More 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.
Read and follow the guidelines. The client will specify which items you are to photograph and what must appear in the photo. For example, they may want a picture of the entire plate taken from directly above. They may include sample photos in the guidelines. If so, review them so you understand what is expected. Make sure you get all of the required photos and that you include everything the client wants to see.
Most smart phones can capture images that are far superior to the photos taken by quality digital cameras just a few years back. Using your phone should be fine, but read the guidelines to make sure your phone will do what is needed. There are also many high-quality point-and-shoot cameras that fit in a pocket or purse. You don’t need a giant camera with a two-foot lens.
Change your phone settings to draw less attention. Your phone may make a shutter-click sound when you take a photo, but that can usually be turned off. If you can’t turn it off, turn the volume down as low as you can. Also turn down the brightness of your screen so that it isn’t shining like a searchlight.
When photographing food from above, watch out for shadows. Lighting in general can be a problem, especially in upscale, fine dining restaurants. (Yes, many of them now require you to submit photos with your report.) If it is absolutely necessary, use a flash. But you should avoid using a flash if you can. A candle or your companion’s cell phone may provide enough additional light. If you seat yourself, look for a table near a window or other light source, but do not ask a host or hostess to seat you at a different table if you think that table they offer is too dark. You should never ask for a different table as that may affect the service. This article includes several tips on lighting your food when taking photos in restaurants. Although it is not written for mystery shoppers, there are a few usable tips.
Remind your companion before the shop that the food is to be photographed. Typically, you have to take a photo of each item before it has been touched. If your partner digs in before you get the photo…oops. Your shop may be invalid. Some shoppers have said that servers asked them to cut into their steak immediately to make sure it was cooked properly, but you should not cut the steak or touch the food in any way before taking your photos. What should you do? You might tell the server to check back in a couple of minutes, or you might even say you want to photograph your food before you do anything else. Don’t panic and don’t make a big deal about it. If you feel compelled to cut into the steak, do it and explain it in the comments on your shop report. Same thing if the server dishes out the side dishes or otherwise messes with the food before you can photograph it.
Work fast. You are not Ansel Adams. Just line it up and take the darn picture. It shouldn’t take long to snap a couple of pictures as each item is served.
Check your photos immediately to make sure you got what you need. Take additional photos, if necessary. Photos are a critical part of the shop, and if yours do not meet the requirements you may not be paid for the shop.
Take additional photos. Photograph your companion or ask your server to take a photo of the two of you together. If you are taking photos beyond the required food photos you may look like a lunatic, but you won’t seem to be a mystery shopper. You are just capturing a special date night or fun evening out. (Be careful about saying you are celebrating a special occasion, such as a birthday or anniversary. They may comp a dessert or other item, and that could affect your shop. I have had some special occasion dinners as mystery shops, but I always cleared it with the mystery shopping company first.)
Although many people post photos of their meals to social media, do not post your mystery shopping photos there. Many clients do not want photos or comments from a mystery shop appearing online.
Act as though you have done this before. If you are uncomfortable taking photos or unsure of what you are doing, you will draw attention to yourself. Practice before your shop by taking photos at other restaurants. You might even start taking pictures every time you dine out, just to get in the habit and improve your skills. The great thing about digital pictures is that you can take all you want and it doesn’t cost anything. (Remember film and getting photos developed? Ick.)
Photos give clients more information about what was served than a written description can, so taking photos of your food on restaurant mystery shops is a requirement that is likely here to stay. With a little practice, you can produce great photos with little effort.