Dinner Shop With A Friend- Over Budget?

I’ve generally only done shops with a family member, so this has never come up. Last time I had dinner with a friend we were talking about my doing shops. She said she would love to do one and it seemed to be a good way to have a night out that was not going to cost us much, if anything. So we decided to get together and I said I would look for a shop. We are going to have dinner.

The thing is, the reimbursement is pretty tight. It doesn’t allow for much deviation from the required items. Obviously not all shops are like that, so some places wouldn’t be an issue.

If we stick to the basics, we can have everything reimbursed, including tax and tip. How do you handle any costs beyond that? A drink is required, as is 2 desserts. I don’t necessarily want either of those, but they are part of the shop. So I have a glass of wine at the bar for that part of the shop, then she arrives and we go sit down. If we just order entrees, non alcoholic drinks and the dessert, it’s around budget. Let’s say she wants an appetizer or a drink or a side- how would you handle the amount over the reimbursement? Because the other thing is, if she has that, maybe I’d want it too- so do we split the overage ($10?12?). It feels cheap not to cover it myself but 1. I’m going home to write the report 2. we talked about making it an ongoing thing to do occasionally so I feel like we should have a kind of “plan”. I feel silly not ordering something that I want so that she can have something that she wants and all of that in order not to go over the budget.

It just feels awkward. It seems like she could potentially feel like she is paying for something of mine but I am getting reimbursed for hers. Even though we all know that I have to do the work and incur the cost until it’s reimbursed (with the risk that something goes wrong and I don’t even get reimbursed).

I hate ungracious situations like this! Any advice?

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/06/2019 05:59AM by Piti.

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If she wants to get into mystery shopping, then perhaps a lesson in ordering requirements and staying under reimbursement amount will be useful.
I think she likes *accompanying* a mystery shopper, not doing it herself! smiling smiley

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/06/2019 06:03AM by Piti.
When I go with a friend, the friend I usually take along is one of the most kind and generous people I know. Without hesitation, she will gladly pick up the tip and split any over budget amount. I tell her the reimbursement amount ahead of time since we are close friends. Family and some others tend to let me pay the whole bill thinking I'm being reimbursed, after all. huh. Hubby sometimes pays the whole thing himself and then @#$%& about it later. If it's a night out and you invited the guest, pay the bill and forget it. If it's understood as a regular outing for MSing, be sure to set limits and don't be shy about accepting $ help, especially if she wants to "get into it" herself.

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A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.

Zen Shin Talks
There are two options:

1. She pays for the overage and just enjoy her meal.

2. She assist you with names, timings, pictures, descriptions etc and the two of you split the difference.

While you have to write the report, you also need a guest to attend so you both are benefiting.
If she understands that you have a budget beyond which you won't be reimbursed, and she opts for something that puts you over that budget, I think she should pay for that item or, as eyelove2shop says, she can help you with timings, observations, etc., and you can either pay for her overage or split it down the middle.

This assumes that the budget amount covers a decent meal, so you both don't go hungry, and it sounds like it does. Entrees, drinks, and dessert sound pretty good; my husband and I usually don't order appetizers or desserts if not required, because it will put us too far over reimbursement. If she wants an appetizer, maybe the two of you can order one you both like and split it and the cost. It's different with family, of course. I usually set pretty strict limits on what they can order, but sill ask them to help with observations.

Or you pay the overage sometimes, and she pays it sometimes. But it's definitely a great idea to have a plan ahead of time!

I learn something new every day, but not everyday!
I've learned to never trust spell-check or my phone's auto-fill feature.
@BirdyC wrote:

I usually set pretty strict limits on what they can order, but sill ask them to help with observations.

I took my sibling with me to an upscale hotel restaurant breakfast audit. My only requirement was assistance with names. I asked what was the host name while we were eating and my sibling said, "Cathy". The host name was Cynthia, I saw it before we sat down. As we were leaving I asked my sibling for the host name again and they repeated Cathy. *rollseyes* I then asked the host a question so we could both be in view of the name badge and it said "Cynthia" *facepalm* I told my sibling they had ONE job. Now they are not trusted to do anything but take pictures LOL
I do not worry about occassionally going over the reimbursement. In most cases, especially with Coyle, that is never a concern.

I have no problem treating a friend or loved one to a meal at a nice restaurant. At work I might pick up the lunch bill for a coworker, typically around $10.

For mystery shopping:
In most cases the fee I receive covers the small overages I may incur. Let's say for a two person meal there is a $35 reimbursement plus $15 fee. The total bill might be $40 up to $60 with tip. I see this as an opportunity to treat someone to a nicer meal. Same for a $150 reimbursement with $20 fee. If occasionally we went a little over, so what.

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Or, when I dare, I treat a friend out without telling them that it’s a shop and they are amazed that I picked up a large tab. Of course, it’s a huge gamble but I’ve managed to pull it off a couple times when I knew there were no specific ordering requirements/forbidden items.
I have a small rotation of friends who come with me on shops. Two of them are helpful with observations, and all of them have no problem covering overage and/or a tip.

My husband has finally come around on shopping and is sometimes helpful instead of hindering. He had a tendency to talk about Fight Club at Fight Club, which was so annoying.
Anytime it’s a one-off kind of thing, yes it’s just a heavily discounted treat that isn’t a big deal to cover.

But our resources are vastly different, and at this time I wouldn’t be doing dinner very often at all if I had to pay for it. If we could stay within the budget I don’t mind at all doing the “work” with her helping to notice some details. But if it’s a regular thing we do with overages that feel petty to quibble over, it turns unpleasant.

I know to a guest it looks “free”, but it’s not really.
Sometimes it's best to not do that unless you don't mind picking up the overages. It's surely not worth losing a friendship over.

I have gotten to the point where I won't take my husband on dining shops very often. He will order lobster and steak if it's allowed, or the lamb chops, scallops, etc. And if we have to order a bottle of wine, you can guess it's not less than $50. We tend to go WAY over the reimbursement, so unless I have the extra $$ to spare, I won't accept them. I don't mind treating him occasionally but I would have no money for groceries and pedicures if we did them regularly!
I guess it depends on what kind of friend it is. A nice acquaintance that you enjoy spending time with? If you're in polite company, do not quibble over money. If it's a best bud that has seen you at your worst and loves you anyway, talk it over and see what works. It might be helpful for to her to hear about MS'ing and that awful "B" word....budget.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/06/2019 03:32PM by Monk-N-Nut.
Surely someone has produced the official (or unofficial) 'Rules for Guests of Mystery Shoppers'. ?!?!?

1.There is a budget. All budgets were not created equally.
2. Your host/hostess may or may not have a big heart or a big budget for your personally preferred expensive goodies.
3. Even if your host/hostess has not reviewed the guidelines with you, use common sense and ask tactfully worded questions. 'Shall I have water, which is good for my waistline, or is there a budget or requirement for something else today?' 'The lobster sounds terrific! I think it is extravagant, but worthy of a contribution. Later, we will work something out. I can treat you to lunch, give you cash, or whatever seems good to you.'

.. September is dressing herself in showy dahlias and splendid marigolds and starry zinnias. October, the extravagant sister, has ordered an immense amount of the most gorgeous forest tapestry for her grand reception. - Oliver Wendell Holmes
I take (only) one friend who doesn't eat a lot and puts down the tip and is very happy to see me, and get a meal...if I were afraid of the person ordering more than required, I'd definitely clue her in as to the requirements and that you have a certain reimbursement. Being afraid tells me maybe you shouldn't take her/him I would NOT pay over my reimbursement, unless I was taking my daughter, and she wouldn't order more being very aware of cost.
They know it's a job, so should not want to take advantage.

Live consciously....


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/06/2019 03:21PM by Irene_L.A..
If I were the guest I would think this way too- aware of the constraints. I would think, ok, we get to have a night out, we both enjoy an 80-100 dinner- if there’s a $10 overage, she’s writing the report/dealing with the company, I pay the $10, we both made it happen, it’s good.
My husband pays all the household bills. If we do restaurant shops, i make sure it's in my budget for him to get whatever he wants.
I take a slightly different approach. As we all know well in advance both the ordering requirements and the max reimbursement, I simply tell my guest before they accept my invitation what they cannot order and how much they may spend; there is not any discussion of either options or excesses. If my conditions are unacceptable, they have merely to pass on the meal. Employing that method, I have only had a single problem; the guest, in anger, arose and walked out of the eatery.
I would never ask a guest to pay overages on a shop. If they went crazy they would not accompany me on a shop in the future. I want the tip in the credit card receipt to document I paid at least the required percentage, so they don't get to pay that either. I do go over the order requirements with them before we go and have them understand there is no 'shop' talk during the meal as there are unwanted ears everywhere. I've had overall very good luck with it and the benefit to me is that I have been 'guest' on their shops or just an invited guest.
This is a great way to "pay back" as I go to my friends house for Thanksgiving and certain Jewish holidays. I am happy to "pay back" with a free dinner for her, and have never been taken advantage of, if so, they would no longer be my guest. I once took our beloved Steve
for lunch and he ordered the least expensive item on the menu and took down names on phone. Thinking about it later, I wished he would have ordered a more expensive meal as I had a huge reimbursement and stayed way under. Anyone out there needing a partner, I promise not to over spend, just PM me....smiling smiley

Live consciously....
it depends on how much over we go, I usually go with the same person and she knows what we have to spend. \On occasion she will pay the valet if it is not covered in the reimbursement If we go over more than 5-6 dollars, we just split it. Considering that we usually eat only 1/2 a meal, we are both getting an additional meal.
We do try to stay within the budget, however.
I am doing a high-end dinner next week with a $180 reimbursement that we will probably not come close to spending since they are offering 3-course meals for $39 that cover all the requirements so we will not be spending all that we have on this occasion.
My boyfriend is a great sport with all the rules and requirements (sure, you can take a picture of every single thing we order immediately as it arrives at the table, I'll even remind you subtly to take a picture if it slips your mind momentarily. Sure, we can sit at the bar for 20 minutes before the meal and wait for our "friend" who is running late. Sure, we can get dessert, even though I don't want any).

But he also likes to order steaks. Which rarely fit within the reimbursement. I don't usually tell him what the reimbursement amount is, because he likes what he likes and if I made a big deal about it, he would try to order something cheaper that he wouldn't enjoy. I'd rather pay $20 out of my pocket for a great meal than be fully reimbursed or make a small profit for a mediocre meal. But people shop for different reasons.

It's too bad none of my friends are shoppers. I would make a fantastic guest. I can entertain myself and don't need to distract you while you're concentrating. I don't really like steak or shellfish and tend to order moderately priced meals naturally. And I'm a lightweight who rarely orders more than one drink at a bar or restaurant (and a well drink at that!)

Shopper in California's Bay Area
This is definitely an interesting topic...enjoying reading the responses!
When my husband was alive, we always discussed the reimbursement amounts and what we needed to order. In advance, we knew if it was a high-end steak house and we wanted to go over by a few dollars to get an amazing meal, we did. On most others, we stayed within budget.
Now I have a small rotation of friends who go with me. They know that my finances have changed and I am on a tight budget (I mean financially, not MS budget). In advance, I explain the ordering requirements and the amount of reimbursement. I have one friend who is extremely frugal (okay, cheap) and she makes sure that we never go over. The others always say, "If we go over, I am happy to throw in the difference." When we have exceeded, it's generally been just a couple dollars and I don't take their money. Once or twice, we made a conscious decision to go over and we split the overage or she paid it if she was drinking and I was not, etc. If I ever felt I was beling taken advantage of, that would be the last time I invited that person.
@Eileen, that's exactly how I do it. If they want to go over, pay the extra, if not, no problem.

If WE go over for a fantastic meal experience, split the difference.
One time I took a friend on a shop but didn’t tell her it was one. I didn’t exactly tell her what to order but I was able to talk her out of some things since I was treating. Now I take my sister on shops, send her some food guidelines beforehand so she knows the order limits and she always offers to pay the tip. I don’t really ask her to help with the report other than give her opinions on the food.

On the few shops that I have gone over reimbursement I try to think of it as being able to get this amazing meal for only xxx amount more, as opposed to me losing money.
I agree with some of the posts. Let your friend know we get reimbursed for a specific amount and they don't budge on that.

Agree beforehand on what will happen with any extra/ over budget items, and tipping, and enjoy your dinner
@eyelove2shop wrote:

@BirdyC wrote:

I told my sibling they had ONE job. Now they are not trusted to do anything but take pictures LOL

Oh, my! LOL.

My crew is really good about helping with server names and descriptions, my husband helps with timings, and I'm the photographer as well as also doing timings and observations. But it's so nice to have backup to verify some of that. I'm good with names, but not so much things like eye color, height, etc. (I'm very short, so to me everybody looks tall!)

I learn something new every day, but not everyday!
I've learned to never trust spell-check or my phone's auto-fill feature.
We almost always go over reimbursement, whether it's just my husband and me, or all four of us. But I don't mind, because we eat at places more often than we ordinarily could. Once my DH and I were under reimbursement and were ticked at ourselves because we felt we should have ordered more....

I learn something new every day, but not everyday!
I've learned to never trust spell-check or my phone's auto-fill feature.
First of all, Eileen, I am so sorry for your loss.

I am really happy that you have smart and conscientious friends! Not everyone is so lucky.

@EileenS wrote:

This is definitely an interesting topic...enjoying reading the responses!
When my husband was alive, we always discussed the reimbursement amounts and what we needed to order. In advance, we knew if it was a high-end steak house and we wanted to go over by a few dollars to get an amazing meal, we did. On most others, we stayed within budget.
Now I have a small rotation of friends who go with me. They know that my finances have changed and I am on a tight budget (I mean financially, not MS budget). In advance, I explain the ordering requirements and the amount of reimbursement. I have one friend who is extremely frugal (okay, cheap) and she makes sure that we never go over. The others always say, "If we go over, I am happy to throw in the difference." When we have exceeded, it's generally been just a couple dollars and I don't take their money. Once or twice, we made a conscious decision to go over and we split the overage or she paid it if she was drinking and I was not, etc. If I ever felt I was beling taken advantage of, that would be the last time I invited that person.
I have a reliable friend but she lives quite a distance. However, she would always make sure to order within the reimbursement, and forego drinks and coffee to stay within it.

A neighbor whom I don't invite anymore never contributes anything. She won't even pay the bridge toll when I drive. And when we went over, she pretends she did not understand what I said about going over the reimbursement. She kept saying, "You get paid for this job, right?" I replied, No, the pay is the dinner. And there is a limit to the reimbursement. Anyway, I no longer invite her ever.

@shopsuey wrote:

I have a small rotation of friends who come with me on shops. Two of them are helpful with observations, and all of them have no problem covering overage and/or a tip.

My husband has finally come around on shopping and is sometimes helpful instead of hindering. He had a tendency to talk about Fight Club at Fight Club, which was so annoying.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/07/2019 03:16AM by ShopperFun99.
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