Ordering from the menu while dining out may not get you the best deal–or even the tastiest meal.
It’s not unusual for restaurants to have hidden menus (some of which, like In-N-Out Burger’s, are not really that secret) and special deals only accessible to those diners who are in the know.
You might even get early access to a popular item—last fall, Starbucks customers who told their barista “PSL 10” could get a pumpkin spice latte a week before the drink’s official addition to menus.
Ferreting out secrets is pretty easy.
Look for the code words on brands’ web sites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, and on message boards catering to foodies and deal hunters like Chowhound.com and HacktheMenu.com.
And when in doubt, ask your server if there’s anything they recommend that isn’t necessarily on the menu.
Don’t forget to pay attention to your local restaurants, too—they also have secrets.
At FIGat7th in Los Angeles, there’s “3 Little Piggies,” what a spokeswoman describes as “Kurobuta pork belly, slow-braised carnitas, and prime applewood smoked bacon with chili aioli, jalapeno relish, avocado puree, provolone, pickled red onions and shredded romaine, on panini grilled ciabatta.”
Time Out New York has tracked secret menu items at local outposts such as Momofuku Milk Bar (a milkshake with mint, cookies and espresso).
The secret is definitely out when a brand posts its secret menu to its own web site. But that’s just the burgers.
Frugal Foodie is partial to the Neapolitan shake (a mix of strawberry, vanilla and chocolate) and well-done fries (extra crispy).
There’s an entire site—StarbucksSecretMenu.net—devoted to off-the-menu Starbucks drinks.
For example, a Chocolate Covered Raspberry Frappuccino, which adds raspberry syrup, mocha drizzle and java chips to a vanilla bean Frappuccino.
Some of the most notable secret combos taste like candy.
Among those Ranker.com lists include Pink Starburst (lemonade, soymilk, raspberry sherbet, frozen yogurt, sorbet and strawberries) and Sourpatch Kid (lemonade, blueberries, lime sherbet, pineapple sherbet, raspberry sherbet and orange sherbet).
This chain already brags that its drinks menu allows for a whopping 1,063,953 combos, and menu listings do include a number of the ones you’re less likely to pair (like Purple Sprite, which mixes in cranberry juice, Powerade and a few other ingredients).
A secret food to try: the Frito Pie, which is Fritos topped with chili and nacho cheese.
Another chain where the secret items are more advertised, Panera has sent out press releases about new additions.
One to try: the Power Chicken Hummus Bowl, a salad with chicken, hummus and a variety of veggies.
SecretMenuholic.com has a good rundown of the stealthy menu items, which include a McFlurry with an apple pie mix-in, and the Mc10:35, a breakfast-lunch crossover of a McMuffin and a McDouble.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.