee shops, have. While many restaurants are glad to customize a drink or meal for you, for the most part, I have received annoyed glances and blank stares at times when I’ve asked for substitutes.

However, off-menu requests are popular in many restaurants, including many well-known places. These requests seem to tend towards two groups — those with an appetite for especially calorie-rich food (one example of this would be the McDonald’s Monster Mac Burger with eight patties), or to those on a paleo diet or low-carb diet.

Offering a hidden or secret menu allows regular customers to have options that appeal to their eating habits, while also creating an “in the know” culture that spreads by word of mouth. I can see the appeal.

In and Out has some off-menu options that you can ask for such as “double meat’ for two patties, “3x3,” for three patties with three slices of American cheese, “protein style” for a burger wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun, and “fries light” for softer fries, “fries light well” for slightly crispy fries, “fries well” for crispy fries. There is a whole website devoted to “secret drinks” you can order at Starbucks. With names like Captain Crunch Frappuccino and Chocolate Dalmatian, these drinks sound out of the ordinary. However, it appears that not all baristas know about these secret drinks because when one of the Yahoo staff tried to order one, the barista not only didn’t know what it was (but was willing to make it once it was described), but asked that he not tell anyone about the special order!

One of the places that I was the most excited about was Panera. When I was working on my last cookbook ("Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons"), I went several times to write at a Panera. As someone who can’t eat many of the food items they sell because of food allergies, there was very limited menu for me. However, if you go to the Panera website, you can find out about the nationwide hidden menu that contains “power breakfasts” and protein-rich bowls and lettuce wraps. For example, they have a Power Steak Lettuce wrap that is described as “Seared top-sirloin, leaf lettuce, cucumbers, diced tomatoes & red onions, basil pesto and finished with fresh lemon juice.” Sounds pretty yummy! This is a hidden menu worth knowing about.

Many restaurants share these types of hidden menu items on social media, whether it is their Facebook page or their Twitter feed. Following them online may be a great way to find out about secret or hidden menus. There is also a website devoted to uncovering hidden menus.

Have you ever ordered off of a secret or hidden menu?

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