5 Restaurant Secrets for Better Service, Straight From a Mystery Shopper

Mystery shopping as a side gig is, to be quite honest, fun. I started mystery shopping several years ago while living in California, just to make a little extra money, but I quickly realized that the actual evaluation process was my favorite part. While you can mystery shop a huge variety of places—department stores, car dealerships, college campuses even—I mostly stuck with restaurants. Everything from coffee shops to fast food places and even fine dining establishments were places that got mystery shopped. (I can’t say which ones because even though I no longer work as a restaurant mystery shopper, my contracts state I can’t give any specifics!)

While yes, I ate a lot of food, I learned a lot as a mystery shopper that still sticks with me today. These are a few tips I’ve passed along to my friends to ensure they get stellar service at food places, and ones that I, of course, keep in mind myself. Here are five of the best restaurant secrets I learned from my days as a mystery shopper that still stick with me. There are some subtle ways to signal that you might be a mystery shopper, which might make the people at the restaurant provide better service and fresher food.

Ask for a receipt.

As a mystery shopper, I always had to have a receipt to prove that I was actually at the shop and to get reimbursed. Oftentimes I had to ask for my receipt, especially at fast food places where receipts aren’t always readily handed out. Many employees at these places knew if you asked for a receipt that there was a chance you were a mystery shopper, which meant they were on their best behavior. That results in fresh food, fast service, and ultra-nice employees.

Dine alone.

It’s not often that people go out to eat alone, but when mystery shopping you almost always have to. If you want excellent restaurant service, go by yourself. The restaurant employees might assume you’re mystery shopping—especially if it’s a place that’s frequently mystery shopped—and give you top-quality service.

Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions.

Without being too obvious, ask questions. If you’re at a coffee shop, ask how you can substitute something in your drink for something else. If you’re at a grocery store, ask if they have any more of something in the stock room. If you’re at a fast food place, ask what kind of oil they use. If you’re at a restaurant, ask if they can accommodate a food allergy. Any kind of questions are clues you could be a shopper and most likely the place will go out of its way to give you great service.

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If you make it seem like you’re checking everything, you’ll get the freshest food.

There was a fast food chain that I used to shop that had a question on the survey about how many times the fry cook shook the French fries after taking them out of the oil, because yes, there was a required amount of times. So if you diligently stand near the fryer, the cooks might assume you’re a mystery shopper and give you the best French fries ever.

Ask for the daily specials.

One of the questions on a survey for a sit-down establishment will always be the waiter’s knowledge of the specials. If you aren’t immediately told about them, ask what they are. Your waiter might be clued in that you’re a shopper, and just like that, you’re getting superb service.

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