By Adrienne Dobson

As a mystery shopper, you become very accustomed to observing closely the actions of those in the service industry.   How long did it take to be greeted at the hostess stand?  Did the hostess talk to you on the way to the table?  Pull out a chair?  Hand you  the menu, open to the correct page?  Mystery shoppers are basically given a check list of a business’ service standards, and their job is to communicate which of these standards are and are not being done.

Nowadays, more and more businesses are utilizing mystery shopping as a tool, giving shoppers a large variety of shopping opportunities.  One day you could be shopping fast food restaurants up and down the highway, and the next night be mystery shopping a fine dining restaurant and enjoying a $50 steak dinner.   Clearly we know that we can’t expect the same service standards from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse to be applied at your neighborhood Applebee’s or Chili’s.  But when it comes to the restaurants and businesses you visit as part of your daily life, has your mystery shopping experiences changed your typical service expectations?


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 Think about the last few times you went to out to eat for lunch or dinner, specifically your interaction with the hostess the moment you entered the restaurant.  Nine times out of ten, you are met with a smile and an expectant look.   No welcome or how are you, but just raised eyebrows, a smile, and maybe an awkward pause before you jump in to say how many and where you want to sit.  Is this okay?  Is this the norm and what is to be expected?  Mystery shoppers know that that’s not what is supposed to happen, but is this something that would bother you as a normal customer?  It can be hard for shoppers to take a step back from their ultra observant behavior and just enjoy a nice meal out, and I know I have to remind myself to do that.

But while we don’t want to hold every restaurant to the same standards, we have to have SOME expectations, right?  The other day, we stopped at a new restaurant nearby called Blackwater Draw Brewing Company, and made our THIRD attempt to eat there.  That’s right, this was attempt number three.  Others seemed to like the food (when they were able to get it), and we REALLY wanted to try it and like it ourselves.  The first time, it was packed and we couldn’t find a table.  The second time, we sat down but couldn’t get anyone to come serve us.  They had only been open a few weeks at that point, so we cut them some slack and planned to give them a few months before we tried again.

Third try, here we go.  No hostess here, but the bartender yelled out to us to say we could sit wherever we wanted.  As we walked through the dining room to do so, we could see five servers gathered around a high-top table, laughing and goofing around.  Sure, it seemed like a fun place to work, but how do you think it worked out for us?  We sit down, about two minutes go by…. Nothing.  I made eye contact with the bartender and started to wave, and he promptly looked away. Another few minutes… Nothing.  I finally walk up to the group of servers and ask for menus.  One of them says sure, he’ll get someone to help us.   Liar liar pants on fire.  He immediately returned to his conversation, quickly erasing my presence from his mind.  A server finally did show up near us to close out the table next to us.  When we tried to talk to her, she told us she was going on break and turned her back to us.  There was nothing about this visit that was okay.  We gave it a few more minutes, waving a few times, but always met with someone’s back or someone quickly avoiding eye contact.  Were we supposed to beg?  Do a song and dance in exchange for a meal?  We knew not to expect five star service, but is it too much that we were just expecting to be served at all?


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I have a pretty open mind when it comes to service.  I’m not expecting perfection, but at this point…. Three strikes and you’re out, Blackwater Draw.  And if you’re interested, check us out at  We can help!



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