Q&A: How social media, word of mouth propelled Arby's first secret menu item

Whereas some consumers enjoy the routine of ordering their favorite menu items from a restaurant's steady list of offerings, others like to switch it up from time to time, asking for customized orders that aren’t necessarily printed on the restaurant's signage. And in recent years, some guests have gotten creative by ordering "secret menu items," which are original mash-ups of the restaurant's ingredients, typically attached to creative names that both the employees and guests can use to identify the unique creations.

Arby's got in on the secret menu item game two years ago almost by accident, but once the word spread about its off-menu creation, known as Meat Mountain, its restaurants were inundated with requests. SmartBrief sat down with Luke DeRouen, Arby’s senior director of communications, to get the details about how the secret menu item came to be, and what’s next for the brand's off-menu creations.

How did Arby's create its first secret menu item, and how did customers find out about it?

The credit for creating and spreading the word about the Arby's Meat Mountain goes to our guests. When we launched our “We Have The Meats” brand campaign in 2014, we featured an image in our restaurants of all of our meats from the menu stacked on top of each other to show guests that we had an abundance of quality meats in addition to our famous roast beef. Quickly after putting up the image, people started asking for the sandwich featured on the poster, so we did just that. We piled all of our meats -- chicken, turkey, ham, corned beef, brisket, steak, roast beef and bacon -- on a toasted bun along with one slice of Swiss and one slice of cheddar cheese. And that's how the Meat Mountain was born. It never actually appeared on our menu, making it the first-ever Arby's secret menu item. Guests quickly began sharing their Meat Mountain experiences on their social media channels and spreading the news of the secret menu item through word of mouth.

And that brings us to today. Two years later, we're making the Meat Mountain even bigger by adding our Alaskan Pollock fish fillet for no extra charge. All guests have to do is ask for the Meat Mountain "Denali-Style" and they get one of the largest sandwiches they'll ever eat for only $10. We named the sandwich after the largest mountain in North America, located in Alaska, which is where our fish is sourced.

Do you find that customers typically enjoy getting a menu item that they see as "secret?"

Absolutely. Guests love being in the know. With the Meat Mountain not on the regular menu, they've likely only heard about it from a friend or maybe a news story or social media post. With Denali, we've added another secret layer to the underground menu item.  

Are there any challenges for restaurants that may want to institute a secret menu item, or do the restaurant staff members typically have fun working with these hidden menu items like the Meat Mountain and the Denali?

I can only speak for Arby's, but our restaurant team members have a blast with these types of menu offerings. Guests arrive excited to order and try it, so it gives our team to a chance to be part of a fun, shareable experience. Whether it's pork belly, venison or all of our meats stacked onto a single sandwich, Arby's team members take great pride in what they're able to offer our guests.   

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