My Mystery Shopping Experience: Such a Thing as Free Lunch?

Editor’s Note: I love it when people do experiments with their time and money. Especially in areas where the truth needs to come out. Here’s Katie Turner sharing her mystery shopping experience.

I love experiments, and this one is great. She shares her mystery shopping experience and shows the truth about making money to help restaurants.

A few months ago, a friend started asking me to join her for lunch.

She’d always pick up the tab!

As it turns out, she was secretly reviewing the restaurant as a mystery shopper. So, the lunches were free!

After some very yummy and fun lunches, I decided to check things out and become a mystery shopper myself.

It’s been a fun experience. Today, I’ll help you separate fact from fiction when it comes to getting your free lunch.

What is Mystery Shopping?

Stores / Restaurants hire mystery shopping companies to send in shoppers to evaluate service. When a customer is not served well in today’s social media environment, they can easily share with hundreds of others about their bad experience.

Retailers want independent and impartial feedback about service and products from someone paying close attention. Mystery shopping is another way for retailers to make sure training for employees is effective.

1. Mystery Shopping Makes You Money: Fiction

People think they can become a mystery shopper and make money in their free time.

I think a more accurate truth of what happens is that you eat at no cost in exchange for your time.

I’ve mystery shopped several lunches and dinners with my husband, friend or family member, and I almost always spend about the amount I’m getting reimbursed.

For example, mystery shopping pays a reimbursement amount, say $40, for two people to each lunch plus a $5 payment.

So if two people order the food and drinks required in the shop event, the bill will likely be about $40. You only get reimbursed the amount you spend up to the limit plus the payment.

If I spend $38 on lunch, I’d be paid $38 plus $5.

If I spend $50 on lunch, I’d be reimbursed the full $40 plus $5. I wouldn’t get paid the whole $50.

This isn’t most people’s idea of making money. But you do get the food and time with your guest.

For me, I save a lot of money in my entertainment budget for the month and have a great time eating out three to four times a month.

2. Mystery Shopping is Easy: Fact​

If you can read a set of requirements and can pay attention to detail, then mystery shopping is easy. Before I go do a “shop”, I have to review what is required.

For example:

  • what food do I need to order
  • what details do I need to know
  • do I need to make a reservations
  • etc.

I also get a very extensive questionnaire from the place I’m about to shop. I review the questionnaire a few times before I go in the location, so the questions are fresh on my mind.

While at the event, I might need to note the time, take photos, or remember a few names. I get my guest to help me if necessary.

After I get home, I quickly work on the questionnaire while the details are fresh in my mind. I find the questionnaires take me about an hour to fill out. I could take more time if the experience were really poor or really great.

I try to do my best and fill in a lot of information. If I got to have a $25 – $60 meal with a friend, I think that is a fair trade for a bit over an hour of my time.

3. Mystery Shopping is a Scam: It Depends

Some people can get tricked into thinking they are working as a mystery shopper when in fact they are not. I was referred to a company by a friend and had to fill out a lengthy application to join the company.

Mystery shopping companies are going to make you apply for the shopping jobs; they are not going to email you out of the blue.

Legitimate companies will not ask you to do cash checking or any money transfers at Western Union or Moneygram, etc.

A good place to start looking for mystery shopping work is at these two legitimate websites:

Mystery shopping is fun and not too hard! Check out these websites and start eating or shopping for free!

About Katie Turner

Katie Turner is the wife of Scott Alan Turner – personal finance blogger and podcaster who will show you how to be a financial rocks star.

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  1. Avatar Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life says:

    I tried mystery shopping once and that was enough for me. There are just far too many more effective and efficient ways of making money.

  2. Mystery shopping copies what I believed started first in the hotel industry as Mystery guest, but it’s a biased way in my opinion to get genuine reviews unless the customer is really a Mystery to the restaurant.

  3. Avatar Simon @ CafeCredit says:

    I’d never even heard of “mystery shopping” before… I’ll definitely be checking it out. Nothing wrong with getting some free food 🙂

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