Whether you are a brand new mystery shopper or you have been doing this for years, there are a few things you may not know about secret shopping in restaurants. There are some innocent mistakes that can affect the integrity of your shop, and maybe even get it rejected. Here are four things you need to avoid when you are mystery shopping a restaurant.
Do not ask for a particular table. The hostess may ask your seating preference (e.g., table or booth) and, assuming the guidelines do not say otherwise, you may tell her which you prefer. However, when she escorts you to a table you should not ask to be moved to another.
The reason? Patrons are assigned to tables so that servers are not overloaded. If one server gets two or three tables seated all at once, they are going to have a hard time taking care of everyone according to the restaurant’s service standards and their performance will suffer. That is not fair to them.
Do not order “off menu.” Ordering something they do not normally serve, or even asking for special preparation, complicates things and may affect the time it takes to prepare and serve your food. This can be especially important in fast food restaurants, where a few seconds can mean the difference between hitting a service standard or missing it. There are fast food shops that specify you may not order a burger without a bun, for example. In some cases you may ask for minor modifications (“Hold the onions, please.”) but no major changes or substitutions. For examples of what NOT to do, watch the diner scene in Five Easy Pieces or Meg Ryan ordering pie in When Harry Met Sally.
Don’t order the most expensive thing on the menu. Some shoppers think of a restaurant mystery shop as a chance to get “free” food and they order extravagantly. Order as you would if you were paying out of your own pocket. Stay away from the lobster and the two-pound porterhouse and order the sirloin.
An exception related to this is that restaurant mystery shops may require that you order more than you normally would. For example, you might have to share an appetizer AND dessert, as well as each ordering an entree. Always order the number and type of items specified in the guidelines, but you don’t have to order the most expensive ones. You can order the chips and queso as your appetizer instead of the combo sampler platter, for example.
Don’t let your companion “wing it.” Restaurant shops usually allow or require you to have someone with you. It is your responsibility to make sure your companion does not blow the shop by giving away that you are the mystery shopper or not following the guidelines. For example, most of the time you and your companion will be required to order different entrees. Make sure she knows that. The report may ask if your server suggested coffee or dessert. If your companion asks to see the dessert menu before the server has a chance to offer it, he has affected the integrity of the shop. Go over all of the shop requirements before the visit, as well as some mystery shopping basics, so your companion can be an asset and not a liability.
Following these four rules will help you to provide a report that accurately measures the service you received, and will make you a valued restaurant mystery shopper.