Disclosure: Some posts contain referral links (much love if you use them!). Opinions expressed here are the author's alone and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by any entities.
With all of the house reno stuff in our lives right now (are you tired of hearing about it yet!?), Sarah and I are really trying to prioritize and manage our income and expenses. It’s a hard balance sometimes, especially when it comes to things like date nights, hanging out with friends and new experiences. Above all, we hate our budget to getting in the way of good community, so sometimes date nights are sacrificed. We try to be intentional about our marriage in other ways, but it’s hard to beat a nice, relaxing dinner with your spouse. All of that in mind, one of our favorite money-saving, marriage-maximizing finds has been… drumroll… mystery shopping!
Mystery shopping allows us to get out on date nights and try out new restaurants without even having to look at our budget because it is all paid for. It’s kind of a sweet deal. And these aren’t just random fast food restaurants, we’ve done shops that have given us over $100 to spend at fancy restaurants – steak on steak on steak plus dessert. Sarah and I leave those shops with some insight into what the 1% feel like – ordering whatever and whenever with no cares about money. They are always fun nights, and all because of mystery shopping. However, we don’t just get reimbursed to eat food; there is also a decent workload that goes along with it. I’ll outline how this works and if you want in, just send me a message with your name and email or leave a comment on this post with that info.
But first – what is mystery shopping? Mystery shopping, or eating – as is mostly the case for us – works like this. A mystery shopping company is hired by a third party organization – restaurant or retail store, because the third party company wants to see how well their processes are working, if anything is broken, what the guest experience looks like, etc. The mystery shopping company contracts me and other mystery shoppers, to be the feet on the ground and actually go and complete these shops, record info and submit back a record of the shop. This is prettied up and eventually submitted to the third party organization and they can use it to fix or re-examine their internal processes. That’s how it works on a basic level behind the scenes, but now I’m going to take a look at how this process looks for actual shoppers, and how it could look for you! Let’s dive in.
1. Get referred by me, complete the application and get approved to shop
By me referring you, we both get entered into a drawing for $50 and you get signed up with the right company! There are a number of different mystery shopping companies out there, but there is a wide variation of the shops offered for each – I’m most into restaurant shops over retail/healthcare type shops, so those are the types of shops you can expect to see from the company I work for.
2. Sign up for a shop
Each shop has a minimum time frame between shops (3 – 9 months), so I try to jump on them as soon as possible, so it can be all the sooner that we do the shop again. This is especially true of higher profile, fancier restaurant shops.
3. Review the instructions
Shops have a specific instructions list and it gets down to the nitty-gritty. Oftentimes, it involves taking pictures of your food, remembering people’s names, and checking out the bathrooms for cleanliness, but this all varies. It’s important to review these and remember them because if you miss anything, your shop might not be accepted!
4. Complete the shop (eat good food)
Obviously, this is the best part of being a mystery shopper. And bringing your spouse or a friend is a perk too #community. Savor the free meal, enjoy the time spent, and remember to capture all of the specifics needed!
5. Complete the report
So, this is where you earn your keep. These reports are pretty intensive, and they need to be submitted 12 hours after your shop is completed. This looks like us coming home from our shop and me spending the next hour+ working on the report and uploading all the pictures and info from the night. And this can sound intimidating, but it’s not bad – really it’s just about recalling what happened that night and recording it. Sarah is usually in charge of making sure she remembers everyone’s name – and I fill everything else in.
6. Get Paid
Once the shop is submitted and accepted by the third party organization, you will be on your way to getting paid for the shop! Sometimes this just means being reimbursed and other times it means you’ll be getting some pocket change along with the reimbursement – it all just depends on the shop you choose.
The Simple Summary
Well, there you have it, folks. If you have never heard of mystery shopping before or want to get involved, just let me know in the comments below, or send me a message at [email protected] and I’ll get the application over to you ASAP! This can be a great option for offsetting some of the cost that comes along with date night – whether you are on a tight budget like us, or you have kids and date night + babysitting is just too expensive to make a regular occurrence – I hope you give mystery shopping a try. Happy eating!
If you are interested in more free date nights, check out my post on free advance movie screenings!
More into bigger and better ways to save money, like with free travel? Check out my intro post to credit cards, miles + points.
And don’t forget, we have a new series out now called Friday Five where we recap our 5 favorite things from the week – check out the first post here.