When you have one location, quality control is simple. But as a company grows, it's hard to keep tabs on everything. The founders of the Ruby's chain of restaurants use mystery shoppers--individuals hired to pose as customers who report on how they were treated. Here are some tips for using mystery shoppers effectively.

  • Think first. Fashion your questionnaire to track the qualities of service that are important to your company.
  • Be consistent. A key to making the program work is having a mystery shopper visit on a regular basis. For Ruby's, that means calling on each of its seven restaurants at least once a month. At $30 a visit, the program costs Ruby's about $200 a month, plus the price of the meal.
  • Push hot buttons. You can use the shoppers to reinforce a particular program, such as suggestive selling. Asking a customer if she wants orange juice with her breakfast can boost the average check. In Ruby's mystery-shopper survey, suggestive-selling questions carry extra weight.
  • Make sure everybody has the answers. The idea behind the surveys is to reward the staff and improve customer service. Tell all employees what's on the survey and which questions are most important.