(Secret) Shopping up a storm

Mystery guest service companies, such as Guestwho, are often asked to be “secret shoppers“. Like all our other mystery guest services, we would visit the particular store and pretend to be just another regular customer, and then report back to management about our experience, so that various weaknesses or problem areas can be identified and rectified.

Secret Shopper List of Great Ideas

Based on our experiences, we have prepared the list below, which is (admittedly) more appropriate for a smaller or boutique-style store, but many of these tips could be implemented in larger retail outlets, with a bit of tweaking –

  • greet and welcome a customer within 30 seconds of the customer entering the store;
  • offer assistance –  a simple “Is there any way that I may help you?” or “Are you looking for something in particular?” goes a long way;
  • do not judge a customer and proceed to then treat them according to such assessment (think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman);
  • if a customer has picked up an item and is holding it in their hand, offer them a basket or offer to hold the item at the till/checkout point;
  • if the customer is engaging with you, offer some suggestions;
  • at the till/checkout, ask if the customer has found everything that they were looking for;
  • ask if any of the items are gifts and offer gift-wrapping (if this is something that your store offers complimentary, which we think is always a good idea);
  • consider purchasing software that allows you to record customer’s details and purchase history – this will assist you in getting to know your customers and targeting new campaigns at specific individuals;
  • if your store packaging uses tissue paper, spray the tissue paper with a fragrance (that is different to the one purchased by the customer – this way you can introduce customers to other fragrances and ranges);
  • if a manager needs to be called at any stage, the manager should greet the customer, introduce themselves and apologize for whatever the issue is (whilst simultaneously fixing it!);
  • if the customer is paying by card (or if you have a loyalty programme that lets you identify the customer’s name), thank them formally, using their surname (eg Thank you Ms Bigspender, thank you Mr Moneypants);
  • when handing over the purchased items, preferably walk around the till/checkout and hand the items directly to the customer.


Guestwho loves shopping in New York!

Guestwho loves shopping in New York!

Rude Receptionists – the importance of the front of house

Website and telephone bookings aside, the front of house / reception is the ultimate first impression-making opportunity for your hotel, lodge or spa, and yet this is an area where our mystery guests often identify significant issues.

Rude receptionists

You would be forgiven for thinking someone enters the hospitality industry because they enjoy being hospitable. At Guestwho, we have been amazed at just how rude and unwelcoming some receptionists can be – and at the most luxurious of hotels and estates! A disinterested, unfriendly and unhelpful receptionist can set the tone for the guest’s entire visit and really impact on that guest’s perception of your establishment, with the result that when they are again looking for an hotel, lodge or spa in that area, your business may very well not be their first choice.

Guest experience audit

Conducting your own hotel audit / customer experience audit can be tricky because everyone is nicer when the boss is around (hence the growth in mystery guest services) but we’ve included a mini-checklist below for what is expected of a great front of house –

  • all persons in front of house should be friendly, polite, well-trained and well-mannered;
  • they should be dressed immaculately and be wearing name badges;
  • receptionists should welcome guests, introduce themselves and address the guest appropriately;
  • when checking a guest into a room, receptionists should offer to make a reservation for the guest at the hotel’s restaurant (a great little up-sell!);
  • staff should assist with any luggage;
  • arrange that guests are escorted to their rooms, and shown the hotel’s features en route;
  • similarly, at spas, a brief spa tour should allow patrons to be introduced to the spa’s facilities before they are escorted to the change rooms.

Our mystery guest suggestions

Some additional ideas to ensure your guests feel incredibly welcome at your luxurious establishment –

  • offer guests a welcome drink on arrival (it needn’t be French champagne, some chilled water with mint or cucumber is inexpensive but a great gesture);
  • provide complimentary bite-sized snacks, fruit and nuts  in the reception area / lounge;
  • ask guests checking-in whether they are visiting for business or pleasure
    • business, ask if they need a meeting room made available to them (assuming you have such facilities), if they need conference call dial-ins set-up for them and if they will be entertaining business guests and would like some restaurant suggestions (and then make any reservations for them);
    • pleasure, suggest some local tourist attractions, offer maps of the area and suggest some local tours (if they are interested, make the reservation /s on their behalf).

Hotel Reception Front of House Mystery Guest


Vegan, gluten free, banting – can your restaurant keep up?

With so many new diets and dietary restrictions these days, is it even possible for your restaurant to cater for them all and does it even matter?

Our mystery guests love being “difficult customers” and we’ve included some easy tips below for helping you to stay ahead of the diet trend.

Firstly, know thy diet (a rather rudimentary guide)

vegetarian – no meat, no fish but does eat eggs and dairy;

vegan – no animal products at all (no meat, no fish, no eggs, no dairy);

pescatarian – like a vegetarian but also eats fish;

ovo-vegetarian – like a vegan, but eats eggs;

lacto-vegetarian – like a vegan, but has dairy;

raw foodist – like a vegan, but food cannot be cooked above certain (very low) temperatures;

gluten free – as the name implies!

banting – low carb, high protein.

Secondly, examine your menu

You needn’t redo your entire menu, but catering for any of the above dietary restrictions can be really easy.  You don’t even need to have a specific menu option available, but could rather include a note that your restaurant is “[insert whichever applicable diet] friendly” and encourage guests to ask their waitron for more information.

Thirdly, make small changes

Most restaurants already cater for pescatarians, vegetarians (lacto- and ovo-vegetarians) and the banters, but there are some really easy ways to make guests with other dietary restrictions feel more welcome –

  • stock long-life soya/almond/rice milk for the vegans;
  • stock gluten-free breads / wraps;
  • have a gluten-free pasta option (if your restaurant serves pasta);
  • consider “build your own” salad, pizza or wrap options to enable customers to choose their own fillings/toppings;
  • many of your current menu options may already be catering for specific requirements, without you even realizing this.  Discuss menu items with your head chef and identify those that can be re-branded where appropriate.

Customers with special dietary requirements are more than happy to pay a little extra, so feel free to add an on small levy for the soya milk or gluten free wrap options – your restaurant patrons will gladly pay this.

If you are still feeling lost in a world of interesting diets, contact Guestwho and we will happily assist you in identifying where your restaurant can make simple changes with significant results for your special request guests.

A perfectly delicious vegan Philly steak

A perfectly delicious vegan Philly cheese steak

Kiddie friendly (but still classy) restaurants

The dating game involves a large number of restaurant visits, but once a relationship progresses and children arrive, parents are often left with very few restaurant options, with “child friendly” or “family restaurant” usually being part of restaurant chains and not typically being associated with to0 much class.

Is it possible to have a child friendly but still classy restaurant? We think so!

Here are some possible ideas from a Guestwho mystery guest for upping the family-friendly factor of your restaurant without detracting from its elegance and class too much –

  • prepare a separate kiddies menu, with simple, mild foods and tasty desserts;
  • arrange a children’s area, preferably in a closed room, with large windows (so parents can still see their children without necessarily having to hear their screams of delight!);
  • employ students as entertainers for the children – this goes beyond babysitting services, let them interact with the children, play games and activities with the kids;
  • depending on the size of the venue available, have different activity stations for kids –
    • arts and crafts;
    • play doh and cookie cutters;
    • boardgames;
    • perhaps even a mini photo booth option where kids can dress up with various accessories and email the digital photos to their parents –  a great way to build up your mailing list, subject to applicable data laws of course!;
  • arrange activities around themed events (let the kids make pretty cards for mothers’ day, decorate eggs at Easter time);
  • for those children who prefer to stay with their parents, have traditional coloring in and quiet-time paper activities for these kids, but with all the fun available in your kids’ activity zone, it is unlikely many children will prefer to stay at the table;
  • children should be escorted to and from the kids’ activity zone to ensure they are not left running in and out of your restaurant;
  • include identi-tags or arm bands for children with corresponding codes for their parents, so parents need not be concerned that someone else might take their child from the kids’ activity zone.

Although many of the above suggestions will include an additional expense for you to implement and maintain them, if parents are able to enjoy a delicious romantic meal, whilst their children are happy and entertained, your business should certainly reap the rewards in the longer term.

Child friendly but classy restaurants - mystery guest tips

Luxury lodges – a few game drive ideas

Tips from a mystery guest for distinguishing your luxury all-inclusive game lodge

A quick Google search for a luxury all-inclusive game lodge in South Africa will produce  hundreds of fine results and, with just about every second cattle farm converting to a game farm, competition is tougher than ever before!

So how do you distinguish your luxury all-inclusive game lodge from the hundreds of others offering exactly the same thing?

As mystery guests, we are trained to notice the small details, the areas where lodges go the extra mile (or don’t!) and we provide comprehensive reviews for our clients so that they can understand how to improve their business and increase the rate at which (their) clients return.

Here are a few tips in relation to game drives that Guestwho’s mystery guests have identified based on our reviews of some of the very best of luxury game lodges that South Africa has to offer –

  • ensure your guides are well-qualified and knowledgeable (and able to add value on game drives and guided walks);
  • even if animals are scarce, guides can impress guests by identifying animals tracks (“spoor”) in the sand;
  • provide blankets and hot water bottles (if it is really cold) on game drives;
  • provide spot lights or large torches to guests for use during the game drives;
  • include a stop for some tea, coffee or hot chocolate on morning drives and drinks on evening drives;
  • set up a small table with a table cloth when stopping on drives;
  • provide complimentary rusks in the morning and nuts or chips in the evening;
  • provide serviettes, napkins and/or wet wipes to guests;
  • if drinks are not included in your “all-inclusive” pricing structure, then ensure the guide takes notes of what guests have to drink – don’t expect your guests to provide you with this info after the drive;
  • arrange that there is someone waiting with hot refresher towels as you return to the lodge (and make sure they are actually warm!)
  • have espressos ready and waiting for guests when they return from a morning game drive; and
  • perhaps offer small glasses of sherry (or warm apple juice with ginger) to guests in the evening when they return from the game drive.

These are just a few ideas and tips from Guestwho, can you think of any other tips or ideas for game drives?

Mystery Guest tips luxury game lodges