Extreme Tots were long ago removed from the Sonic drive-in menu, but customer Tracy Gay still orders them. Pickle-O's, hickory burgers and Fritos chili pie are other old favorites diners can bring back just by asking. And some of the most popular drink combinations are known by their underground moniker: Dr. Van Limer, Sonic Sunrise and Pink Lady, to name a few.
All are items considered to be on Sonic's “secret menu.” Try ordering one, and you may have mixed success. Some employees will know what you mean and whip it up right away. Others might need an explanation.
That's because Sonic's secret menu is in the hands of its customers. Sonic doesn't publish the menu or train its employees how to make the items, said Todd Smith, vice president of marketing for Oklahoma City-based Sonic.
“We let it live with consumers,” said Smith, whose favorite drink is a Purple Sprite — a mix of Powerade, lemonade, Sprite and cranberry juice. “It allows consumers to be co-creators with us. They love the brand even more. ... They own a little piece of it.”
After The Oklahoman this week asked readers to write in with their favorite secret menu item from Sonic, dozens of responses were received. One thing was no secret: these people love Sonic.
We visited two Oklahoma City locations this week, and neither would serve us Pickle-O's, although one said it could be done when the store wasn't so busy. Smith says the battered and fried pickle slices are an old classic, and the restaurants are happy to accommodate customers' requests for them when they can.
Others have secrets
Sonic isn't the only fast-food restaurant to have a secret menu. Some live on through social media, but certain chain restaurants actually publish the items on the Web.
However, these secret menus may have a dark side. According to a recent report by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, restaurants use secret menus to skirt federal requirements on calorie labels, putting consumers at risk for health problems.
One example the group gave was the Monster Mac at McDonald's, an off-the-menu item with nearly 1,400 calories, 2,920 milligrams of sodium and 92 grams of fat.
Google “fast food secret menus,” and some other extremely unhealthy options come up, like Chipotle's Quesarito (a burrito wrapped in a cheese quesadilla), a McDonald's Mc10:35 (an Egg McMuffin combined with a McDouble apparently only available during the breakfast/lunch menu shift at 10:35 a.m.) and In-N-Out Burger's 100x100 (a massive stack of 100 beef patties and 100 slices of cheese sandwiched between two buns.)
Sonic's Extreme Tots are no banner of health, either. The entree, served in a foot-long sleeve, includes tots smothered in chili, jalapenos, onions and ranch dressing — topping 1,000 calories.
Nutrition details aside, having a secret menu may boost a restaurant's cool factor and create buzz surrounding the brand, according to a USA Today article published March 11. It mentions examples from secret menus at Panera Bread, Taco Bell and McDonald's. Panera Bread's “hidden menu” can be viewed online and includes two breakfast and four lunch options, all high-protein, breadless meals.
So are these secret menus for real or urban legend? Depends on whether you can get your hands on a Pickle-O.
At a glance
Readers share favorites
Readers respond ... what's your favorite secret menu item at Sonic?