While a swath of restaurant chains have their not-so-secret “secret” items, like the Animal Style burger at In-N-Out; the Land, Sea and Air Burger at McDonald’s; and the Chocolate Chip Blizzard at Dairy Queen, McAlister’s Deli has demystified its “secret menu” even more.
Through October, the Ridgeland, Miss.-based deli chain is promoting six popular items from past menus through table tents and signage, plus limited billboards and on-air ads.
Donna Josephson, vice president of marketing at McAlister’s, said the promotion features six items that longtime customers still order even though they have been removed from menus and menu boards.
She said the idea was hatched with Frank Paci, McAlister’s president and chief executive.
“Our CEO came in and we were looking at product mix,” Josephson said. “We found a lot of items that used to be on the McAlister’s menu were still being ordered by our regular customers.” She recalls Paci saying, “Well, let’s just make our secret menu not so secret.”
The Secret Menu promotion began July 2 and will run through October, she said. “These items are available to the guests all the time, but they aren’t on the menu boards,” Josephson said. “They still carry a healthy mix. Our guests still like them. We continued to prepare them and provide them.”
The most popular of the Secret Menu items is the Peppers, Onions and Beef sandwich, she said, with The Godfather (roast beef with pizza sauce and provolone on a toasted baguette) and The Patriot (smoked, Swiss cheese, tomato, mayonnaise and orange-cranberry sauce on wheat bread) coming in at a close second.
“We had taken them out of the POS [point-of-sale] system for a while, but people were still ordering them,” she said. “We had the ingredients to make it. At McAlister’s, we personalize everything if the guest asks for it.”
After looking at how many special orders were being rung up with the ingredients from sandwiches of the past, Josephson said, “We just decided to go ahead and open that secret menu up to everybody.”
The Secret Menu has gained attention without major media behind it, Josephson added. The company did hand out fliers in the stores during its Free Tea Day in July, and digital menu boards also foreshadowed the promotion with the signage of “Secrets Are Hard to Keep,” she said.
Research shows that the promotion has already hit a chord with customers, Josephson noted. “We did focus groups around Dallas and Charlotte [N.C.], where customers were asked what were some of their favorites on the menu, and people said, ‘Well, now it’s the Godfather,’" she said. "We’ve introduced people to some favorites from the menu."
As a side benefit, research done in customer intercepts found Millennials, the age group born roughly between 1980 and 2000, were especially interested in ordering from a secret menu. “They thought it might be cool,” Josephson said. “And we found parents had brought in their kids because they wanted to be part of the Secret Menu.”
McAlister’s Deli has about 310 restaurants in 22 states.