BOSTON (MainStreet) -- There are numerous online guides for ordering "secret" menu items -- the fast food equivalents of a secret handshake or speakeasy password.
Fatburger has the Hypocrite, a veggie burger garnished with bacon strips. Wendy's (Stock Quote: WEN) has the Grand Slam, an off-menu serving of four patties. (Burger King's similar feat of gluttony is called the Suicide Burger.) In-N-Out Burger has the most legendary of secret snack options (even though the items are now printed and posted) with such fare as an Animal Style burger, a patty cooked with mustard, sauce and mixed, diced pickles, cheese and onions, and the Flying Dutchman, two burgers with cheese and no other toppings or bun.
No amount of inside jargon is going to succeed at getting you pancakes at Waffle House, though, or a Chick-fil-A sandwich on a Sunday.
Here is some proof from restaurants that Mick Jagger was right: "You can't always get what you want" -- even at businesses that are traditionally eager to please.
Have it your way... maybe?
As one of the world's most popular and successful fast food chains, McDonald's (Stock Quote: MCD) has offered a a lot of nonhamburger items over the years, ranging from catfish sandwiches to pizza and spaghetti.
But there are several items you'll be out of luck trying to find at an American McDonald's, among them hot dogs and onion rings.
From time to time, in very limited cases, hot dogs have appeared in select McDonald's, in particular locations inside ballparks (Toronto's SkyDome, for example, served the all-American staple to Canadians). And, though not quite the same as a traditional red hot, in the 1990s the chain offered Johnsonville bratwurst as a limited-time offer.
The roots of the Golden Arches' reluctance to enter the hot dog fray goes all the way back to founder Ray Kroc.
Kroc, in an autobiography published in 1977, explains that he issued an edict prohibiting franchisees from selling hot dogs, which he considered "unhygienic."
Onion rings are likely more a matter of logistics vs. demand. Although McDonald's has never given a definitive yea or nay for onion rings, employees have posted their thoughts on the matter online when the question has arisen. Given the space constraints of a McDonald's kitchen, the three Fryolators are otherwise kept busy with dedicated stations for chicken, fish and fries. Adding a fourth for the rather limited demand for onion rings would pose an equipment issue, and doubling up on a fryer would reduce the efficiency of churning out the always in-demand fries.
You also cannot get a veggie burger at Mickey D's. The chain experimented with such an offering back in the early 2000s, but a poor reception and lack of demand (nose-turning reviews probably played a part) caused it to be quickly discontinued.
McDonald's isn't the only fast food restaurant with guidelines for what you can, and cannot, order.
Aficionados of southern cooking would surely grimace at the thought of dunking their carefully seasoned fried chicken into a smear of mayonnaise. KFC, back when it was Kentucky Fried Chicken, was no different, and there was no option to get a side of mayo. In more recent years, owing to the inclusion of sandwich offerings, mayonnaise is now at least on-site, even if ordering it -- and we speak from personal experience -- can still elicit a blank stare. Gravy remains the preferred topping as far as The Colonel is concerned.
Q: When is salami not salami? A: When you order a Cold Cut Combo at Subway.
At first, we thought our sandwich maker had forgotten to include the advertised slices of salami. But upon further investigation, it was there, just in an unfamiliar form that the franchisee wouldn't substitute the old-fashioned kind (as in, what you think of when you think of salami).
In response to our query, a customer service representative sent along the following note to explain:
"Subway's Cold Cut Combo are turkey-based meats of ham, bologna and salami," it read. "They are made from turkey, like turkey hot dogs or turkey burgers. The Cold Cut Combo already includes the salami as part of the formula. It may look different from pork-based salami."
"Regular" salami is only included in the Italian BMT or Spicy Italian sandwiches. Otherwise, you can't get it, and the ham and bologna are also only turkey-based facsimiles. Does Jared know about this?
Day by day, it is getting harder and harder to order a plain old cup of water.
In some cases, it is a legislative issue. Though tap water isn't banned in San Francisco, an ordinance prohibits the once routine gesture of serving restaurant patrons a glass. Unless specifically requested, restaurants cannot provide it.
In other, usually upscale restaurants, tap water not being offered is a means to upsell customers to bottled water.
McDonald's has raised the hackles of some consumers for its refusal to serve tap water. It isn't a companywide edict; the decision of whether to charge per cup is up to local franchisees.
(In a related issue, the New York press jumped all over the story when complaints surfaced that Morton's steakhouse was charging $2.50 to add ice to beverages.)
One reason a merchant might hedge against giving you a cup of water has more to do with laziness than cost.
In some establishments, movie theaters in particular, daily inventory is tracked by having a set number of stacked cups. Subtracting the number of cups that remain from the original stack gives a quick measure of sales to balance against receipts. Giving away a cup (or popcorn container) means having to fill out a slip to record the missing cup, something a slacker staffer may simply not want to be bothered with.
Tempest in a teacup
Even though it is more common today than it once was, many Chinese restaurants still stick to the tradition of refusing to serve coffee and, similarly, rebuffing requests to add milk to a cup of tea.
The reason is cultural in two respects. First, tea plays such an important part in Chinese culture that it is a staple of every meal, and tinkering with tradition is a no-no.
According to ESL Monkeys, an online guide for language teachers, there also isn't much after-meal chitchat in Chinese culture, something Americans do by unwinding with a cup of coffee.
"Once the meal is over, you will notice that all the guests will leave promptly," the site advises those teaching English abroad. "This is contrary to the western custom of lingering over a cup of coffee. In fact, most Chinese restaurants will not even serve coffee, so be on your way!"
Increasingly, it is not just what you can't order, but what you can't omit.
Despite the growing awareness of various food allergies, restaurant staffs are often reluctant to customize what they serve. And we aren't just talking about an unreasonable request like making a gluten-free, vegan beef Wellington. Medium rare? Ask for it and you run the risk of being scolded for asking about something that doesn't "exist" in French cooking.
On a recent visit to Mesa Grill, celebrity chef Bobby Flay's well-known restaurant, we were surprised to be firmly rebuffed when asking that the Pressed Cuban Burger not include pickles (a legitimate dietary restriction).
No can do, the waiter replied with a hint of arrogance. He explained that the recipes were all carefully constructed by Chef Flay and no alterations or substitutions were allowed. (The solution proved a bit inelegant: merely picking the pickles off the burger by hand despite the glower of the waiter).
There is no shortage of restaurants, both top-notch and wannabe, that are immovable when it comes to recipes.
On his blog, restaurant consultant Clark Wolf wrote of how the San Francisco restaurant Poodle Dog, after a multimillion-dollar facelift, went "down quickly in flames, metaphorically and financially, which was in some large part attributed to the chef's absolute refusal to put or allow salt and pepper anywhere in or near the dining room."
"He promised, through well-trained staff and slightly beleaguered PR folks, that he'd achieved perfect seasoning in the kitchen," Wolf wrote. "Many of us tipped our hats to his brilliance and proceeded to eat elsewhere."