The Biggest Secrets About The Cheesecake Factory's Menu

Cheesecake Factory sign
Cheesecake Factory sign - Idealphotographer/Shutterstock

The Cheesecake Factory is a go-to for many people because of its reliable and extensive menu. No matter what you want to eat, the restaurant likely has something for you. And if you can't find it in the menu, your server probably knows which section you need to look at to find what you're thinking of. The variety and fun atmosphere have made the chain one of the most popular in the country; when the chain came under TikTok fire in 2024 as being a terrible spot for a first date, its fans defended it as low pressure and perfectly suitable, with some even calling the idea of refusing to enter the restaurant a good way to find red flags.

But what really stands out is that menu, especially to first-time customers. It's huge, clocking in at 250 items and near 21 pages, and there's just no way it's real, right? It's very real, and it's the product of a specific strategy meant to increase and keep business. This menu is so unusual that, if you're going to the restaurant for the first time, you need to be prepared so that you can sort through all the choices and find a dish you'll love. Here's a list of the biggest secrets of The Cheesecake Factory's menu.

Read more: The Most Overrated Chain Restaurants In The US, According To The Mashed Staff

Its Menu Theme Is Everything

Interior of a Cheesecake Factory
Interior of a Cheesecake Factory - Eric Glenn/Shutterstock

Restaurants usually have a theme or a type of food they concentrate on, from a specific cuisine like Mexican or Japanese to a type of dining experience, such as themed diners or an elegant steakhouse. The menus for these restaurants obviously follow whatever the theme is. Yet The Cheesecake Factory and its menu do none of that; the theme here is simply everything. Not just cheesecakes; everything. There is no rhyme or reason, other than offering -- should we say it again? -- everything.

The secret is that the chain's expansive menu was created mostly on purpose. Yet, when the restaurant first opened, the original menu wasn't that big. But as the restaurant grew more successful, owner David Marshall Overton didn't want to risk losing any business to competitors who might offer something different. He decided to add seemingly anything and everything to the menu that he thought people would order. Want a burger? You got it. Hungry for a salmon filet? No problem. Can't decide between eggs Benedict and fried chicken and waffles? Easy solution: get Fried Chicken and Waffles Benedict.

The Menu Can Lead To Choice Overload

Too many choices on arrows
Too many choices on arrows - ogichobanov/Shutterstock

Call it choice paralysis, decision paralysis, analysis paralysis, choice overload, decision fatigue, or whatever you want; the truth is that The Cheesecake Factory's huge menu can make it more difficult to decide what you want to eat. And at about 250 items currently, The Cheesecake Factory's menu can be a shocker for first-time customers, often to the point of sending them into a minor panic.

This isn't just a psychological or emotional phenomenon. Caltech reported in 2018 that scientists had found that two sections of the brain lit up during an fMRI conducted while subjects tried to make a decision between graphics for a mug. The subjects could choose between 6, 12, or 24 options. The two sections of the brain that lit up handled tasks like weighing options and determining value. Subjects who had 12 options showed the most brain activity at the time. The researchers theorized that at 12 options, people's brains had a good mix of work (choose an option) and reward (enough variety to find a suitable option)

Yet, at 24 options, the work needed to choose began to outweigh the potential reward. The researchers were quick to point out that your brain doesn't always max out its decision-making power at 12 options, but that of the three numbers in the study, the middle number fared the best.

The Menu Defies Restaurant Logic

Woman reading a restaurant menu
Woman reading a restaurant menu - Yacobchuk/Getty Images

The Cheesecake Factory's menu is notoriously huge and covers an incredible number of entries. Restaurant menus aren't supposed to function like this. Optimal menu design varies in that there's no number of items that restaurants have to limit themselves to, other than what staff can reliably produce. But 250 items on a menu is undeniably a lot, to the point of seeming risky. However, The Cheesecake Factory has made it key to its success.

What about the number of items in a given menu section? Some deem seven as the magic number, stating that any more than that, and people may just order something they've had before instead of trying anything new. The Cheesecake Factory's menu does have a number of sections where the choices are fewer than seven, to be fair. Yet it also has sections where you get many more choices, as with the namesake cheesecakes that currently include over 30 varieties of the dessert. Technically, that shouldn't work ... yet in this case, judging by the continued existence of the restaurant, it seems to work very well.

It Makes It Really Easy To Over-Order

Restaurant table full of food
Restaurant table full of food - Molishka/Shutterstock

If you can get past your choice paralysis and order something, you might end up asking for too much. The array of choices sometimes it provides a wealth of options for those who really want to try a lot of different things. The problem is, that can go too far. Sometimes, it's obvious why that went too far. Take someone ordering every single dessert off a menu in order to compare them. That's what happened when one writer tried 33 flavors of cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory for Business Insider. She quickly concluded that she had been overconfident about the task, to put it mildly.

One strategy that may help you defeat both decision paralysis and the possibility of eating too much is sharing plates. This lets everyone at the table get a taste of different foods without filling up, and the entrees and desserts at The Cheesecake Factory are certainly big enough to allow you to split. Get a group together, order a couple of entrees, sides, and desserts, and share everything family style.

The Menu May Not Be As Concerned About Your Health As It Seems

Part of a nutrition label
Part of a nutrition label - Benoit Daoust/Shutterstock

One thing the menu includes is a calorie count for every option. This is potentially very helpful, as you likely want to be aware of what you're eating, and including this information can help diners make the right decisions for their meal. The Cheesecake Factory can provide other nutrition information, too, so it's easy to assume it wants you to know what you're getting and make good-for-you decisions.

Except the menu doesn't include calorie counts out of concern for your health. Since 2018, the FDA has required that restaurants with over 20 locations and that serve essentially the same dishes at each location must include calorie count listings and provide other nutrition information upon request.

To be fair, The Cheesecake Factory does offer dishes that are lower in calories. Some are actually rather sensible regarding nutrition, meaning it is possible to go to the restaurant and have a meal that doesn't exceed your daily recommended intake by a tremendous amount. But the chain still makes some of the most calorie-laden, sodium-laden, fat-laden recipes around, so when you order, take a good look at the menu and those numbers. Enjoy whatever you get, but be knowledgeable about what the dishes contain.

It Requires Employees To Be Incredibly Disciplined

Cheesecake Factory server
Cheesecake Factory server - Peter Dench/Getty Images

Working at The Cheesecake Factory is reportedly pretty hard, and the breezy language in the menu doesn't really give customers a good idea of just how disciplined the staff need to be to fulfill all those order. According to former employees, The Cheesecake Factory can be a great place to work, but it's not your run-of-the-mill restaurant job. The sheer volume of orders and the number of options  on the hefty menu mean the staff both in front and in back need to know exactly what has to be done when a customer has a question or an order arrives at the kitchen. There's simply no room for error or delay.

Cooks at the chain receive nearly a month of training, and servers have to participate in a two-week class, a full week of which is devoted to studying the huge menu. There's a rumor that servers even have to somehow memorize the entire menu (though you'll find some sources saying this is false). Regardless of whether or not the servers really have to memorize the menu when they start, they eventually have to know everything in it to ensure all orders are accurate and so that they can point customers toward satisfying options.

All Those Cheesecakes? They Aren't Made In The Restaurant

Cheesecake Factory showcase
Cheesecake Factory showcase - Eric Glenn/Shutterstock

The Cheesecake Factory likes to remind customers about how its food is made from scratch onsite in its kitchens, but there's one really big exception that's not always made obvious on the chain's menu: the cheesecakes. That's right, those cheesecakes that give the restaurant its very name are not actually made onsite. Instead, they're made at one of two actual cheesecake factories located in separate spots well away from the restaurants.

The first facility opened in Calabasas Hills, California, in 1986. The 16,400-square-foot facility was expanded in 1995 to 60,000 square feet, and a second facility opened in Rocky Mount, North Carolina in 2006. These bake about 70 different types of cheesecakes and other desserts for not only the restaurant locations but also outside distributors (including some surprising sellers). The frozen cakes are checked by workers to ensure they meet quality standards before they are transported to a given location and then left to thaw in a chilled case at the restaurant.

The Menu Changes Regularly

Chalkboard menu with today's special
Chalkboard menu with today's special - Thunderstock/Shutterstock

Restaurants occasionally change parts of their menus because they want to add something new or remove an item that no one ever orders, but The Cheesecake Factory changes its menu on a more regular basis. Twice a year, you can expect to see some dishes leave and new ones take their place, a move the company has been doing since it started. Changes are often based on how well an item is selling, regardless of its reputation. That means that something that seems beloved could disappear if its actual sales numbers are too low.

These changes can be frustrating to those who like the dishes that the company removes, but revamping a restaurant menu isn't meant to annoy customers. It's a widely recommended strategy to ensure that everything offered is something that people will actually order. It also helps to ensure that people don't get bored with what the restaurant has to offer. If the restaurant removes an item you like, it can't hurt to politely let customer service know you'd like the chain to bring it back. There's no guarantee it will work, of course, but it's worth a try.

Menu Prices Keep Changing, Too

Growing stacks of coins
Growing stacks of coins - SomYuZu/Shutterstock

Inflation has hit the grocery and restaurant sectors hard over the past few years, making odd changes to seemingly everything, from how we snack to whether or not you've got dried beans in your cupboard. As a result, Cheesecake Factory customers have had to deal with price increases as well. However, rising prices at the company have been an ongoing issue for years, rising even before post-pandemic inflation hit. For example, wage increases in California in 2018 were blamed for contributing to falling profits at the chain. It was expected that the company would raise menu prices as a result.

Prices and inflation both seemed to cool down at the end of 2023, with incoming cash also dropping as customers still spent less. CFO Matt Clark told Restaurant Business that at least this could result in an end to rising prices at the chain. Considering the company had been increasing menu prices twice a year to account for inflation, this should be good news for customers. However, they did forecast a 4% increase for 2024, so it remains to be seen how the reality of the menu's prices will play out.

It Emphasizes The Best And Worst Qualities Of The U.S. Food Scene

Man ready to eat giant sandwich
Man ready to eat giant sandwich - Shorrocks/Getty Images

The food scene in the U.S. has some really great things going for it, but it also has major disadvantages. The menu at The Cheesecake Factory manages to emphasize both sides at once. On the great side is the sheer variety and diversity of menu options that mirror the many cuisines you can find in the country. Remember that Overton's strategy was offer whatever diners wanted. This meant that the menu became a great showcase of almost every type of food you could find in the nation.

But there's a downside that shows up in The Cheesecake Factory's menu. Restaurant food is notoriously unhealthy and served in portions that are much larger than they should be and which contribute to the nation's persistent problems with obesity.

Those large portions spell excessive amounts of calories, fat, sugar, and sodium, to the point where, in 2014, The Cheesecake Factory was widely deemed to be amongst the unhealthiest restaurants in the U.S. Restaurant spokespeople responded by pointing out that many customers either share entrees or take leftovers home to eat the next day.

The Skinnylicious Menu Only Really Focuses On Calories

Measuring tape wound around fork
Measuring tape wound around fork - carballo/Shutterstock

If you're watching what you eat but still want to enjoy yourself with a special meal at The Cheesecake Factory, you can choose something off its potentially dubiously-named "Skinnylicious" menu. These items are all at or under 590 calories. But that's part of the problem, as the dishes have only reduced calorie amounts while their macros and other nutrients can be completely lopsided.

This doesn't mean the entire Skinnylicious menu isn't worth considering, as there are some relatively healthy things on The Cheesecake Factory menu, but it does mean that you should be aware of what you're getting. The dishes may have lower calories, but some have very high sodium levels or enough fat to fill your macro requirements for at least a couple of days. You may decide to eat them anyway but the point is that you'll likely want to look at more than just the calorie counts on the menu when deciding what to order, even if you're looking only at the Skinnylicious lineup.

There's A Tiny Secret Menu

Cheesecake Factory brown bread
Cheesecake Factory brown bread - The Image Party/Shutterstock

The popularity of secret menus has led most restaurants to have a few off-menu items of their own. If you're a regular at any such place, you likely know of at least a couple secret orders and possibly more. The Cheesecake Factory is no exception, although its secret menu is only about three items long. Moreover, one of those was sort of added to the official menu, making the real secret menu real downright tiny. The secret hack that became a menu item is the Louisiana Chicken Caesar Salad, which started as a TikTok trend in which people would order the Caesar Salad and add Louisiana chicken with caramelized onions. So many people ordered this that the restaurant decided to make it official -- almost. The salad was available only through onlne orders (including via DoorDash with a Dash pass membership) or as a pick-up.

The next secret menu item is specific to the chain's original Beverly Hills location, which used to served something called the factory burger, a cheeseburger served on the chain's famous brown bread. It's no longer available on the menu, but if you're at the Beverly Hills location and ask politely, you might be able to get them to make one for you anyway. The final secret menu hack is that you can order any sandwich with brown bread.

Read the original article on Mashed