Taking the Mystery out of Mystery Shopping (Restaurant Edition)
To many people, Mystery Shopping has always been rather .. mysterious. What exactly is mystery shopping?
Here is a quick definition from Wikipedia for your information –
Mystery Shopping or a mystery consumer is a tool used externally by market research companies, watchdog organizations, or internally by companies themselves to measure quality of service, or compliance with regulation, or to gather specific information about products and services. The mystery consumer’s specific identity and purpose is generally not known by the establishment being evaluated. Mystery shoppers perform specific tasks such as purchasing a product, asking questions, registering complaints or behaving in a certain way, and then provide detailed reports or feedback about their experiences.
Mystery shoppers are typically very secretive and discreet about what they do, mainly because everything that we unearth are strictly confidential.
Sounds interesting to you?
Main Categories of Mystery Shopping
The way I see it, there are four main categories of Mystery Shopping, each requiring a different set of skills.
- Telephone Based
- Food & Beverage (Restaurants)
- Hospitality (Hotels, Resorts, Spa)
Personally, the holy grail of Mystery Shopping lies in the F&B category as well as the Hospitality category. Of course, there are people who enjoy the luxury retail segment as well but I’m purely in it for the assignments belonging to 5-stars hotels/resorts and top restaurants.
Getting an Assignment
For this particular company that I freelance for, a list of assignments are updated on a monthly basis onto their website. If there is an assignment that is I’m interested in, I would be tempted to apply for it if the location is convenient.
After indicating the assignment that I’m interested in, together with my available dates, I would have to wait to see if I’m successful in getting it.
How does a typical restaurant assignment look like? You would be surprised but a typical assignment is nothing more than a simple one-liner like this –
Dinner for two people to be completed in December between XX/XX – XX/XX. Pays reimbursement plus $15 fee.
In my opinion, $15 is too low for the amount of work involved so I would typically aim for a minimum of $30, unless the restaurant is a freaking awesome one. Then again, if the restaurant is a very famous one, they would be unlikely to pay only fifteen bucks. And that’s in US dollars, not Singapore dollars.
This was in fact an actual assignment that was posted for a restaurant in Marina Bay Sands. Only USD$15? Bleh.
A Day in the Life of a Mystery Shopper
Hmm. This sub-header is kind of misleading. Mystery Shoppers normally spend more than a single day for their assignment.
I would log in to the website and read through the detailed requirements once I’m notified that I’ve been given the assignment. Getting familiar with the evaluation criteria is essential to doing a good job. Stuff would be printed out. A phone call would be made to the restaurant to make a reservation, during which the evaluation would have started at this point.
- What time was the call made?
- How many rings before the call was picked up?
- What is the opening greeting?
- What was the tone that was used?
There is a checklist that states exactly what needs to evaluated. Homework? Yay.
B) Actual Day
On the day of the evaluation, I would simply turn up at the venue (together with my partner/guest, if any) at the scheduled time. Once again, before I even step into the restaurant, the evaluation would have already started.
- How does the facade look?
- Is the podium neat and clean?
- Did the host initiate the greeting?
- Was I greeted with a smile?
There are probably about seven or eight sections that you would need to take note of, ranging from reception, table service, restaurant service to management, each with a checklist ranging from 10 to 30 items. This is the EASY part.
The narrative that is required for each section, explaining the entire sequence of events – what happened when, and how it occurred is the tedious aspect.
At this point in time, it would be extremely beneficial to have excellent memory, or fantastic (and discreet) note-taking skills. You would be taking down every freaking thing e.g. names, time-stamps (so, what time did you ask for the check, and what time were you presented with it?), cleanliness, restaurant layout, ambient music, etc.
Yes, everything that you can probably think of (and cannot think of), you would be required to take note of it. Was the mirror in the restroom clean? Did the waste-bin appeared to be full?
A trip to the restroom in the middle of the meal would be the time for me to go through the entire checklists to see if I’ve missed any key evaluation points, and key in every single thing into my smartphone. Oh, I have forgotten to mention that the restroom trip was also to test if the restaurant staff have taken the opportunity to re-fold my napkin.
In between all of these, I’m trying to enjoy my meal as much as I can while staying focused at the same time.
After leaving the restaurant, I would typically try to find a quiet place where I can sit down and commence with a second round of note-taking while my memory stays fresh in my head.
Upon completion of the assignment, I would be required to submit the online report within 48 hours. If certain sections are unclear, I would be requested to submit a re-write, after which my report would graded. A good score would then make it more likely for me to get future assignments!
I’m guessing you’re already getting tired just by reading all this huh? All in all, I’m pretty sure that it requires at least two days worth of effort for the entire assignment, more if you’re new to Mystery Shopping.
What was my Last Assignment?
The last assignment I did was for a restaurant situated along Orchard Road, which has pretty much the best service I’ve ever experienced in Singapore. In addition to the wonderful breakfast that I had, it paid me USD$30, which was double of those that paid only USD$15.
Then again, to be honest, I’m not really in this for the money. I like to think of it as a bonus.
The real treat is being able to visit and experience what 5-star service excellence means, which is why I’m pretty selective about the assignments that I take.
Getting Started with Mystery Shopping in Singapore
If you’re interested in getting a primer on Mystery Shopping, some of the simplest assignments can be gotten online for the likes of Guardian Pharmacy and 7-Eleven convenience stores. They’re probably under the same company since the website layouts are exactly the same.
I’m not sure how they work and what the experience is like. You can read about Mystery Shopping right here, even though it is a very old blog post. Sounds like a pretty bad experience to me!