One night, though, Thomas said he had a surprise for us. A few minutes later, a stack of hot, golden pancakes sat before us on the counter. Thomas said that from now on, he would cook us anything we could think of, as long as he had the ingredients, starting with these pancakes, which most certainly were not on the regular menu. Thus began a month-long culinary odyssey through the freezer of our local Waffle House. We started with pancakes and worked our way up to potato hash, sloppy joes, and, finally, butterflied pork chops. It was quite an experience, and ended, sadly, when Thomas was fired. I've never known for sure, but I think it had something to do with our off-menu explorations.
The Christian Science Monitor recently ran an article about the "secret menus" at various fast food restaurants. Apparently, I'm not the only one who has gone off-menu in search of something beyond the usual fare. The article claims that at In-N-Out Burger, the justifiably famous burger chain in southern California, you can order a hamburger "protein style" -- meaning without the bun. Apparently, you can get a McBruschetta at McDonald's (NYSE: MCD), which has toasted tomatoes, onions, and a bun; a Naked Chicken at Popeye's, which has no breading (!); and a Short Cappuccino at Starbucks (NYSE: SBUX), which is served in a kiddie cup.
Gallery: Off the menu fast food
Not surprisingly, the main office usually denies that these secret items exist. For example, In-N-Out Burger headquarters says there is no such thing as a "protein style" burger. But the rulers never quite know what's going on in the kingdom, do they?
Sometimes, employees and customers work together to overrule the decreed operating procedures, and come up with better products along the way. Maybe headquarters should pay attention. If people want fried chicken without breading or strong coffee in tiny cups, why stop them?
On the other hand, once these items become standardized and available to everyone, they may lose their appeal. It's the "secret" part that makes the secret menu so tasty. I can't say that pancakes at the Waffle House were actually better than pancakes at IHOP (NYSE: IHP), but somehow, knowing they were illicit, they tasted extra sweet. But sorry, Thomas, about you getting fired -- I hope you're keeping the secret menu alive, wherever you are.