Secret menu items, unlocked

Hidden options at chains like McDonald's and Starbucks have become more widespread and a lot less secret due to fans who compile them online. Some options include Chipotle's Quesarito and the Christmas Cookie Frappucino.

StefanWermuth/Reuters/File

Starbucks has a new treat on tap for the holidays. It’s seasonal and sugar-packed – a dessert and a drink in one. We’re not talking about the Chestnut Praline Latte, which the chain added to the menu as part of its holiday push in November. It’s another drink generating buzz among Starbucks acolytes: the Christmas Cookie Frappuccino.

A white-cream-based Frappuccino with shots of peppermint and toffee nut syrup, the Christmas Cookie Frappuccino isn’t listed on the Starbucks menu. It’s one of hundreds of possible combinations that make up the coffee giant’s “secret menu.” Other popular entries include the Butterbeer Latte (a milk steamer with shots of caramel, toffee nut, and cinnamon dolce syrup), and London Fog (an Earl Grey tea latte with vanilla and caramel syrups).

Such hidden nuggets have been commonplace at fast-food chains for decades – McDonald’s has the Monster Mac, and Burger King has Frings (a combination order of fries and onion rings) – but they have become more widespread (and a lot less secret) thanks to fans who compile the information on secret menus in online forums at sites like hackthemenu.com. Chains will publicly deny the existence of secret menu items while quietly encouraging people to go ahead and order them.

“[T]he ‘secret menu’ will remain as such and the brand prefers to continue rewarding its guests who exercise their right to HAVE IT YOUR WAY®,” a Burger King representative wrote ABC last year.

And why not? For fast-food chains, secret menu items are a good way to nurture customer loyalty and enthusiasm while breaking up the intrinsic monotony of identical items at thousands of locations. Some have done away with the “secret” part altogether: California burger chain In-N-Out prominently features its secrets on its website.

How you order a secret menu item depends on the restaurant. You can easily get the Quesarito (a burrito/quesadilla hybrid) made-to-order at Chipotle. If you want the Christmas Cookie Frappuccino at Starbucks, though, it’s best to tell your barista how to make it – but shhh, it’s a secret.

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