How we enjoyed a FREE date night as mystery diners.
A while ago I wrote a post about the importance of spending quality time with your partner, especially when you’ve got kids (10 date night tips for busy parents). Me and Mr T try to set aside one night a week for a date night and we really look forward to it, even if it’s something as simple as curling up in front of the TV with a glass of wine to watch a DVD. However, the other week raised our game! We stepped beyond the threshold of our home and went out for a drink together. We had a ‘proper’ date night. Even better, it didn’t cost us a thing. That’s right! We had a lovely evening out, a couple of drinks each and it was ABSOLUTELY FREE. That’s because I was a Mystery Diner and I chose Mr T as my plus one (I think he’d have been a bit miffed if I’d taken someone else)!
The Mystery Dining Company: be our guest.
I applied to become a mystery diner with MysteryDining by HGEM a few months ago. The application process takes a while to complete because you’re asked to describe one of your recent dining experiences and give detailed answers to a range of questions. Provided your answers, spelling, grammar and punctuation are up to scratch, you’re likely to be accepted.
Once I was accepted as a Mystery Diner, I selected the areas I’d be prepared to travel to for my assignments. Initially, I selected towns and cities within a 30-minute drive of my home. However, there’s always the option to book visits outside your chosen area too.
Booking a Mystery Dining visit.
First assignments usually need to be booked over the telephone. However, after your first successful visit, you can book subsequent visits online. Simply choose one of the assignments from your list (‘meal’ or ‘drink only’) and choose one of the available dates for that visit. Before you book, you can read the terms and conditions for that particular assignment. You can also preview the questionnaire you’ll be asked to complete after your visit. Assignments can vary in terms of the number of questions you’ll be asked and the type of observations you need to make.
I booked a ‘drinks only’ visit for my first assignment. I can’t tell you the name of my chosen pub/restaurant, but it was one we’d never visited before. We’d passed it on a few occasions, though, and noticed it had recently been refurbished. It seemed like an ideal choice for our first mystery dining adventure.
By the time our FREE date night arrived, we were feeling quite excited about it. However, after reading the brief again and previewing the list of questions we started to feel a bit nervous, too. That’s partly because Mr T and I are absolutely hopeless at acting or pretending to be something we’re not! I had visions of us getting to the bar and blurting out ‘We’re Mystery Diners!!!!’ or just standing there like a pair of goldfish, opening and closing our mouths.
Our assignment, (should we choose to accept it…)
For our ‘drinks only’ experience, we needed to answer questions about different aspects of our visit. This included comments on the level of lighting in the car park, the cleanliness of the toilets, the quality of the drinks, the environment and atmosphere, the friendliness, appearance of the staff. Our assignment also required us to order a couple of drinks each from the bar, whilst discretely testing the bar staffs’ knowledge of the wines, beers and spirits.
We were entitled to 2 units of alcohol each during the evening (we opted for 1 alcoholic drink and a hot drink), up to a total cost of £15. If we’d gone over budget, we’d only be reimbursed £15. The trickiest part of our Mystery Dining experience was asking for a receipt, which we needed in order to reclaim the cost of our drinks. That’s usually not a problem when you order a meal, but we worried that asking for a receipt for drinks would arouse suspicion and blow our cover! Thankfully, we managed to skirt around the issue by opening a drinks tab with our credit card. We just needed to remember to ask for the receipt when we settled the bill (which we did).
So how did it go? Were we mysterious enough? Did we blend in or did we stick out like a sore thumb?
We felt really nervous when we pulled into the pub car park. We sat in the car for a few moments to gather ourselves, before commencing ‘Operation Mystery Diner’. We set off for the entrance, all the while making a mental note of things we’d need to put in the report. Obviously, we didn’t have the questions pinned to a clipboard! We read through the requirements on our way to the venue. I also had a copy of the questions hidden inside the Ideal Home magazine I’d popped into my tote bag. This meant I could sneak to the loo and have another look at the questions to make sure we didn’t miss anything!
After our initial nervousness, we finally relaxed and started to enjoy our mystery dining adventure. We’d really landed on our feet with our first assignment too, as the venue was fantastic. It wasn’t too noisy or crowded and was tastefully decorated to a high standard. Mr T and I chose a table with the comfiest leather wing back chairs in the world! In fact, as we sat there sipping our free drinks, we felt like the Lord and Lady of a very posh manor. The bar was well stocked and scrupulously clean. The cute potted succulents on the tables were a pleasant change from tealights or wilting flowers. Everything was shiny and new and the atmosphere was relaxed, with cool and unobtrusive music in the background. What’s more, the staff were friendly and attentive and were happy to offer advice about our choice of wine and the draft beer. To top it all off, the toilets were probably the best I’ve seen in a pub/restaurant…and, believe me, I’ve visited a LOT of toilets in my time!
It was such a treat to spend the evening somewhere new and being Mystery Diners added a bit of excitement to our evening. In fact, I really started to get into the whole ‘Secret Mission’ idea. I felt like a sneaky spy. What?! I’ve led a sheltered life! Never mind mystery diner, I felt like James Bond!
Submitting a report.
Reports need to be submitted by 12 noon the next day for Sunday to Thursday visits. If the Mystery Dining assignment is a Friday or Saturday, you get an extra day to complete your report.
When we returned home after the visit, it took me about 45 minutes to complete the online questionnaire and submit my very first report (along with a photograph of the receipt). I’m sure it will be quicker for future reports now I know what to expect. Plus, not all visits require so much detail about the experience.
Despite submitting the report at about 11.30pm, I received an email from the Mystery Dining Company the next morning. The report assessor congratulated me on a great first report, made suggestions for future reports and said they’d be processing my payment. ‘Operation Mystery Diner’ was a success!
My first Mystery Dining Experience: The verdict.
We had such a lovely evening courtesy of Mystery Dining by HGEM. We chatted, read our magazines, and commended ourselves on managing to get through the evening without blurting out ‘We’re Mystery Diners!’ After our initial nervousness, we really enjoyed our roles as undercover dining detectives. So much so, I’m already planning our next mission.
Over to you.
If you like the idea of going out for drinks or a meal and getting some or all of your bill reimbursed in return for writing a detailed report, why not apply to be a Mystery Diner with Mysterydining by HGEM? If you’re already a mystery diner or mystery shopper, I’d love to hear about your experiences.