Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Mystery meal

Homemade burger

Christine and I had our first experience as mystery diners recently.

Ages ago, I signed up for the Mystery Dining Company, an intermediary that arranges mystery shopper visits for various restaurants in the UK. Whilst I got regular emails about available visits, none of the establishments interested me – they were mainly pubs that I wouldn’t consider visiting. Finally, an urgent visit for a restaurant that we actually like came up, and so I booked us in. I can’t tell you which restaurant it was, but it was a large multi-national chain.

As part of the task, we had to book a table online, but also call the restaurant using a call recording service (Record Your Call in this case) and upload the recording. There was a questionnaire to complete which had several questions that related specifically to aspects of the experience that the restaurant aims to offer at its locations, so it wasn’t a case of simply reviewing the food and the service. Fortunately, the restaurant and the staff did well on the whole, although I did have to put a few negative comments in places.

Obviously the major benefit of being a mystery shopper is that you get reimbursed for the meal, so effectively it was free. There are limits as to how much you can claim in total though, and you’re usually restricted to no more than one alcoholic drink each. To be reimbursed, you upload copies of your receipts; I learned that after submitting mine that I should have uploaded both the food and card receipts so that I could claim back the tips.

We’d happily do it again, although sadly visits are a bit few and far between in the Halifax and Bradford areas at the moment.

The Mystery Dining Company is just one such company that arranges visits; another is Market Force Information, and you can find out more about them in this blog post from Money Saving Expert. They offer a small additional fee on top of the reimbursement but it’s only a few pounds.

If you’re literate, enjoy eating out and are flexible enough to go to places at short notice, then I’d recommend signing up as a mystery shopper. You effectively get free meals out of it, and you’re helping the restaurant companies improve their customer experience.

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