A "Free" Meal is NOT Enough for Hours of Work on Dining Shops

Am I the only one who thinks this when it comes to reimbursement only dining shops?

Excluding Texas Roadhouse (enjoyable food/experience + manageable report) and Chili's (super short report), I find most dining shops not worthwhile. 95% of them are reimbursement only and often cannot be done for another three months (which means you have to relearn/double-check the guidelines 3 months later).

The amount of work can be brutal and not worth it to me. One hour of preparation studying the guidelines (unless it's one you've memorized), because you know any mistake might get your report rejected. Often each restaurant has their own little quirky questions/requirements, so it's a constant learning/relearning of unique guidelines (plus the usual stuff for these types of shops).

While you are dining, you don't really get to fully enjoy the experience, because you're so focused on observing, timing, and recording things, while trying to "act" normal. The value of the reimbursement almost never allows you to order the "better" (often more expensive) items on the menu and you come away with the "lower" grade meals (like a generic cheap chicken sandwich you could get anywhere, instead of that lobster roll on the upper end of the menu) if you want to come in under reimbursement and not have to pay out-of-pocket. After the stressful "cheapo" meal that you barely enjoyed, due to having to "work" the shop, you have to rush home to write up a lengthy narrative-filled report.

A one-hour dining shop that is recorded usually = about two hours of replaying the audio file to double-check timings and observation accuracies. That's due to all the pausing of the audio, taking notes, and sometimes struggling to decipher what was said (if lots of heavy background noise). It can be frustrating replaying the same section of audio over and over to get your needed timing or observation.

Narratives comments often require personal reflection that takes time to sit back, think, and then write about. It's like essay writing!

No fee means gas mileage is not covered, so you are often out $5-10 for mileage. The "free" meal is you agreeing to pay for it and have it reimbursed two months (45-60 days later - while the client can essentially "float" your money and do whatever they want with it) later, having spent time (often hours of work) and mileage for what was likely mediocre food. Ummm, I could just take the $5-10 mileage and buy Chick-Fil-A (probably better tasting too! than the cheap chicken sandwich you'll likely be forced to order to stay under reimbursement) or the like and save the time/hassle of doing a detailed narrative report and stressful dining observations (that might get rejected for any small mistake based on the whims of the editor) and I'd be even, right?

Feeling snarky tonight and wanting to vent. But, I am also serious too. smiling smiley Anyone else feel this way about reimbursement-only restaurant shops? I don't think I'll ever do these EVER again (aside from a few faves of mine). They are a rip-off and I always feel like a SLAVE afterwards.

*end rant* lol

Edited 11 time(s). Last edit at 11/14/2018 08:09AM by shoptastic.

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I try just about every food shop once. If I like it and it's worth it to me, I keep doing it. If it's not worth it and I don't feel I was reimbursed enough, I don't do it anymore. There are too many out there to pick from to do the ones you don't feel "accomplished" with.

Shopping Arkansas, Louisiana, & Mississippi.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/05/2018 05:59AM by ArkLaMissshopping.
@ArkLaMissshopping wrote:

I try just about every food shop once. If I like it and it's worth it to me, I keep doing it. If it's not worth it and I don't feel I was reimbursed enough, I don't do it anymore. There are too many out there to pick from to do the ones you don't feel "accomplished" with.

I can't think of any reimbursement only dining shops I'd do other than TXRH and Chili's these days. I've tried a lot too, ALMshopping. A LOT! Each time, they always take hours to do. I rarely ever feel happy with my meal for the work/time/mileage I had to put into the shop. The reimbursements almost always force me to order something I don't necessarily want. This is a tip to others that you should look up the menu prices of items at a restaurant before deciding to take a shop to see if it's worth it if you can. Some places don't have websites/menu prices.

I'd rather do Five Guys or Papa John's where there's at least a fee and food I don't mind eating. Plus their reports are short.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/05/2018 06:18AM by shoptastic.
I completely understand. I feel there is so much work involved in the reports and gathering all the information for the reports that all shops need to have some sort of fee to them. I've even lost money before because the reimbursement amount wasn't enough to cover the bill from the list of items I can pick from to order.

I've never done Chili's. I've never been crazy about their food. My favorite is Texas Roadhouse. I did Papa John's only once and by the time I received it 10 minutes late, and after taking 20 pictures to be sure I got one that doesn't have shadows around it, I had to warm my pizza back up because it had gotten cold. Warming up the pizza made it not enjoyable.

Shopping Arkansas, Louisiana, & Mississippi.
Shoptastic,

I fell the opposite of you. My wife and I like to go out to eat once in a while. I think it is well worth my hour or so plus a few easy pictures/notes to get that meal for free. Most of the companies I do this with pay me in 30 days or under, and the food is usually much better then a fast food restaurant (even a good one, like Chick-fil-A).

Basically, I was going to spend the money anyway, so it's nice to get it back. I feel the same about most grocery shops as well. I needed to buy milk, bread, fruit, etc. anyway....

Orlando - lightly shopping NC
A few people here spoke of spending 12 hours on a report for a fine dining restaurant. I would get no enjoyment from the meal or environment knowing that I had a 12 hour report to look forward to. I would rather pay out of pocket than have half of my day held hostage.

I am fine with my QSRs, sports bars and chain restaurant.

The internet doesn't make you smart. It makes you good at regurgitation.
Shortly after entering the business in 2003, I began with FF, moved into casual and finally fine dining; I soon learned the work and risk involved with the latter was not for me. The casual, though, was and is ideally suited to my taste, with the Roadhouse being at the top of my list. The closest I have come to a FF since 2010 is Penn Station, where I accept work as often as it is available. There is another eatery, no longer shopped in my area, I very much enjoy: Golden Corral. Were they to once again appear, depending upon the requirements, I would not hesitate to apply for the work.

I eat out for the enjoyment of the food. The ambiance, servers attire and oddity of the menu items are immaterial to me. My only consideration for an assignment is the work:reward ratio. As such the slaving over a report for three hours is of an absolute zero interest to me. There is not any food I desire that is worth such work and, since so many shoppers do not share my opinion, the fee will definitely not be sufficient to cover my time and effort.
Shoptastic - Yes, I agree 100%. I love eating out, and I don't want to be working while I am. I can count on one hand the number of shops I've done for this type. That being said - I admire the patience and fortitude of the shoppers who don't have a problem with it.

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away
I only do high-end restaurants. Last night I shopped Capital Grill. Had an amazing $225 meal which assuming I get reimbursed only cost me $40 out of my own pocket. I figure a $40 dinner at capital grille is a good deal!.
I propose a $10 minimum fee for these shops. That sounds fair to me. I would take those narrative heavy shops for $10, as that would offset the cost of gas/mileage with maybe a few dollars left over.

Anything less and I start to feel ripped off and like a slave. sad smiley

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/05/2018 08:36PM by shoptastic.
That and $5 will get you a latte.

$10 is what I get for my sports bar. The report takes less than an hour, and I can order what I want.

The internet doesn't make you smart. It makes you good at regurgitation.
@shoptastic wrote:



Feeling snarky tonight and wanting to vent. But, I am also serious too. smiling smiley Anyone else feel this way about reimbursement-only restaurant shops?

I have always felt that way about reimbursement only restaurant shops. Waste of time, time that can be spend shopping a place that will give you a fee. I have yet to figure out how to pay my bills with food.
I don't do my restaurants for the fee, 8.00, 10. 00 what's the difference, it's about (for me) an evening out, can do it all without thought, phone does the work. I just had ribs out, and dinner for tonight and actually enjoyed testing myself on the report, enjoyed doing it. When I drink it's another story, even one.....but a nice lunch, any day for me.

Create a life that feels good on the inside, not one that just looks good on the outside.....
Dr. Judith Wright


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/12/2018 04:10PM by Irene_L.A..
@bigrj wrote:

I only do high-end restaurants. Last night I shopped Capital Grill. Had an amazing $225 meal which assuming I get reimbursed only cost me $40 out of my own pocket. I figure a $40 dinner at capital grille is a good deal!.

I've heard of Capital Grill, but don't have one near me.

We have a Ruth's Chris, but I make less than $50,000/year and cannot do that shop. I have done fine dining shops of equal caliber elsewhere, though. They take many hours to complete. I haven't found the reimbursement/lack of fee worth it for me personally, as the food has always been so-so (mainly, because they don't reimburse high enough to order the good stuff and I'm stuck with lower end meals + valet parking sometimes that is out-of-pocket). sad smiley

Glad to hear some people enjoy these! Maybe one day I'll come across one that I'm willing to try and actually enjoy. For now, they are not worthwhile and to be avoided. smiling smiley
@KA047 wrote:

@shoptastic wrote:

Feeling snarky tonight and wanting to vent. But, I am also serious too. smiling smiley Anyone else feel this way about reimbursement-only restaurant shops?

I have always felt that way about reimbursement only restaurant shops. Waste of time, time that can be spend shopping a place that will give you a fee. I have yet to figure out how to pay my bills with food.

If the forms were more like Chili's, then I'd feel they were worthwhile. But, since I have to pay for gas/mileage and spend inordinate amounts of time doing the reports after a mediocre meal most of the time, I feel I gain little - if not have to pay out-of-pocket myself!

I now give all these shops to my competitors and hope they give me the fee/paid/bonused shops. winking smiley

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/05/2018 11:52PM by shoptastic.
@HonnyBrown wrote:

That and $5 will get you a latte.

$10 is what I get for my sports bar. The report takes less than an hour, and I can order what I want.

Is BWW back now? Or, some other sports bar? Haven't seen any paid/fee ones near me.

PF Chang's seems to have a fee. But, I can never grab those. Always taken. Although, I haven't seen their report yet, so maybe that fee is not really a fee. lol Some of these dining reports are marathons!

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/05/2018 11:56PM by shoptastic.
The PF Chang report is not bad at all, nothing like this company's normal reports.

Golden Corral still gets shopped (we went).

Also, how would the MSC know what your salary is? I put accurate info when I signed up, and I am sure we are honest with this stuff, but how would they know?
I feel if I get reimbursed for a $200 meal and it takes me two hours to do the report, it's like making $100 per hour. It's just that I have to spend it at a certain restaurant.

One I won't take is the Brazilian steakhouse because I'm leery of that MSC not accepting my report and not reimbursing. I've had some issues that weren't resolved on other shops for them.

If I want to go over reimbursement to try something I normally wouldn't order, I do and feel like I got a deal. Just like was mentioned above.

Here's what my niece replied when I asked if she'd like me to take her to a $200 meal:

"I mean TS Steakhouse and Wildflowers are both super high class places I usually don't want to pay for myself, so if someone wants to go to one of those for free, I'd be down! "

Therefore, I get the enjoyment of showing her a good time and showing her how mystery shopping works.

Oh, and I'm also FORCED to take two to three other shops in the casino that will pay me about $100 in gambling/drink/valet reimbursement and fees.

I've taken two college students on these fine dining shops and they were just blown away since they had never had that type meal experience.

Sometimes there are reasons to do things other than money.

I am usually able to enjoy the meal. My biggest problem is getting my guests to understand they have to let the wait staff do their job, good or bad,so I can report on how they did.

I agree with Texas Roadhouse. They just opened another one near me. Any idea how long the new locations take to be shopped?
The $200+ restaurant reports usually take me over 3 hours... foot stamping, whining, and carrying on does not make it go any faster. If I'm going to someplace like Roy's, I want to enjoy my meal, flirt with my husband, and maybe have one too many glasses of wine. (He's a non-drinker so I have a built in DD.) An hour and a half, maybe 2 is the max report length I can tolerate anymore.
i did a fast casual restaurant for Coyle one time and one time only. It was order at the counter and they will bring you the food. I believe the pay was also 10 bucks and my reimbursement was 25.00. OMG, never again. That was not worth it to me, with the amount of detail they wanted. They asked me for MORE detail regarding when the manager came to my table and placed down my plate. Thats what happened and I struggled to come up with MORE to write. I can only imagine what their fine dining shops are like. I won't take them, I would not be able to enjoy myself. Even for the 15-20 pay( whatever they pay).
I have mainly avoided restaurant mystery shops. Now and then one is avaialable at a time and place that suits my husband and me, and I do it.
@Niner wrote:

The PF Chang report is not bad at all, nothing like this company's normal reports.

Golden Corral still gets shopped (we went).

Also, how would the MSC know what your salary is? I put accurate info when I signed up, and I am sure we are honest with this stuff, but how would they know?

They (the client, not the MSC) wants somebody to shop the location that could actually be a regular customer and go there on their own. People who make under $50,000 don't usually go to Ruth's Chris. They go to Chili's.
"People who make under $50,000 don't usually go to Ruth's Chris. They go to Chili's."

That depends entirely on where one lives. Most income requirements don't factor in how varied the cost of living is from one city to another.

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.
Lisa, most people who make $50,000 a year, don't go out for a lot of $200 dinners. They also don't go to a lot of Ritz Carlton resorts and spend $3000 on a weekend. They are looking for their typical demographic.
Why wrosie? Not everyone does it for the money. I first started doing it to learn my way around a new city.

The internet doesn't make you smart. It makes you good at regurgitation.
After a while, it gets pretty easy to note the things I'm looking for. Not a big deal to text myself the timings as they happen. Sometimes I run my audio recorder to make sure I get the quotes right or very specific timings. I don't usually have to listen to it, or at least not the whole thing.

I'm not interested in doing these shops for no fee if it's not somewhere I would choose to eat. I pick and choose the ones that are worth it to me.

Why would you take one that requires $5-$10 in gas? Most do take over an hour to report and submit pictures and receipts. I have found that with experience I write narratives faster. I don't ponder how to phrase things as much anymore, and that helps a lot.

I would not do these if it took away from my enjoyment of the visit.
@wrosie You are incorrect, I make over that number, and know plenty of other shoppers who do. I find it interesting that you think MSing is just for people making a certain amount of income. Extra money is extra money, and people who are willing to hustle and work hard would enjoy this work, no mater their full time/other income.

Orlando - lightly shopping NC


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/06/2018 04:25PM by oteixeira.
I agree with oteixeira. I also make over that amount and I know several shoppers who do, too. I shop for the extra money. I shop more for the reimbursements than for the fees. If I made half my salary, I would probably be more interested in fees than in reimbursements.
I work part time as an attorney( I work from home). My wife is a Sgt with LAPD. Our combined household income is well over 200k and yet I still MS. It gets me out of the house and I try to combine shops with my errands. On our last vacation to FL, I did 2 very easy grocery shops in the town we stayed in.( I had to be at the grocery store anyway, so why not?) and a reimbursement ONLY dinner for ACL. I also took a reimbursement only meal at the airport since we usually arrive at the airport 2 hours before our flight. I also try to find ROSS shops whenever we travel since we usually go there anyway to browse around.
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