New Trends Among Restaurant Customers and How They Could Change Mystery Shopping Programs

New Trends Among Restaurant Customers and How They Could Change Mystery Shopping Programs


When you think about trends that impact food service, it’s overwhelming:  Older baby boomers dine out more often; social media restaurant conversations and feedback travel instantaneously; more customers choose smaller portions or snacks outside traditional meal times; and quick serve restaurants compete with fast casuals by adding trendy ingredients.  Just as managers change menus and strategies as they adjust to these new trends, they should also fine tune restaurant mystery shopping goals to measure how well they meet demands produced by these trends.  Below are four food service trends and our take on their impact on mystery shops:

Older Diners Dominate.   

A recent survey of those age 50 and older showed that this age group dines out an average of 3 times per month for both lunch and dinner.  The baby boomer age group represents significant dining dollars for all restaurant concepts, so it’s important to make sure that your associates deliver what older diners wantConsider the employee behaviors that your mystery shop program measures.   Do you include factors important to an older segment? Do your associates perform well in these areas?  For example, baby boomers prefer booth seating and they consider restaurant cleanliness a top priority.   Revise mystery shop surveys to include more cleanliness factors if needed, and add a question about booth availability.  Since older customers dine out for breakfast often, consider adding more breakfast mystery shops to your rotation.

Want a snack? 

Maybe you don’t want a snack right now, but if you do, you are not alone.  Diners want smaller, snack-sized portions outside of the typical breakfast, lunch and dinner times. Quick serve restaurants now provide more creative options to meet the needs of these snack customers than they have in the past, for example, Taco Bell’s new Loaded Grillers.   Does your restaurant use the same mystery shop survey questions and scenarios that you used two years  ago? Take a look at your mystery shop strategy and consider incorporating new menu items.  Add a question to your survey to assess how well employees upsell drinks when customers order a snack item.

Timing is everything

With influences such as food ordering in between meal times and baby boomers dining out for breakfast, your restaurant may need to implement a different schedule for mystery shops.  A comprehensive program should measure employee performance across different day parts:  breakfast, lunch and dinner;  however to be effective, you may need to divide them up with other factors in mind.  If you recently rolled out a new breakfast sandwich, include more breakfast shops.   If you implemented a new 2 for 1 lunch special, weight the schedule more heavily toward lunch shops during that month. If you’re hoping to drive more Monday night sales with special discounts, request more Monday night shops.

Mix up mystery shops when you change up the menu. 

Restaurant goers are ordering more appetizers than entrees lately.    As chains see the decline of entrée ordering and beef up their appetizer offerings in response, they also need to change mystery shop scenarios.  Rather than a typical order of an appetizer and an entrée, require that some of the shoppers order an appetizer or two without an entrée.  If your restaurant offers several new appetizers, and the shopper brings a guest, have each diner order a different appetizer.  You can learn what associates say about each appetizer, and also gain feedback on the taste and quality of several appetizers all during the course of one shop. 

When shop scenarios mirror typical restaurant scenarios more closely, the reward is more valuable insight into experiences and employee upsell attempts.

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