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Thursday, July 15

Mystery Shopping for Free Alcohol

Can I really get free alcoholic drinks by mystery shopping? You bet. But it won't last if you aren't careful. What I mean is, we all know how alcohol affects our alertness, attention to detail and recollection. Imagine having a few too many drinks at a restaurant and then going home to write a detailed narrative about your meal? It's not fun, and even worse if you wait until the next morning when you are hung over.

It's quite common to be required to order alcohol for mystery shopping higher end restaurants, and still fairly regular to have to order at least one drink in casual dining restaurants. One shop I do all the time requires me to order a beer to see if a frosted mug is offered. Others want you to see if the bartender or server asks for ID. Below are the four types of mystery shops I regularly see which require you to consume alcoholic beverages:

Alcohol Compliance Shops
These shops are built around testing the bartender or your server to see if they ask for the identification for anyone under a certain age. Often if you are too old to meet this requirement you are allowed to bring someone with you who does. Usually you have to submit a scanned copy of that persons ID as proof of their age. These shops tend to be the easiest. You get free drinks, free food (sometimes), and the report asks for little more than "pass" or "fail".

Cash Handling Procedures
Looking to get a little tipsy? Like to play detective? Usually these shops require you to drink a good bit, or at least act like you are drinking (I've seen guidelines suggesting you bring your drink to the restroom and pour it out if you don't want it). These are more difficult than the age compliance shops because you've been tasked with a serious job. Basically you are watching the bartender to see if they are stealing. There are different ways a bartender does this: giving free drinks to garner larger tips, overpouring alcohol, or the classic mishandling of cash. You have to be extremely careful - you are making accusations as to the integrity of the employee - accusations which could lead to them losing their job. Stealing cash can be as subtle as putting the money in a tip jar instead of a register, so you are watching to see how the drink was rung up in the first place.

Brand Ambassadors
Bet you didn't know that bars and sometimes even their employees receive incentives for recommending certain brands. That's a dirty little secret. I mean, a drink would lose it's premium appeal if you knew the only reason the bartender was recommending Brand X was not because they think it's better but rather because they get paid to say it's better. Beverage makers pay for product placement (front and center on the beverage wall is prime location) as well as bartenders' endorsement of the brand. To ensure compliance, the brands themselves hire shoppers to act like a regular customer. Last week I did a series of these shops. I had to see where the bottles were displayed, if any tent cards were on the counter advertising the brand, and whether the bartender would freely endorse the brand without being prompted. The shops were easy (I completed seven in one night). The only hard part was that I had to shop a particular bartender. If that bartender wasn't available, I still got paid a fee but my instructions were to abandon the shop.

Restaurant Shops with Alcohol
I saved this for last because these are the most common types of shop. Generally speaking you go to a restaurant and either order a drink at the bar before eating or you order drinks at your table. I'm not a huge fan of the former unless I know the restaurant is going to be crowded and will have a wait for seating. Then I can blend in - having a drink at the bar while waiting for your table is normal. Having a drink and then asking to be seated when there never was a wait is a little weird and might compromise my anonymity. These shops either involve seeing if a policy is being followed (for example, whether a frosted mug is offered with your beer), whether ID is checked when ordering, or it may just be that you are allowed to order an alcoholic beverage with your meal.

If you like to drink but your budget is tight, mystery shopping is a great way to contain your costs. My only advice is to be careful. Obviously you have to be careful if you will be driving from the establishment, but it's also important to take good notes and keep your mind focused on the task at hand. These are fun shops unless yours is rejected because you overlooked the required observations.

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