How to Take Photos of Your Food on Restaurant Mystery Shops

Empire-cafeMore and more often, restaurant mystery shop assignments include a requirement that you photograph your food. Although it might seem that taking pictures of everything would out you as the mystery shopper, it doesn’t. In fact, so many people post pictures of everything they eat to their blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, that you will probably not be the only person taking photos.

If you are not used to photographing your food, here are a few tips to help you get better quality photos and look like your standard-issue social media junkie and not a mystery shopper.
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Note Taking Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Customer Impact posted the above video with eight tips for taking notes on mystery shops. The tips are also listed below, with my comments.

  1. Pretend to make a telephone call and jot down notes while on the phone. Pretend you are taking down directions, or noting info from a voice mail.
  2. If the table has a tablecloth, take notes discreetly on your lap. Don’t spend a lot of time with your hands in your lap, though, or you might attract some unwanted attention!
  3. Go to the restroom and write down notes. This is always useful on mystery shops. Go in to a stall where you won’t be seen and you can make notes, check your shop tip sheets, etc.
  4. Bring a crossword puzzle and write notes in the spaces. Do this at fast food establishments and not fine restaurants. Other possibilities are newspapers, magazines, day planners, textbooks and other places you might reasonably make notes.
  5. Put a tape recorder in your jacket or purse. See this post about mystery shopping with a digital recorder.
  6. Send a quick text message to your partner, or have your partner send you a message. Or use a note-taking app on your phone.
  7. If you have a Blackberry, PDA or similar mobile device, jot down a note or two quickly and discreetly. There are a number of note-taking apps for smart phones, and you may even be able to find a way to take notes with other phones.
  8. Practice these methods when not a mystery shopper. Practice makes perfect! The first time or two you do this, it helps not to have the pressure of a real shop. If you mess up, it won’t matter, but you will know what not to do next time.

What is your favorite way to discreetly take notes on a mystery shop?

 

Is It Normal to Be Scared to Mystery Shop?

scared-to-shopWe have all heard of “stage fright,” but is there such a thing as “shop fright”? Some people who are interested in mystery shopping tell me that they are too afraid to take their first assignments and get started. How can they get past the fear and launch their mystery shopping careers?

Any time you do something new, it is normal to be a little nervous. You were probably nervous the first time you got behind the wheel of a car. (If you weren’t, the person teaching you to drive was probably very nervous. :o) ) After a while, though, driving became second-nature. Mystery shopping can be that way, too.
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Can a Mystery Shopper Take Home Leftovers?

fine-dining-mystery-shopI 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.Continue Reading

Mystery Shopping On the Road

A shopper asks:

I am getting ready to retire and my spouse and I want to hit the road and travel across the country. Is it possible to mystery shop while we are on the road? Anything we need to watch out for?

Sure, you can mystery shop on the road, whether you are on a one-week vacation, you regularly travel for your job, or you have become a permanent road warrior.

There are a few things you may have to do differently to make mystery shopping while traveling work for you. Here are some things to consider.
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Being a “Top-Ten-Percenter”

Several years ago, when I was developing the MSPA Gold Certification, I spent a lot of time talking with executives, schedulers and others at mystery shopping companies. As we talked about what they needed shoppers to know, I discovered some shocking and disturbing truths about mystery shoppers.

The biggest problem was that of shoppers who accept assignments then do not complete them. Sometimes the shopper cancels at the last minute and other times they simply do not do the shop. It happens more than you might think. In fact, many companies have told me that it is typical for 25% of mystery shopper jobs to be reassigned because the shopper “flaked.” That’s right, it happens so often that there is an industry term for it.

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Secret Shopper Resolutions

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions this year? How many of them have you kept so far? Uh-oh. Maybe it is time to make a few simple resolutions that can make you a more successful mystery shopper this year. Why not give some of these a try?

Communicate more. Mystery shopping companies want shoppers to keep them informed. Let them know if there is a problem scheduling an appointment or something goes wrong on the shop visit or a location no longer exists or… One shopper told me that she discovered a major problem with the scenario for a shop: Shoppers were supposed to tell the salesperson the amount of their budget, and there was nothing in the store for anything close to that price. Oops. Letting them know about the error immediately helped them fix the problem before other shoppers did their assignments.
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Submitting Mystery Shop Receipts

Most mystery shopper jobs require that you submit a receipt or some other documentation (such as a business card) for an assignment to be complete. Some may require that you mail the original to them, but most of the time the mystery shopping company requests that you upload a scan or digital photo of the receipt.

Here are some suggestions for getting a good quality image of the receipt to submit with your report.

First of all, pay attention to the guidelines and submit the receipt as requested. The guidelines will always supercede any general information, such as these tips.

Some companies will want your name and/or shopper ID on the receipt. If so, write it neatly on the receipt.
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Mystery Shopper Mistakes – Top 10 Visit Mistakes

Although anyone can make a mistake during a mystery shop visit, there are some mistakes that are completely avoidable. Here are ten mistakes that can derail your shopping career, but can be easily avoided with proper preparation and attention to detail.

Failure to read the guidelines and form before the visit. In order to know what you need to do, you need to review the client’s guidelines and the report form you will complete after the shop visit. Without this preparation you won’t know what questions to ask, observations to make, required purchases, etc.

Going to the wrong location. Believe it or not, this happens all the time. There are many clients that have multiple locations in the same area. When shoppers do not verify the address they may end up at the wrong one. Even worse, some shoppers go to a location of another business, not the client.
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Get Off to a Good Start in 2011

A new year is a good time for a new start, especially when it comes to running your mystery shopping business. Here are some moves you can make now to get organized and take your mystery shopper business to a new level of profitability in the coming year.

Clear out your file cabinet. Get rid of outdated shop notes, printouts of reports and guidelines, and other clutter. In general, you should keep shop notes ad report copies for at least 90 days, although some mystery shopping companies may recommend keeping them longer.

Go paperless. OK, going completely paperless is probably not realistic for most people. However, you may be able to reduce the amount of paper that flows through your office. Instead of printing copies of the reports you submit, save them to your computer as PDFs. Scan papers you would normally keep and get rid of the papers. (Before getting rid of things such as receipts, make sure that there is no chance the mystery shopping company will ask you to produce the original.)
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