Wednesday, October 1, 2008

DINING ~ Meal deals you won't forget.

For those of you who are new to Mystery Shopping, I have found not only is this a great way to make a little money, but it's probably the #1 way to enhance your lifestyle in terms of dining out. Over time I will tell you about various company's, how to contact them and what to expect.

For those of you who don't know what Mystery Shopping (AKA Secret Shopping or Customer Service Evaluation) is, it is a simple concept. Businesses need to measure how well their employees are responding to their customers' needs, how well they understand their product, as well as issues such as cleanliness, timeliness, etc. For example while doing a restaurant evaluation (and understand that different companies look for different issues), you may be asked to remember the names of your host/hostess, server, bartender, manager (or a description of each). You will be expected to comment upon the friendliness of each employee, the flow of the meal (did the appetizer arrive within 7 minutes of having ordered it), as well as your servers' ability to upsell (were you offered coffee and dessert after your main course). You will be expected to comment upon the lighting, music and cleanliness of the restaurant and make a special trip to the rest room to see if it is clean and well stocked. Was a manager visible in the restaurant and were they interacting with the staff and/or customers. As the title of the position are to remain a MYSTERY, a SECRET and NEVER let it be known that you are there to evaluate (unless you are doing what is called a "reveal" shop...but, we'll talk about those another time). When you arrive back home you will type up a report that can be anything from a simple checklist to a minute by minute narrative. You will be expected (in most cases) to send a copy of your receipt in as well (to prove that you were there). Oh, you will also have to sign a contract with the company promising NOT TO REVEAL which companies they represent, so when you read my articles, don't expect to learn the names of any of the places being shopped!!!

What you can expect for providing this service, is a free meal (usually reimbursed within 45-60 days) and in some cases a small pay (usually in the $5-$10 range). I find that the nicer the establishment the lower the pay. It really has nothing to do with how labor intesive the actual shop (including the report is). For example a HIGH END steakhouse may only reimburse, but a drive-thru fast food restaurant or donut shop will leave you with a few $$ in your pocket. Personally, a $150 reimbursement at a FINE DINING RESTAURANT enhances my lifestyle, so I'm happy.

So, on to my FIRST secret source!
If you love steak and enjoy dining at casual steakhouses (and you will know which one it is when you check out their site) check out Focus On Service. They are a wonderful company out of Massachusetts, but represent a casual steakhouse that can be found in 29 states. So, go fill out your application and wait until an opportunity arrives in your area.


My favorite sources for half-price (and lower meals) are usually from LOCAL companies that provide gift certificates at a GREAT price. In my area (South Florida) there's a great company called South Florida Dines
that offers gift certificates from Vero Beach to Miami, FL. If you don't live in the area, but plan to visit (as so many do in the winter months), check them out as the gift certificates don't expire for 90 days. I understand that some of the chefs highlighted will be sharing their recipes in the coming months as well.

Look at Half Off Deals to sign up for alerts when certificates go on sale in your area. They seem to be a clearinghouse of great meal deals and are affiliated with radio stations around the country (so no need to constantly check your local radio station's website to see what deals they're offering). I signed up for their e-mail alerts, so I get regular e-mails from them with deals that I may have missed.

And for those who are dining at home tonight, don't forget that you can always Print Free Coupons at It's always free and they have HUNDREDS of coupons available all of the time.

So, enjoy your dinner and BON APETIT!


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sfwilm said...

Thank you so much for your post on secret shopping at resturaunts. I signed up and had my first lunch yesterday - what a deal! I'm looking forward to your future posts on other secret shopping companies.

Zipporah said...

That's great, hope you had fun & had a GREAT meal.

Beth said...

Thanks for sending me to Focus on Service! I've been an MSPA shopper for years but didn't know of it - and the particular restaurant they shop is in my area! Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I would love to know more about secret shopping and how it works, I think it would be fun.. How it works and what you have to do and how to start. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

the website asked 34.00, can you please give me the free web site

Anonymous said...

I have worked in the restaurant industry for 14 years and although secret shopping may seem like a fun and adventurous idea, many do not think of the consequence their report may have on the staff of that restaurant!!!!! Looking for a free meal and not understanding the business is a risky deal for employees. Many times the shopper does not take into account extenuating circumstances which may arise during the course of their visit which may lead them to write in their report biased statements about their server, bartender, or manager during their visit. Many of these employees have been suspended and fired because of these shopper reports!!

Anonymous said...

you are so right. I have been the restaurant
industry for over 30yrs. and many times I have seen this happen to Mangers and employees.losing thier job and and not having
a job. due to misreap. of secret shoppers.what
I belive is that shoppers need to be more aware
of what the industry is all about. and what good customer service is. and not look at as a free hand out. But to take in to account of who,and what realy is going on the this industry. so that dinning industry can become a
woundeful FUN and enjoyable dinning each time.

Zippy said...

I absolutely agree with you on that. I actually came to mystery shopping after having owned restaurants in RI and then went on to be a multi-unit manager with a large coffee/retail company. I became a mystery shopper in order to find the best practices of other companies and teach them to my team. Mystery shopping should be used to reward and retrain. It is the only tool that restaurants have to gauge what their customers actually experience. A shopper needs to be FAIR in their assessment and understand the impact that it has before sitting down to write a report.

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