Mystery Shopper Dinner Theater

(or is it theatre? either way.)

A friend signed up to be a mystery shopper. She’s assigned to a specific restaurant on a specific day, told that she must bring a guest, told where to sit and generally what to order. She also has a list of things she has to check out (i.e., check out the bathrooms; when you walk through the restaurant, do the servers step out of your way, etc.).

I agreed to be her guest. Hey, free dinner, right? And the food was good. (The beignets, for dessert, were excellent. My mouth is watering in fond memory of those little treats. Even though I know they weren’t, they tasted as good as the ones I remember having in New Orleans. But I digress.)

The restaurant we had to go to was in the Beverly Center, a big ole mall with tons of chain-y restaurants. Our designated restaurant is part of a chain, and seemed to me to simply be a more expensive version of a restaurant whose initials are C.F. and whose names rhymes with “eesecake actory.”

We were told to sit at the bar, which actually is where we typically sit when we go out. Don’t really know why, but there you go. So here’s my guilt. It was a pretty busy night, and there was only one bartender on duty most of the time. Towards the end of the meal, a second guy came on, but that meant that the first guy had to go refill this and that from the back. So, bottom line, our server was the bartender, who was quite busy.

He messed up on several things that were on my friend’s list of “things to test.” And I feel guilty. They’re such small, minor things, but he’s now going to get in trouble because when he refilled my drink, he didn’t ask me what I wanted – he just refilled it with the same drink I’d had before. He didn’t refold my friend’s napkin when she left to go to the restroom. And a gazillion other tiny things that didn’t affect the quality of the meal or the experience. (Did I mention that the beignets were good?) But now he’s likely going to get in trouble for those little things, when it seems to me to be more of the restaurant’s fault for requiring the bartender to do all those things, instead of assigning a server to the bar.

Ah, well. If I ever go back, I’ll just get the beignets to go. Did I mention . . ? Oh, yeah. I did. Well, they were.

He was the server at the bar. Doing those things is part of his job. No reason to feel guilty about it.

Yeah, I would agree - no guilt needed here. Don’t the companies themselves hire the Secret Shoppers, to make sure staff are doing what the company wants them to do? So he was probably trained to do the things he slacked off on, and the company wants to check up on staff for exactly this reason. If he got busted, too bad for him. He knew better.

As a sidenote, I considered being a Secret Shopper once, but I turned it down because they said I would have to lie to everyone I know, basically, and that would not fit my morality. How does your friend deal with this?

Well, she told me everything, and didn’t mention any lying, so maybe her deal is different from the one you were looking at. She did feel a bit awkward about some of the stuff – she was supposed to ask the person at the bakery questions to see if they were knowledgeable, and when we got there, she blanked. But as far as I could see, there was no lying involved.

I think if I left to go to the bathroom and came back to find my napkin refolded, I would be seriously weirded out. Do people really expect stuff like this in restaurants?

Depends how much I’m paying.

If it’s a five star meal, I expect my martini refreshed, my ice water re-chilled, my chair reupholstered and my date replaced with somebody more attractive and interesting. And when leaving, my car better damn well be washed and vacuumed.

The Secret Shopper people are trying to get a read on the whole restaurant; unfortunately, the restaurant will probably try to blame the server because they were understaffed. That really sucks. NOT FAIR!

It’s pretty standard in higher-end restaurants. Wait’ll you see the crumb scraper.

I’ve seen the crumb scraper; my Mennonite sensibilities were rolling their eyes mightily at that.

This just brings up an image of little tiny semi-corporeal Mennonites flitting about your head, rolling their semi-corporeal eyes.