Random Observations From Dining Out

For almost two years, I've been doing secret shopping for a Florida based company. Mostly, it is bars and restaurants, with the occasional foray into other things. Primarily, though, I do restaurants at the rate of one or two a month.

The whole point of the exercise is to be the eyes for the business owner. Think about it-don't you dot your i's and cross your t's when the boss is around? By hiring shoppers to visit, they get the view that the average customer gets.

For me, it was a good side thing to do. I grew up around restaurants and spent all those years in retail. Things I tend to observe might be why the business has been in a slump-or why they've done better but didn't know why.

Yesterday was one of my worst. While there, a friend and I were talking about horrible dining experiences, because this ranked up there for both of us (and she doesn't do shops, she came along at my request.) So, some observations from the experience.

*If customers have one menus folded and pushed out to the end of the table, it either means they don't want to order food or that they've made their decision. But if one is folded out and the other person is actively looking at the menu when you take the appetizer order, it is a good bet they will be ordering dinner.*

*The time to ask if the appetizer is okay is soon after it's delivered, not ten minutes later, when it has been finished.*

*If someone is sitting at a table, presume that they are ordering dinner, don't say "You should have told me you wanted to order dinner" twenty five minutes after they are seated.*

*If you're the manager, delivering dinners to a table twenty four minutes after they're ordered (because the server is probably afraid that she ticked the customers off with the delay in asking for a dinner order), identify yourself as such and apologize for the delay, instead of just saying "is everything okay?" when you drop the food and run.

There's more, but that's the nuts and bolts. My friend commented that if this is the quality of service on a slow night, she is scared to think what the place is like on the weekend.

More importantly, there are a cluster of restaurants adjacent to this one, most are mom and pop's or smaller chains. We both have occasion to be there fairly regularly and were soured on the service and commented positively on the experiences at several of the competitors.

At least this time, I was able to provide feedback in a way that will help the company understand why their sales might not be what they expected...


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