INSIGHTS/

Menu Hacks Have Changed the Game

Menu hacking isn’t going anywhere, but with all the engagement it creates, that may not be a bad thing. Your best bet is determining how to make it work for your business.

June 6, 2023

How Different Restaurants Have Responded

“Secret menus” at quick-serve restaurants are nothing new. They first went viral a decade ago, spreading hidden knowledge from an insider club of particularly loyal customers to the masses. There were problems from the start, with many employees unfamiliar with “secret” items customers requested. But in the age of TikTok, the stakes have gotten even higher.

Since the pandemic revolutionized online ordering and TikTok creators started racking up views with menu “hacks,” restaurants have faced an uphill battle. Highly customized, novel orders are causing buzz and confusion in equal measure, and various brands have taken different approaches to the craze.

One particularly well-publicized dust-up occurred at Chipotle when a viral video demonstrated how to order a burrito for only $3. Customers loved the inexpensive option, but workers were not fans of the extra work it created. Higher-ups were also unhappy with selling the same food for significantly less. They ultimately closed the loophole in their online menu.

McDonald’s took a very different tactic in January 2022 when they added a “menu hacks” section to their ordering app, temporarily making popular “secret” options easily available. The result was a more straightforward process for workers and positive publicity for the company.

Menu hacks can cause many complications. In particular, they slow down lines and frustrate workers. The types of customization people request contradict the entire quick serve model. But restaurants that refuse to play ball do so at their peril.

Brands have realized that hacks create excitement the menu board can’t compete with. Despite killing the $3 burrito, even Chipotle has emailed “hack” ideas to customers. Notably, the options where customers could mix new flavors of various dips themselves — no extra work for employees necessary.

If menu hacks demoralize workers, slow down lines, or cost money, it’s worth talking to your franchiser. They may have tips to reduce the problems or allow you to make adjustments, like charging a small fee for custom orders or restricting them to slower times. Franchises also want to know if they’ve got their own “$3 burrito” predicament on their hands, so keep them in the loop if you notice people gaming the system.

Menu hacking isn’t going anywhere, but with all the engagement it creates, that may not be a bad thing. Your best bet is determining how to make it work for your business.

West Coast Franchise Law

If you have any questions about franchising, please contact the experienced franchise and business law attorneys at West Coast Franchise Law today at (206) 903-0401 to discuss your situation. Nate Riordan is a 2023 Franchise and Bankruptcy Super Lawyer with over 20 years expertise helping clients achieve their business goals.