Many restaurants and chains are introducing secret menus these days. It’s a great way to create a buzz, some brand awareness and to engage your customers. It’s also a great way to make your regulars feel like they are ‘in the know’ or part of a special club. Bonus points!
I had my first interaction with a ‘secret’ menu this weekend at Joe Allen in Covent Garden. I’d long heard about the ‘secret burger’ that’s not on their menu, but is one of the best in London. Food blogger Daniel Young (Young and Foodish) is a big fan and and frequently mentions it on his Burger Monday blog.
Being a huge burger fan (and a lover of anything secret/underground), I was pleased when the opportunity arose to go to Joe Allen this weekend. I checked out their website and was surprised to see the secret menu advertised on their page, no wonder Young calls it the ‘best worst-kept secret’ in London!
My initial reaction to seeing this on their website was slight disappointment. If you talk openly about it, it’s no longer a secret. In reality, it’s just an omission from your printed menu. This could be perceived as an obvious marketing ploy and could rub some customers the wrong way. So why all the faux-secretiveness? Joe Allen is known for being a ‘staff canteen’ of the West End; where actors, politicians, journalists and critics come to fill their bellies. It could be that when it opened in the 70s, the burger was only made for VIP guests and once news spread of it’s deliciousness and secrecy, it became a must-have for the commoners. In a time where London restaurants are falling all over themselves to put a burger on the menu, Joe Allen attempts to buck the trend by steadfastly keeping it ‘off’ the menu.
So how did I go about ordering it? Should I pull an all-knowing facade and order the burger without flinching? Or should I ask my waitress for more information about this ‘secret’ burger? My worst fear would be to confidently order the burger and be given a confounded look by the waitress.
I chickened out at the last minute and ordered like this, ‘Ummm… I’ll uhhhh have the… burger?’ There was a short pause, and finally the waitress smiled and responded, ‘With bacon and cheese?’ Success! My first interaction with a secret menu item had gone off without a hitch.
Side note: Joe Allen is a dimly lit restaurant and one of my biggest pet peeves is taking a picture of food with the flash on in a dark restaurant. So you’ll have to make do with these slightly grainy pictures:
And consequently, it was a damn good burger. Juicy in the middle (but not mushy), soft brioche bun, crispy bacon, gooey cheese and crisp lettuce and tomato. Nothing fancy, no frills; it’s one burger with two topping options, but all the makings for a classic favourite. All in all, it was a very fun experience and Joe Allen has created intrigue and interest in their menu in a highly competitive market.