I've been MS'ing off & on for more than 10 years. Over that time, I've learned to largely avoid restaurant shops, and reimbursement-only ones in particular. Why? Several reasons:
1) I do this work primarily for a litte extra income. Sure, I truly do enjoy providing valuable feedback on customer service, impressions, quality of products and the like, but I don't do it simply out of the kindness of my heart. A shop fee for the additional time invested preparing and reporting the shop is not inappropriate. (Not to mention the cost of GETTING there & back!) For FF or casual dining, if these aren't taken into consideration up front, you end up pimping yourself out for less than minimum wage. THAT is not going to happen with me.
2) The lag between performing the shop and getting reimbursed is way too long. There's no way I'll ante up $120-150 of my own cash to wait six-eight weeks to be paid back! My budget simply doesn't have room for that.
3) When I eat out, I prefer to choose the restaurant for myself. If a joint I like comes available when I'm in the mood, then I'll pick it up. Otherwise, it's a no-go. I would certainly be more complicit with the MSC's if some of the issues noted above are addressed.
4) The tough-to-fill jobs always magically have bonuses come up near the end of the month. If it's too low an initial reimbursement amount, shopper rotation challenges, or what have you, somehow the schedulers manage to shake a few extra dollars loose to get it completed before the end of their reporting period. I wonder why???
I realize the initial thread was about doggie bags; I believe all these issues came up in one way or another in the discussion. I've never been instructed not to take one, and if I were ever to get an assignment with that stipulation, you can bet your schweet a$$ I'd run the tab up to the max reimbursement! It would also be my last shop of that kind.
Call me cynical, but there's an old saying I'm sure you've all heard before--there's no such thing as a free lunch.
Even ordering a small appetizer to share and a chicken or pasta midrange dish, I can't finish my entree. I can usually make 2 or 3 meals out of an entree, even with small plates at some of the fine dining restaurants it's just too much food.
I have not seen no doggy bags. I have seen directions to not order anything to go. But, it is a normal thing for a regular customers to have doggy bags so I don't know why that would seem suspicious. If there is a limit then if I see something that I like on the menu, why would'nt I order what I want, UNLESS it says "Do not order the most expensive thing". Now, I don't order the most expensive thing but I am just saying. But I don't see anything wrong with taking a doggy bag, if you truly need it.
I always have a doggie bag - even on my own. I have never encountered that rule. In fact, one fine dining shop asks about the to go box. That shop pays a generous amount, but it never covers the total amount. That is because of the wine requirement. I did a shop recently that reimbursed 70 and I spent 45. We probably did not order enough as in retrospect the guidelines said to order several different items. My doggies look for my doggie bag.
I so far have not seen the "no doggie bag" rule except once. A long-time MSC which is now out of business (went belly-up owing me money, yes, I am bitter!) Used to shop a Friday's franchise (not the company store shops, which were compliance) and they had two parts. You were required to do the Bar, ordering one alcoholic and one non-alcoholic bev and one appetizer - and No doggie bag under any circumstances. Then you moved to the dining room for the meal, and doggie bags were OK from the meal.
I always find Steve's post so level headed and insightful!!
> First off, if you are concerned about waste...you
> are in the wrong business. The MS industry is
> absolutely filled with wasteful situations based
> on evaluating service standards. There are
> threads on the forum where people discuss enormous
> number of miles driven to earn a few $$ when they
> clearly have outlets closer to home had they not
> been MSing. Shoppers print reams of paper on a
> daily basis with shop instructions and then
> complain about the cost of ink/paper. FF shoppers
> are asked to go by themselves and order 2
> different meals! I hardly think the half slice of
> uneaten cheesecake left on my plate is really the
> epitome of wastefulness, considering the bag,
> plastic carton, napkins and plastic utensils that
> often are included with take-home packaging. I
> NEVER take leftover desserts home, even when I'm
> paying, because I don't want that dessert in my
> fridge. They all pair too well with morning
> Second, the fine-dining MSC that doesn't allow
> doggie bags also allows you to order an after
> dinner beverage like coffee or tea as a dessert
> option, so there are almost always options that
> won't leave excessive food on the table.
> I agree that there are probably some shoppers that
> would not abuse the ordering policies without
> restrictions, but most do, so that's why the rules
> have to be there. It's not taboo in any fine
> dining establishment that I have evaluated to ask
> for a doggie bag, nor would it make you memorable
> to take it or not, IMHO. The rule is there simply
> to control ordering.
> I am specifically referring to this requirement
> for fine dining, BTW. Ordering anything at
> Cheesecake Factory or Claim Jumper and not having
> leftovers to take home is definitely out of the
> firstname.lastname@example.org Wrote:
> > Wnich company does Cheesecake-used to do them a
> > while ago
> > thanks
> I'm sure disclosing that information would be a
> violation of the ICA.
Since you used to do them a while ago, look back through your saved or tax information to find it. It is most likely still the same company. In my neighborhood, that company has been doing them for at least 8 years.
> If reimbursement is the only "pay" why wouldn't a
> shopper attempt to use every single penny? And the
> bigger question really is why shouldn't they? All
> things aside, that is probably why I don't bother
> with dining shops and rarely take a reimbursement
> only shop.
> I so far have not seen the "no doggie bag" rule
> except once. A long-time MSC which is now out of
> business (went belly-up owing me money, yes, I am
> bitter!) Used to shop a Friday's franchise (not
> the company store shops, which were compliance)
> and they had two parts. You were required to do
> the Bar, ordering one alcoholic and one
> non-alcoholic bev and one appetizer - and No
> doggie bag under any circumstances. Then you
> moved to the dining room for the meal, and doggie
> bags were OK from the meal.
This actually makes some sense, as it would be rare and make little sense for someone to doggy bag an appetizer from the bar, especially if eating a full meal in the dining room.
> There's a fast food joint I do where I take a few
> bites and then throw it away...or, when no one's
> looking, give it to the birds. I get reimbursed,
> so it doesn't matter to me really.
I give the fast food to the "homeless guy/lady" to see if he/she is really in need of food.
I was told that shops that have little or no pay with reimbursments are called Trade Shops.
They trade MY meal(s) for a report right? So with that being said then I should be able to take home left overs from MY meal(s).
We are professional shoppers who are smart enough to do things without being obvious about it, since we want to shop the same locations over and over again and not get pegged as the shopper and loose the location in our rotations and incomes.
MS Companies are just trying to make sure we don't earn our fair share of the proofits.
According to my records, I have indeed accepted an upscale restaurant shop with over $200 reimbursement and I did go over that because they allowed more than two people and there was the bar stay before the dining room. The only requirement was not to order a takeout but not a 'no doggie bag.' The three of us left so much food. When asked how they were, we said, they were delicious, however we had small appetites. We were asked if we wanted them wrapped.
I do not agree that it is looks suspicious to ask for a doggie bag. As one server commented, the bags were free advertisements. But I never, ever doggie bag a dessert. And of course, it is against the liquor law to take any alcohol
There are some people (including men) with smaller appetites than average, believe me. Since the servings are huge, there is bound to be leftover. If I read a requirement, "No doggie bag," I won't be taking that shop.
I'm not sure if 'no doggy bags' is the real answer to what I suspect these MSCs are trying to accomplish.
When a shopper goes into a restuarant and does anything that a normal customer wouldn't then the shopper puts his/her anonymity at risk. If the shopper is revealed then the MSC must stop using that shopper and find a replacement. Lose/lose
Most restaurant companies like to do deals with MSCs that favor reimbursement vs fee for the simple reason that giving food costs them less than giving money. At 30% food cost the $50 reimburesable costs the Restaurant $15. So the balance adjustment suggested isn't going to happen at restaurants.
So, the reimbursement is generous, at least enough to allow the shopper and his/her guest to have an enjoyable meal and end up below the max allowed. The shopper and guest order and eat as a normal couple would; maybe splitting an appetizer and dessert and each having an entree. One or the other or both have a little of their appetizer left when the entrees come and so they ask to keep that at the table. Okay, no issues there. Mr shopper eats his entree and Mrs shopper doesn't finish hers and tells the server she is saving room for a bit of 'his' dessert and so therefore can I have some of my entree doggy bagged with what we had left of our appetizers. This is normal. Between the two of them they kill the dessert. Normal. The bill ends up, with tip, being less than the maximum reimbursement and appears normal.
Here comes the shopper with the "I'm going to get every cent worth' out of this shop mentality. Two appetizers, one nearly whole (equivalent) one goes in a doggy bag. Two entrees, mostly eaten but still some for the doggy bag. Two desserts and one (equivalent) goes into the doggy bag. Check with tip equals nearly to the penny the total amount of the reimbursement and fee. This couple has clearly over-ordered and made themselves 'watchable'. The staff becomes suspicious of them and are quite sure they must be the shoppers. They report same to management, management tells MSC the shopper was known and the shop is a do-over. Lose/lose/lose
one shopper saw the opportunity for a decent meal that they wouldn't themselves probably go out and pay for and so they enjoyed it and happily bartered their time to do a report in exchange.
The other shopper took advantage and acted (sorry, no more apt term) piggish.
So, if the MSC could be perfectly frank without getting killed by the shopper community, they could more clearly make the point by instead of saying 'no doggy bags', saying 'don't be piggish'.
If all shoppers just got this on their own then it wouldn't have to be said.
Mystery shopping jobs where reimbursement is a large part of the deal should be taken by the shopper only if it is at a restaurant they would like to go to (or often do) and are willing to trade their time to report on the experience.
About another thing mentioned; taking fast food shops and going into them and taking one bite of the food and throwing the rest away to get the $7 fee (then moving on the next location, etc, etc, etc) is, IMO, everything that is wrong with how MSC's and companies make deals but that is a topic for another thread.
Owner / Founder / Chief Cook & Bottle Washer
The dining shops I have done (mostly casual dining, but once in a while fine dining) have barely enough reimbursement to cover ONE appetizer, two drinks and two entrees. It is in this case, where no one would argue a reasonable amount of food has been ordered, where I think it would be problematic to prohibit a shopper from taking home leftovers.
In the example you mentioned, yes, it absolutely is "piggish" for the shopper to overorder. I've only encountered generous enough reimbursements that would even allow this when shopping resort hotels where I generally do not have a dollar limit to my food expense. If a company is that generous with reimbursement, perhaps they should shift a portion of the reimbursement to the fee, after providing for the 30% food cost ratio you mentioned. $100 reimbursement becomes $60 reimbursement and $12 shop fee, as an example (where $12 shop fee is 30% of the $40 that was reduced from the original reimbursement).
Shopping since 1995; full-time since 2009. Blogging about shopping on www.myfrugalmiser.com.
jon, hit the nail on the head. When a client and/or MSC sets the reimbursement they are creating the value for the shop. The shopper then decides if the value set is enough to cover their work of writing a report. To me it does not make sense to then refer to a shopper as piggish or to penalize them for wanting to receive the full value. Why should someone contract for a $75 reimbursement shop only to end up with a $40 to $50 shop? It seems like a fee with a lower reimbursement would solve the problem for everyone.
Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It's not pie.
"I prefer someone who burns the flag and then wraps themselves up in the Constitution over someone who burns the Constitution and then wraps themselves up in the flag." -Molly Ivins
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It's a waste of your time and it really annoys the pig.
> Wow, so now it's "over ordering" or "piggish" for
> two people to each have an appetizer, entree and
Yup, some people do not seem to agree that others do have small appetite. And one does go over the reimbursement, especially when the liquors and bar requirements are included. But to each his own. I always have leftovers, whether I like it or not, or I am alowed to doggie bag or not.
> Wow, so now it's "over ordering" or "piggish" for
> two people to each have an appetizer, entree and
Come on...that's not at all what was said. Ordering more than you can eat just so that you can take extra food home was the issue that Bill was talking about.
Appetites vary, as we read here, so the reimbursement levels are set to cover a larger meal. If you & your dining partner can each eat 3 full courses and reimbursement covers it, there's nothing wrong/piggish about ordering the food and eating it during the shop.
If the overall reimbursement was lowered to accommodate a slightly higher shop fee as Jonk mentioned, then that would penalize shoppers with larger appetites (Costing them $28 to order the $100 food value with a $60 reimbursement and $12 pay).
If you look at these shops as an exchange for a good meal (plus fee) and stop putting a dollar value on what you take out of it, you will probably be happier with the dining options available.
In my experience, and maybe I work for the wrong companies, I have only once had a fine dining shop where I was able to stay under the reimbursement and over order on the msc dime. For that one I decided it was not worth the long report for what ended up being a cheap meal with some tequila. I generally go at happy hour and have to skimp on the cheapest things on the menu just to stay within the reimbursement when fulfilling the minimum requirements. I have been told the restaurant figures how much to reimburse based on an average bill. But, I think the average fine diner has at least one alcoholic beverage per person, 2 if they stop at the bar first, and perhaps not the desert and appetizer. Therefore I do not represent the average diner having a cola in the bar and then a $14 appetizer and dessert with a cheap entree. When I say fine dining I am not talking family dining like the big chain places that I gather are considered fine dining in some towns.
The only caveat in my experience is when you are allowed to dine alone and the reimbursement is the same as for two people. Then overordering can become an issue, but just barely as one or two drinks, a mid range entree and the required other things seems to spend all the money.
Fine dining is my favorite shop, and I do a lot. It's what I shop for - I shop for an increased number of great evenings out and "extras," rather than fees. My day job pays the bills, so mystery shopping is for fun extras.
I may not be the average diner but I rarely have an alcoholic beverage when doing a fine dining assignment. My dining companions typically also do not want an alcoholic beverage. We are more interested in the food. If I want a bottle of wine or a pitcher of margaritas, I prefer to have that at home. Most of my fine dining assignments are not during a time period that qualifies as happy hour, usually the time period is too late for happy hour. If an assignment requires a bar visit, I usually will either order a beer or my companion will order a beer. At the table, we tend to order water rather than beverages unless a beverage other than water is required. I almost always order an appetizer, and we seldom order the cheapest thing on the menu. We usually order dessert, but we usually share one because we aren't really hungry by dessert. I usually need a take-home box. I almost never go over the reimbursement for fine dining, although I can see that if I ordered alcohol, I would probably exceed the amount. I have a little more trouble with the upscale casual dining shops - they tend to be a little skimpy for those with big appetites - and that's us. I do sometimes go over on the upscale casual dining shops, but I almost never exceed on fine dining.
I've never seen instructions at a fine dining that prohibit taking home leftovers. What MSC are we talking about?
> About another thing mentioned; taking fast food
> shops and going into them and taking one bite of
> the food and throwing the rest away to get the $7
> fee (then moving on the next location, etc, etc,
> etc) is, IMO, everything that is wrong with how
> MSC's and companies make deals but that is a topic
> for another thread.
At least one MSC solved this by saying no more than one shop per meal period (across all of their clients). However, I have taken multiple shops during the same meal period from different companies (due to either scheduling screwups on my part or not being able to get out of the house until much later than originally planned).
> I am saying I will not take a job where the
> guidelines say NO doggy bags. If you all want to
> waste food you go right ahead.
I feel the same way. I regularly dine in alone and also take out leftovers (and add on's) as an evening meal. People do it all the time.
> This is precisely the attitude the MSC is trying
> NOT to impart to the fine-dining clients when they
> put in the no doggie bag requirement. The client
> is not concerned with how little you are being
> paid as a shopper. They are told that shoppers
> are happy to complete the evaluation in exchange
> for a good meal. If three courses are required,
> then you should share a light appetizer and
> dessert if you are not a big eater.
Sharing a light appetizer and dessert is fine. I get that, and most of the time wouldn't take an appetizer or dessert home anyway. I just generally don't order dessert.
> When I was scheduling, I learned that without
> limitations, shoppers will always order the most
> expensive items on the menu to maximize their
> return on the work. Knowing that you are not
> allowed to take the food home will generally keep
> shoppers from intentionally over-ordering.
> Without the requirement, a shopper will tend to
> order all of the way up to the maximum
> reimbursement and bag the uneaten food, like jonk
> suggested. That's what will make you suspect and
> memorable. People paying for their food tend to
> only order what they can consume....
As a consumer, I beg to differ -- most of the time, a regular entree is way too huge for me (5'1, 115 lbs). If I can't make at least two meals out of a restaurant dish and it's more than $10 for my portion of the meal, I feel like I'm getting ripped off -- so I always do a doggie bag. Every time I've declined to take the rest of my food home before the wait staff acted like I had to have disliked the food because of how little of the entree was eaten, a few had to be reassured that the only reason it wasn't being eaten was that we wouldn't be able to get it refrigerated in time. Guess that's the excuse I'll have to make again.
I've yet to do any restaurant mystery shops, but leaving large amounts of uneaten food behind to me would be a giveaway given the way staff respond to it when it does happen. I've only done some fast food shops (and if I keep them up, I may not be 115 lbs much longer!)
FWIW, a dinner with my man generally ends up being an appetizer, two salads if they're not included with the entree, two entrees, rarely dessert. He eats most of the appetizer, all his salad, his entree, and is full bordering on too full. I eat about 1/3-1/4 of the appetizer, all my dinner salad, and 1/3 to half my entree, we bag the rest of my entree. I'll make a green salad and eat the rest of my entree the next day -- and sometimes it ends up being three meals.
I feel like I'm repeating myself a bit here, but I don't think anyone claimed that taking a doggie bag home is suspicious. Ordering multiple additional courses when you cannot finish an entree and bagging completely uneaten food is suspicious, but the issue is more about how the experience reads to the end user (i.e. client).
For the MSC that I know of with this rule, a salad would be considered and appetizer. One salad split between two guests, two entrees and a shared dessert is not all that much food in a fine dining establishment...even for a light eater.
If you don't order liquor with dinner, you will rarely go over the reimbursement limits in my experience. I'm working on a FD report right now that had a $200 reimbursement + fee. The check came to $175, so it was $205 with tip, but $45 of that was liquor. I could have easily ordered a less expensive wine at dinner and came in under budget, but since I take these jobs for the experience of fine dining, I'm happy to kick in $5 of my fee and be able to order a really nice glass of wine with my meal. I'm someone who really enjoys the experience of wine with a good meal. Hell, I'm someone who enjoys the experience of wine with a pretzel...or just wine with some more wine. Point being that I'm not going to eat a $150 meal and not have some vino along with it.
I could have opted for water at this meal and gotten away with ordering one more expensive item while staying under budget, and had enough leftover to take home without looking suspicious, but I don't think that's the report the client was asking for. There is a sommelier section in the report so they are clearly interested in the wine recommendations and presentation. It would definitely have been suspicious to ask about wine and not order it. IMHO. The food was just the right amount with the shared dessert and we ate everything, so I got what I wanted (a $200+ meal with a a little $$ left in my pocket), the client gets what they want (a well-rounded report) and my GF gets to brag to her co-worker about how I took her to the new restaurant in town.
Everyone wins in the above scenario except for the co-worker's new boyfriend. He's now stuck footing a $200 bill for dinner next weekend to keep his boastful GF happy...
> Everyone wins in the above scenario except for the
> co-worker's new boyfriend. He's now stuck footing
> a $200 bill for dinner next weekend to keep his
> boastful GF happy...
Heh. Poor guy.
I'm sure it has to be a balance. I'm sure all of us realize that the best lie has a dash of truth in it -- or that it's easier to write a persona that mimics your own life experiences. If I ever accepted a true fine dining shop like that, I'd play it just as I would if I ever went to a $200 restaurant (this is a very rare treat, dress up, come up with a special occasion to celebrate, etc). While the opinion of a connoisseur may be what some of the shops are looking for, they might also look for how those same servers would treat a couple who decided to come in to celebrate a five or 10-year anniversary who ordinarily don't dine in those establishments -- it might even allow the server to demonstrate more of their skillset insfoar as recommending specific dishes and pairings.
Of course, I'm also in a flyover state, where "fine dining" establishments of that nature are few and far between. If salads can count as appetizer courses, though, then we'd be golden -- salad, entree, split a dessert, each have a glass of wine if required for the shop or within reimbursement limits.
And yes, I did notice that portion size seems to decrease as entree cost increases the few times I've had the opportunity to eat upscale.
Hi. I just did a fine dining shop. It was a table of two women. We had to order an appetizer each, an entree each, and share a dessert. We would never order that much food and don't look like we would. They asked my friend if she would like to take home her leftover entree, and she had to say no. It would have been almost impossible to not go over the reimbursement limit, and coffee was not an option for dessert. Reimbursement was $135 in an area with 10% tax, and you could leave an 18% tip (which is another topic, I hate how low the tip limits are, 15% at the Ritz??). We each had a glass of wine (cheapest), and the check, before tip, was $154. We ordered mid priced items (most things on the menu were $30, except for steak or lobster that we we were forbidden to order); I had the cheapest appetizer on the menu. If we weren't forced to order so much food, with a reimburse,ent limit which was not overly generous, I wouldn't have minded.
Thanks to all the forum members!
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/07/2014 12:53PM by Bayberry.
Another way to look at it:
You have had a fantastic meal and are going home to write a shiny, boring report full of yes, yes, excellent, yes, eyes, teeth, tone, Yay!
You are looking down at your table and see another meal for two just sitting there. We'll give it a par value of $20.00. This represents part of your compensation, but you are supposed to literally leave it on the table.
You spent $160, which matches your reimbursement and pay combined.
If you are caught taking the food home, you are not going to be ejected from the company for a first offense. Even if you are cut by that client, you couldn't go back for a year anyway. Reasonable worst case is that your shop is rejected and you get a talking-to. You are putting the $160 at risk for the $20. 8 to 1.
How much risk? You ask the server to drop off a box with the check. In order for this to be a problem, someone has to be looking for a reason to challenge a good report. Then either the server or the manager have to know about the no carry out rule AND remember that you took a box. Or someone on the top end would have to spend an hour to watch the entire dinner via video looking for any niggling rule infraction by the shopper.