Is "Mystery Shopping" Worth the Stress?

For the past few years, I’ve done a few “mystery shopping” meals through the firm Coyle Hospitality. While many mystery shopping companies are scams, Coyle is an actual legit business that is decent to do work for.

They only do restaurants, hotels and spas. The hotel shops are generally during the week (when I have work) and spa shops are, not surprisingly, difficult to get. However, every once in a while I’ll sign up and get assigned a shop at a restaurant.

I always drag a guest along… usually my boyfriend… and we try really hard to pay attention during the meal and memorize the majority of important interactions made between us and the staff. In the end, though, we both spend upwards of five hours on the report, and yet we still manage to make mistakes (both due to confusing instructions and error in consistency — you have to note the exact time dishes were served and taken away, etc, in numerous locations on the report) and my scorecard is only in the average range.

So I wonder if mystery shopping is really worth it. Sure, we get a free expensive meal ($100+), but the dining experience is not all that pleasant due to being paranoid the whole time about paying attention to the details. The actual “shop” takes about two hours to complete, or more if the restaurant happens to have slow service. You usually have to do a shop at the bar first, where you go and spy on the bartender(s) and “wait” for your guest to arrive.

The meal, however, is the “pay.” Well, that, and a $15 “fee” you get with each shop, which basically covers the cost of gas or a train ticket to get to the restaurant for two people.

Currently, as a freelance writer, I charge $25 an hour for my services. My boyfriend, who is also a writer and editor, makes about $15 an hour. So figure that, given our current wages, our time would be worth about $40 per hour… maybe $30 with taxes taken out.

On the last assignment, we spent two hours dining, and then five hours filling out the report. That’s seven hours… and at our ‘after tax’ rate, that would still be $210. The total reimbursement I’ll be seeing for the lunch shop will be $112, including the $15 fee.

I don’t mind the pay difference, though, as I’d never spend money frivolously on ordering a three-course meal at a supposed fine dining establishment, but what really irks me is that regardless of how much time I spend proofreading my report, I still manage to make mistakes.

My earlier report scores have disappeared from my account for some reason. They score out of 20, and I’ve scored 18 and 19 in the past. But this recent report (which, due to the extremely slow timing of the restaurant, caused my boyfriend to miss his $80 voice lesson that afternoon) we scored a measly 16 on.

While I agree that the report should follow their style and be consistent, I also wonder what kind of scores other people are getting reporting for this company. After all, my boyfriend and I are professional writers and editors. The report submission system does not make it easy to compare notes between different pages and to proofread for inconsistencies.

Meanwhile, I feel like I could pretty much make up the entire report, and as long as I followed their guidelines, they’d give me a great score. But instead, I include material that I believe is of value to their client. Apparently, I’m over-thinking the job. Maybe their client just wants to hear that their restaurant is perfect, and they’ll be satisfied.

I’ve requested another shop, but I’m not sure I’ll get it. I’d like to do a spa shop, as it would be nice to experience a spa without having to feel wasteful spending money on a massage and other treatments. But I doubt they’ll assign someone with a “16” score one of their precious spa reviews. Oh well.

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4 thoughts on “Is "Mystery Shopping" Worth the Stress?”

  1. Interesting read on Mystery Shopping, I signed up for one a few weeks ago for a local restraunt,but they chose someone else so I have not yet experienced my first Mystery Shop..Also I Imagine you get a good deal of traffic to your website and I have found a program that pays you for 100% of the visitors to your blog/website..Get more Info Here:

  2. I have been working for Coyle in the UK for a few months, and am glad to finally have found someone else who agrees with me when it comes to their scoring.I've been really positive about it until my most recent score of 15 – which according to the new scoring system is a score that is so low, they will not consider giving any future shops!I spent 12 hours writing over 11,000 words for a hotel and spa report, and my mistakes were during the reservation section and formatting(which I thought would be reasonable for a first shop). I made no errors with the contents or the shop itself. I've been pretty upset about it for the past few days, but am trying to remind myself that this is a special perk and not my full time. But I wholeheartedly agree – I've been shopping for well over a year. Coyle shops are difficult to enjoy as you spend most of your time worrying about the forthcoming report. Other companies may not offer 'luxury' shops but the reports are such a breeze in comparison.

  3. I recently did my first shop with Coyle and I don’t even know where to find my “scorecard”! I have no idea what score I made. I was not aware I would need the exact TIMES we ordered, the dishes were taken away, the next course was ordered, placed in front of us, the TIME I ordered a drink, the TIME it was delivered, etc… as it was expressly noted in the paperwork that my cell phone was not to be out. How was I supposed to note the times? I guess-timated the AMOUNT of time it took for all of these things in my original report, but I received an email wanting the times. I was confused and it did take a long time to do the report- now I just want to know what they “scored” me.

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