Secret Menu

The concept of the “secret menu” fascinates me. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it has a few layers. The most basic version is that sometimes a particular restaurant (usually a chain/franchise) has certain items that they have the capacity to make, but that they don’t advertise (or don’t advertise broadly). Starbucks was probably the most famous example of this, but plenty of other restaurants have followed suit.

There’s a lot of benefit to doing this seemingly weird thing. First off, overly-complex menus of choices are daunting. You really hurt your efficiency if your customers can choose from hundreds of different options. You want most people to just know the most basic items, because you’ll sell a lot of those and be quick. But having several more complex things on a “secret menu” can also help capture additional demographics – foodies and the like, plus people who just love fun secrets and scavenger hunts and things like that.

Even outside of the restaurant industry though, it’s really interesting to look at the things that a company would offer to its customers and clients but not directly advertise. We even have a few of these at my work, and it’s absolutely a good idea.

Why would it be a good idea to hide certain things you can do? For one, because complexity isn’t your friend. Most of the “secret menu” items are extremely narrow, niche and/or conditional, so they won’t apply to 99% of customers. Making a potential customer read all of them as they’re electing to work with you is pointless – and can even work against you. Instead, our internal experts know all of them, and have them in their back pocket if a client expresses a particular hardship that the “secret menu” service could solve.

If you’re a professional landscaper but you also happen to know how to safely transport bees from one hive to another, it doesn’t make sense to advertise the bee-transportation services heavily. First off, most of your main clients won’t have bee-hives, so it’s wasted space. Second, if you advertise it then many potential landscaping clients may incorrectly assume that you exclusively (or at least primarily) work with people with beehives, and that could severely limit your customer base. Lastly, you might only have the capacity to do that once in a while, so while you don’t mind doing it for the odd customer here and there that needs it, you don’t really want to be doing it all the time. In this case, you might have all the tools needed to do the task and even a set price and contract made up for it, but you don’t advertise it. But if a landscaping client happens to mention that as they’re re-doing their property they’d also love to find someone to relocate their hive – boom, you’re on it.

Whatever you do, it’s definitely important to remember that your simplest ‘core offering’ is probably the right thing to lean on as a company brand. It can be clear and tell your story best. If they need something else you can be prepared to say “yes!” But you don’t need to tell someone in advance every single way you might do so.

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