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How Can My Restaurant Benefit from Mystery Shopping?

As a restaurant owner or manager, you know that when most people go out to eat, they are looking for more than just a decent meal: They want atmosphere and good service. Hiring a company to conduct secret shopping research can give you that rare chance to obtain impartial consumer feedback about what it’s really like to eat at your restaurant.

Pershing Square Restaurant, NYC

Image by WanderingtheWorld ( via Flickr

The first step is to sit down with a mystery shopping company to create a strategy on what exactly you’d like to measure with your assignment, and what you’d like to do with that knowledge. The best place to start is to ask yourself some hard questions about your current operations:

  • What are the areas that are not doing very well?
  • Is the workforce performing and optimum levels?
  • Does my restaurant only do well with a certain demographic?

Getting a snapshot of your current operations will help you define what you want a mystery shopper to evaluate. Here are some typical things secret shoppers look out for on a restaurant visit:

  • Look/Appearance of restaurant (exterior and interior)
  • Cleanliness
  • Signage visibility
  • Time it took to be seated
  • Personal appearance of employees
  • Helpfulness of server regarding the menu choices
  • Timing between order and arrival of food
  • Food appearance
  • Portion size
  • Food temperature
  • Water refill frequency
  • Handicap accessibility
  • Survey of the restroom

Finally, one of the most important — if not the most important question on the mystery shopper’s evaluation form: Would you come back to this restaurant?

The data gathered through this process can benefit your restaurant in a variety of ways:

Loss Prevention

How many customers have you lost because it took too long for them to be greeted? You can get a better sense of which areas need improvement by having secret shoppers record how long it took for an employee to seat them. Another form of loss prevention is how many times do meals or desserts have to be comped because of an error? Or are your bartenders measuring the liquor in the mixed drinks correctly (with a jigger), rather than counting, which means overpours and lost money?

Accurate Observation

You could easily try “role-playing” exercises in which your own employees act as a diner, but it’s not really the same experience a customer would get, because the employee knows exactly what the “right” behaviors are. Only a mystery shopping company can provide you with secret shoppers who are unidentified and unannounced. The servers aren’t put on their guard, and will behave the way they normally do.

Neutral Point Of View

When you hire a mystery shopping company, you are provided data from individuals who don’t know you or your employees. They are able to give a truly professional, third party view from a customer’s perspective. In this case, the focus point is not on the product or service, but on the customer.

Comparison Shopping

What are your competitors doing? With secret shoppers, you can determine just that. Mystery shoppers can provide feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors — information that you can use to you advantage.

Stress Tests

You never know how your employees will react in certain situations until they happen. With mystery shopping companies, you can actually create those situations and study the results. For example, how does your staff respond to a rude diner? By setting up these scenarios, you can adjust your training strategy to improve the way your employees respond to extreme situations.


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