Is it rude to order from a secret menu at your favorite restaurant or fast-food chain? The answer depends on what you’re ordering. Let me explain.

The terms “menu hack” and “secret menu” are often used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference between the two.

A secret menu is a list of unofficial and unadvertised selections that fast food chains will make when ordered but that do not exist on their regular menus. These items are well recognized by the restaurant and passed on by word-of-mouth.

The best example I can think of is when you could order a “secret menu” item at In-N-Out Burger by asking for your fries “animal style,” which means they will be cooked with mustard, grilled onions, and extra pickles. You can get this secret menu item anywhere even though it’s not actually much a secret.

Chocolate Chip Cookies at BK

Chocolate Chip Cookies at BK. The secret is out.

On the other hand, a menu hack is a non-standard method of ordering food that offers a different result than what is explicitly stated on the menu. For example, the “Quesarito” at Chipotle is not listed on the menu, but it is a popular item that is made by asking for a quesadilla with a burrito inside of it.

You can find literally thousands of menu hacks like this across social media sites like TikTok and Instagram. Most of these were created by fast-food customers themselves. Unfortunately, if you order a menu hack, not every fast-food employee may know what you’re talking about. If you try ordering it during the dinner rush, you might get some nasty looks from employees and customers alike as you try to explain the order.

In general, a menu hack is a specific modification to an existing menu item, while a secret menu is a list of recognized menu items. However, the two terms are often used interchangeably so things can get confusing. Here is a table that summarizes the key differences between menu hacks and secret menus.

Secret Menu VS Menu Hack: What’s the Difference?

Feature Menu hack Secret menu
Definition A non-standard method of ordering food that offers a different result than what is explicitly stated on the menu.
Unadvertised, but well-known selections that fast food chains will make when ordered.
Origin Often created by customers and passed on by word-of-mouth. Can be created by the restaurant or by customers and adopted by restaurant.
Recognition Not officially recognized by the restaurant.
May or may not be officially recognized by the restaurant.
Examples Chipotle’s “Quesarito”, Taco Bell’s “Enchirito” In-N-Out Burger’s “animal style” fries, Starbucks’ “Pink Drink”

What are some examples of secret menu items? 

  • Pink Drink from Starbucks: This pink colored drink is made with strawberry refresher, coconut milk, and vanilla syrup. This is popular cold beverage at Starbucks, but it is not listed on the regular menu.
  • Harry Potter Frappuccino from Starbucks: This is a green-colored drink made with matcha, vanilla syrup, and whipped cream.
  • Animal Style Fries from In-N-Out Burger: These fries are cooked with mustard, grilled onions, and extra pickles.

You Might Like: Massive 101+ Dutch Bros Secret Menu Items You Can Order 

  • The Flying Dutchman from In-N-Out Burger: This is a grilled cheese sandwich with two beef patties and two slices of cheese.
  • Quesarito from Chipotle: This is a quesadilla with a burrito inside of it.
  • The Meat Mountain from Arby’s: The Meat Mountain is a towering sandwich that contains eight different types of meat, including roast beef, brisket, chicken tenders, and ham.
Whopper Meal

The Whopper Meal at BK.

Why Do So Many Fast Food Restaurants Have Secret Menu Items? 

There are a few reasons why some fast food restaurants have secret menu items.

  • To create buzz. Secret menu items can be a way to create buzz and excitement around a fast food restaurant. This can be a good way to attract new customers and get people talking about the restaurant. Plus, new menu items like this are perfect for sharing across social media platforms and food blogs alike. Releasing a secret menu gives food bloggers and creators a reason to talk about your brand for free.
  • To create a sense of exclusivity. Secret menu items make customers feel like they are in on a secret, which can create a sense of excitement and exclusivity. This can be a good way to attract and retain customers.

You can order Surge at Burger King.

  • To offer more variety. Fast food restaurants often have limited menus, so secret menu items can be a way to offer customers more variety. This can be especially appealing to customers who are looking for something different or unique.
  • To test new menu items and flavors. Secret menu items can be a way for fast food restaurants to test new products without having to commit to putting them on the regular menu. This can be a good way to gauge customer interest in new products before making a big investment and adding an item to the more permanent menu.

Not all fast food restaurants have secret menu items. However, the ones that do find that they can be a valuable marketing tool.

Pro Tips When Ordering a Secret Menu Item

If you’re ordering a well known secret menu item like “Animal Style” at In-N-Out Burger, go ahead and order these any time. But you’ll want to be a little more strategic so you don’t come off as an inconsiderate or even rude if you plan to order a more custom menu hack that’s not broadly known.

In-N-Out Burger Menu Prices

Have you tried the Secret Menu at In-N-Out?

Here are some tips for ordering for a lesser known menu hacks you spotted on Instagram or TikTok without being rude:

  • Be understanding if the restaurant is not familiar with the item. Just because you know about the latest menu hack doesn’t mean the minimum wage earning teenager behind the counter does.
  • Visit the fast-food restaurant during off peak hours. Avoid the dinner and lunch rush. If you make a detailed and customized order
  • Order through an app if possible. Most fast-food apps allow you to add custom ingredients and special requests. By ordering through the app, you may have a better chance of getting the order correctly.
  • Keep in mind that a lot of the Instagram menu hacks you find where assembled by the creator after the order. For example, you could easily make a Double Cheeseburger Chicken Nugget sandwich (is that a thing?) by placing these orders separately and assembling yourself inside the dining room or your car.
  • Be prepared to pay a little extra. Some of the ingredients you’re asking for might cost a little extra.
  • Finally, not all the secret menu items you find online are legit. Some include ingredients that the restaurant doesn’t even have in the building. As a result they can’t make them. Do a little bit a research to confirm the menu hack idea hasn’t been debunked before you go.

If you follow these tips, you should be able to order a secret menu item with minimal problems. You’ll also make the lives of some low-wage fast-food employees a little easier.