Hidden menus are not a new concept in the food and beverage industry. Starbucks, In-N-Out, Jamba Juice, and many other food chains have menus that only ‘insiders’ know about (to view a list of secret menus check out ranker.com). This month, Panera Bread joins the list of chains with a hidden menu offering, “off-the-menu” items in the United States.
There are well calculated reasons why these chains offer hidden menu items. The 3 Benefits of Hidden Menus:
(1) Test new product. A food chain wants to try a new menu offering. The hidden menu is a low risk way to introduce new items to loyal customers without the investment of a full product launch. If customers embrace the hidden offering, it presents an opportunity to fully integrate the item into menu. If the product turns out to be a failure, no harm to the main menu or brand image.
(2) Drive customer loyalty. The goal of many hidden menus is to increase customer loyalty. Customers aware of the hidden menu feel ‘special’ with access to more than the standard menu based on ‘insider’ status.
(3) Cater to a niche market. A segment of customers have a specific ‘want.’ The hidden menu can cater to this niche by catering to need (i.e. low-carb, sugar-free, high-protein, lactose-free, gluten-free foods) without an effect on the menu or overall brand.
Panera Bread is a perfect example of a company using the hidden menu concept to achieve the 3 Benefits.
The next time that you go to a food chain, perhaps you might want to consider one of the ‘hidden’ menu offerings instead of just the plain old menu on the board.