You're Probably Making One Big Mistake When Using A Menu

Ordering from a restaurant menu, in theory, is an easy concept to grasp and an easy task to complete. You read all the options, pick out what you think sounds best, and inform the server. There are times, of course, when you might have to ask to clarify what a certain entrée is made with or do a quick Google search if the menu has words in a language you don't speak. However, even someone who dines out a lot might be making one big mistake without even realizing it: asking for changes to menu items when placing your order.

Nowadays, especially on social media, it's become increasingly popular to share secret menu items and "easy" ingredient swaps you can order at major restaurants. At Olive Garden, for example, some claim that you can order ravioli with Italian sausage or meatball filling instead of the standard cheese. In reality, however, if you were to ask your server, they'd probably have no clue what you're talking about. Most places don't really have a secret menu, so if you place an order for something that isn't listed on the menu, you're usually just asking for a substitution or making a special request.

Maybe you just think that bacon double cheeseburger would taste better if one of the beef patties was actually a chicken patty instead? You might be right, but if it's not on the menu as an option, you shouldn't ask for that swap.

Why it's best not to make special requests

If you order a menu item that's different from what's actually presented on the menu, the kitchen may go out of its way to make it, but you shouldn't expect this to always be the case. When someone makes special requests, it slows down service. Your server will likely have to confirm whether it's possible before placing your order. On top of that, since some special requests tend to include ingredients that aren't part of the regular lineup, sometimes extra prep is involved, which inconveniences kitchen staff.

Specially requested menu items can also be pricier. Even if it's just a modified version of an existing item, anytime you add ingredients or substitute them for more expensive ones, the price goes up. If you're not willing to pay extra, it's best to just stick to ordering from the regular, preset menu, especially since you could get an employee in trouble for fulfilling a special request (per Menufy).

So when is it OK to ask for a change to a menu item's ingredients? If you have an allergy or food sensitivity, and the item can easily be left out of the dish (no onions added to that salad, for example), go ahead and ask. Specifying that it's due to an allergy may alleviate frustrations from staff and help ensure your requests are followed. Be aware, though, cross contamination may still be an issue — especially when ordering menu items that normally contain the ingredient you're trying to avoid.

When it's OK to order from the secret menu

Perhaps the most well-known secret menu is In-N-Out's, but unlike many other restaurants, the fast food chain has actually published its "not-so-secret menu" on its website. If a restaurant does this, you can assume the items on the secret menu are fair game. Just make sure to do some investigating online beforehand, and see if other people have had success ordering secret menu items.

If you're not sure if a restaurant's secret menu is legit and still want to order something from it, avoid using whatever special name TikTok gave it, and instead describe what you want to the waiter. Politeness can also go a long way, so make sure to ask nicely to increase your likelihood of getting your request honored. If the necessary ingredients are available, and you come when the restaurant isn't so busy, you just might be able to get it. Otherwise, keep things simple and just order from the regular menu.