Posted by: Orlick | January 26, 2008

The Secret Shopper is Real!

Edit – Payment became tough. I do not recommend Mystery Guest anymore. LINK

First, a personal note: One of the goals of this blog was accomplished! Although not entirely how I anticipated, I am glad to fulfill my goal of being paid to eat and write about a restaurant!

You see advertisements in every circular, newspaper, and magazine in existence claiming to hire you as a secret shopper. They are most likely all fake. How do they make money? I have no idea and I do not want to find out. I probably have already submitted naive applications to these places already, and who knows where my information currently resides. Good thing I ignore credit scores. But not Brass Knuckles! You steal my identity, I’ll break yo windo!

In December, I read an article touting 3 supposedly legitimate secret shopper programs. One company got back to me after applying. I submitted to them a writing sample of mine depicting good and bad aspects of an eating experience. They claimed to pay attention to grammar, punctuation, and fairness. They probably do not want to look stupid either.

The Mystery Guest Group includes three privately held corporations, including Keeping Tabs, Inc.,, Inc. and Mystery Guest, Inc., which was founded in 1992. Serving a wide range of hospitality and business clients across the U.S.A.
How do I become a secret shopper?

Mystery Guest, Inc. sent me an email which seemed legit. They asked me to call and set up a visit where I would essentially audit a restaurant. It seemed like a small office and a real company. I spoke to 2 representatives and they got me set up to make “visits” to restaurants as they come up.

The pay scale depends on a lunch or dinner call. It may depend on the place, but for where I went they reimbursed $25 for lunch and $35 for dinner PLUS $5 on top of that as your official pay. You are required to bring a guest with you.

The restaurants participating in this are doing so to test their own staff. Seems pretty expensive for an audit, but these are high volume restaurants or chains (one offering was at Cheesecake Factory) which have these big company rules for their waitstaff as to how much flair to wear and proper greetings and suggestions for appetizers. I suspect they will all be larger chains unfortunately.

The work involved is not a 5 minute task. I would say it took 20-30 minutes to fill out the paperwork the first time. It is all on the computer, but I wanted to be thorough to make sure I would be reimbursed. There are yes/no questions and some essays.

They ask you to pay attention to certain aspects of the restaurant, sometimes specific to the restaurant itself. I was told to go to the bathroom and see if the people wore gloves behind the counter. I was told to order a glass of water (later I realized that this was to see if the wait staff asked me if I wanted “Spring Water” or regular).

I really got into it! When I was in the bathroom, a member of the kitchen staff stepped in. I finished first but I wasn’t about to leave. I had to make sure this man washed his hands after going number 1. It was my responsibility. I took my time at the sink, dried my hands until they were being sanded by the paper bag napkins, and only after the Dominican reached for the soap did I leave. I was 007 health inspector for those few moments.

I gave mixed reviews of the experience. Some of my friends believe I should have gone easy on them because perhaps someone would be fired. I say I take my jobs seriously, if they are paying me I will do my best and not hold back. Anything that was done that is done wrong should be corrected – and I’m not talking about poor suggestions for appetizers, I am talking about unsanitary actions that actually made me a bit uneasy.

In summation: It’s real. Mystery Guest, Inc. – The holy grail of the secret shopper. It’s real.

I have not yet been reimbursed. It’s been only a week since. I expect to though. I really doubt this will be a scam involving the restaurant I visited.



  1. hi andrew silvestri im intersted in being a mystery shopper i found companies are not legit plaese email more info

  2. Mystery Guest Inc is a scam when it gets down to it. They will not pay you when you do the job for any technicial reason they can think of.

  3. Jeffrey, did you ever get paid?

    • I think I was never paid for the last one I did.

  4. All my experiences with Mystery Guest were positive. I’ve been a member for 7 or 8 years. I started in Austin, TX where we went to Bahama Breeze. Later my wife and I moved to San Jose. Out here we have been to Cheesecake Factory in Palo Alto, Santa Clara, San Jose and Pleasanton. Basically all my experiences were good. You just have to follow the guidelines and complete the 110+ questions, which includes a few blocks to input some subjective responses. It usually took me about an hour. Be sure to submit before the deadline. I was late once, but after contacting them all was okay. I will admit I think I was a very good client, providing fairly detailed comments when requested. They pay out once a month on the 20th. Initially I got cash, now I get a Cheesecake Factory gift card preloaded with the promised refund. I recommend based upon my experience.

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