The Secret Menu

My girlfriend recently went though a design challenge to design an app for In-N-Out Burger.

She took the opportunity to do some live “user testing” by going to the In-N-Out in Fisherman’s Wharf, enjoying a burger, and talking to fellow customers.

She uncovered some interesting insights. Talking to a couple of long-term customers, she found that they always ordered the same thing, and that "Animal Style" from the secret menu was a favorite. She was then surprised to find that the next customer she talked to, even-though they were also a long-term In-N-Out fan, had never heard of the secret menu.

This came up in conversation over dinner last night and we wondered why In-N-Out does not more intentionally advertise the secret menu. Would doing so attract new customers and increase sales in a meaningful way? Would the few dollars more that recurring customers spend over time add up to sizable revenue that is not currently being captured?

Or was the secret menu genius branding work? I've seen the excited reaction people have when they first discover that a secret menu exists. It turns regular customers into cult-like followers. People visit In-N-Out on every trip to California and remain loyal fans for decades.

It’s an interesting question to ponder. My personal take is that the sense of insider knowledge, fun, and loyalty that’s created within the In-N-Out customer base (or should it be called religious following) more than makes up for any short-term revenue reduction.