I recently got this question from a mystery shopper:
I just got my first fine dining assignment, and I can’t believe how much food we have to order! The instructions say that the mystery shop is for two adults, and we have to order an appetizer, two entrees, two side dishes and dessert. We usually share one meal, so I know we can’t eat all of that! Can we order one of the meals to-go? Would it be okay if we brought home a doggie bag?
First of all, congratulations on getting the fine dining shop assignment. They can be a lot of work, but you usually get to enjoy a really good meal in a nice atmosphere. It beats the heck out of a lot of jobs I have had in my life!
As you know, it is important that you follow all of the guidelines. That means that you need to order all of the required items, even if it is more food than you would normally order.
So can you get some of the food to-go, or take home the leftovers? Of course, the answers depend on the specific guidelines for your shop assignment, but here is how most restaurant mystery shops handle this.
In almost every dine-in restaurant shop you are to order all of the items to eat at the restaurant. That means no ordering to-go. If you are to place a to-go order, that will be clearly spelled out in the guidelines. To-go orders are not typical on dine-in restaurant shops, but you may see an assignment that requires it. Unless the guidelines specifically say to place an order to-go do not order any items to-go.
As for asking for a doggie bag, there may be shops that prohibit it, but every shop I can recall has allowed it. Even at fine dining restaurants. In fact, some have questions on the report form about how they handled the leftovers if you asked to take them home. (e.g., Did they wrap them up for you? Was there a note from the chef? Were they in a bag printed with the name of the restaurant?) That doesn’t mean that you must take food home on those shops, but it clearly indicates that they expect you might.
When you know that you are likely to have leftovers, a little advance planning can help you make the most of it. My husband and I often have enough left over for our meal the next night. (Two nights where I don’t have to cook? Yay!) Here are some tips on ordering and dining wisely:
Familiarize yourself with the menu. Most restaurants have online menus at their websites. Plan what you will order for the entire meal, keeping the shop budget and the tips below in mind. Some online menus do not include prices, but you can often find prices if you look for the location you will be visiting and pull up a menu specific to that location.
Think about what will transport and reheat well, and what may not be as good the next day. You probably don’t want to take part of a salad home, for example. And the souffle? Not likely to work as a leftover. That may influence what you order, or it may determine which dishes you have just a bit of (and have wrapped to take home) and which you eat most or all of. The dessert with ice cream will be difficult to take with you, but cheesecake is pretty portable, for example.
Pace yourself. You need to eat some of everything. If you fill up on the appetizer, you will struggle to eat the rest of your meal. Eat a portion, then ask for the rest to be wrapped to take home. Most fine dining shops are not rushed, so give yourself some time to savor your meal.
Pace your alcohol consumption, too. Many mystery shops include a visit to the bar before or after your meal, and fine dining shops may require that you order wine or cocktails with your meal as well. Don’t have a potent drink at the bar on an empty stomach if that is likely to make you feel sick (or drunk!).
If you order a bottle of wine with your meal, you may be able to take home what you do not drink. Check the laws in your state. Sip slowly and do not allow them to refill your glass unless you want more to drink. (Note: Some mystery shops do not allow you to order a bottle of wine, but I have done others that required it. As always, follow the guidelines for your assignment.)
Watch your language. Don’t say that you didn’t finish your entree because you are “saving room for dessert.” That prompts them to offer dessert, and whether or not they do that (and how they do that) is probably among the questions to be answered on the report. The same goes for saying how full you are. If you say something such as, “I couldn’t eat another bite,” they may only offer coffee and not dessert. Or they may just bring the check.
My husband and I often use these tips to get a second meal, whether or not we are mystery shopping. With restaurant portions (and prices) as large as they are, it is a good way to get value from your dining dollar or your labor as a mystery shopper.