As a shopper the typical step after confirming an assignment is reviewing the shop guidelines. Many of the instructions are boilerplate, such as attention to detail, discretion, objectivity, but a number of reports have additional rules and restrictions you have follow to make your report complete and acceptable.

Although some guidelines may seem overly restrictive, there is a good reason for all of them. Understanding why they are important to the client and Reality Based Group gives you insight into the purpose of mystery shopping and makes the job more interesting.

Time Frames

While many shops can be performed any time during business hours, restaurant and bar shops in particular will often require you to shop during specified hours. The client usually wants shoppers to visit locations during peak business hours so they can see how the staff performs during busy times. If you visit these venues during off hours and you’re the only customer, you’re more likely to receive top notch service than if you are part of the lunch or dinner rush. Rush times present a more challenging scenario for staff members. Dinner evaluations may have shopping hours that end an hour or two before the restaurant closes so you’re not being served during closing procedures, which often detract from customer focus and limit menu options.

When a shop requires you spend a prescribed amount of time in the bar or restaurant, the purpose is twofold. First, you shouldn’t appear rushed, as typical patrons don’t drink, dine and dash. In addition, if you hurry through your visit, there’s an increased chance you’ll overlook details or forget to assess the restroom or other peripheral areas covered in the report.

One Drink Limit

This rule exists for several reasons. Since too much alcohol dulls the senses, the accuracy of report details runs the risk of decline with more than one drink. Also, if a shopper overindulges, the importance of appearing as a non-descript customer is compromised. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, RBG and their clients don’t want anyone breaking the law by driving while intoxicated or endangering themselves or others.

Food & Drink Guidelines

If a restaurant is featuring a new promotional item or running a special on existing menu items, you may be required to purchase those selections as part of your shop. This is often required to test the marketing expertise and knowledge skills of the server/order taker. The same applies to specialty drinks an establishment is famous for: clients want to be sure their celebrated beverages are being properly promoted. Occasionally food restrictions are imposed to help you blend in with regular customers. For example, bar customers normally don’t consume sweet foods, so shoppers are sometimes asked not to order dessert during their bar visit assignments.

Children & Guests

Many quick service and fast food shops have no restrictions on children accompanying shoppers. In fact, if special services such as coloring books are part of regular service, a child may be required to accompany you on the shop. However, for sit-down dining restaurants and bar shops, children are often restricted. It’s not a case of excluding children but simply a matter of distraction. When you have to be aware of so many details in your shop review, the presence of children can significantly increase the chance of your attention being diverted. This also applies to many hotel, valet, real estate and retail specialty stores.

Guests can also be distracting, which is why the majority of hospitality shops (restaurants and hotels) have guidelines that have one guest limits. It’s easy to stay focused on timing and details with just one person accompanying you but the chances for missing something increases exponentially with each guest you add to the group.

Signs & Packaging

If you shop quick service, drive-thru and take-out restaurants, you know that reports often have questions regarding signage on restaurant walls, POP displays, reader boards and menu boards. While these questions may seem unrelated to your service reports, clients need to know that costly promotional materials are being displayed on schedule and in conformance with corporate guidelines, both of which can considerably impact store sales. The same logic applies to packaging. Custom packaging is a big part of overhead, so clients need assurance their name and logo are prominently displayed on cups, containers and bags.

Knowing the reasons certain questions are asked on reports gives shoppers a clearer understanding of why information is gathered. Your concise and clear answers to every question on reports are vital to clients being able to improve their service and increase profits.

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