Special report: The world of secret menus - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Special report: The world of secret menus

CENTRAL WISCONSIN (WAOW) -- When many of us head out to a restaurants to eat, we generally know what we want to order.

But did you know, at many of your favorite places, beyond the menu there are SECRET items.

Newsline 9 went on a journey to find those items and to find the reasons behind the creations.

These are things only insiders know about. But now, YOU can be an insider too.

Newsline 9's Cassandra Vinch is taking you behind-the-scenes into the world of secret menus right here in central Wisconsin.

From local favorites to national chains, Newsline 9 is opening the doors to a world of secret menus.

The power chicken hummus bowl at Panera Bread sounds delicious. But if you go into the bakery, you won't find it on the board. To know about it, you have to be in on the secret.

"It comes with cilantro, jalapeno hummus, chicken, tomatoes, onions, fresh lemon and cilantro," said Wausau Panera Bread General Manager Steven Negrege.

It's called a secret menu and Panera Bread launched a six-item list last year, exclusively on social media.

"They range in varieties from breakfast items to items with all natural turkey and chicken and fresh greens and things like that," Negrege told Newsline 9.

It's that exclusivity that has some customers hungry for more.

"If there is anything that you can communicate to them via social media and they can post about these wonderful meals or these exclusive treatments that they receive from this establishment, that will give them a great deal of social capital within the social group and I think that would be a very effective way of marketing," said UW-Madison Consumer Science Professor Nancy Wong.

Wong says there's actually a science behind this way of doing business.

"I think the secret menus and that exclusivity is probably much more appealing in the sense that it doesn't cost the company anything more to get that level of attention and exclusivity. But I think it goes much further in sense of affecting the bottom line," said Wong.

Managers at Wausau's Panera Bread say they think the move is quite successful, especially for a younger audience.

"I think it is a little bit of a culture thing," Negrege said. “I think it's also a healthy option. So word of mouth when people have tried it, we've had other people want to come in and try it as well."

Now, we go from bakery to burgers. Not all secret menu items are created by the company, like they are at Panera Bread. Some, are made up by the customer and feature things from other menu choices.

Some are creative, others quite obscure.

We also ordered secret menu items at McDonald's and Burger King. And even though they wouldn't let us inside with our cameras, we ordered one item from each menu.

Starting with Burger King, we ordered the BK BLT. It's essentially a whopper with bacon on it.

At McDonald's – the Land, Air and Sea Burger. It has a fish filet, a chicken filet and a hamburger patty.

Newsline 9 tried contacting McDonald's and Burger King for the official stance on secret menus.

Burger King did not return our call.

A McDonald's spokesperson denied that the company has a secret menu, but released a statement saying, "we know our customers are really creative and they tell us all the time that they enjoy customizing our menu."

Regardless, as long as we knew what was in our item, employees at both places were happy to help.

But it isn't only national chains cashing in on secret menu items. Peking Chinese restaurant in Wausau is as well. So to see what item they're serving up, we headed inside.

At Peking, the sizzling secret spread is strawberry chicken.

"It's very popular, we sell a lot of it. Sometimes we have to order extra strawberries to get ready for a busy weekend," said Peking employee Mimi Chang.

Peking employees say they'll get multiple orders of the dish each day.

"It's not actually on the menu because sometimes we are out of strawberries," Chang added.

But that doesn't prevent it from being a crowd pleaser.

So whether it's from a local favorite, or from a national chain, you're well on your way to being an insider too.

Hack the Menu proclaims itself as the ultimate collection of secret menus. This site is where we found the Land, Air and Sea Burger, as well as the BK BLT.

Another popular secret menu destination is Secret Menuholic.

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