If you’ve been in the restaurant industry for an extended period of time, you’ve likely heard of the “secret” or “mystery” shopper. The shopper or shoppers come in and grade a restaurant on everything – from the host’s friendliness, to whether a manager stops by the table, to whether the server is knowledgeable and tells them their name. After their dining experience, the shoppers turn in a form relaying their experiences to the hiring company. The company then processes the information, and sends it to the restaurant, which in turn  reviews the form (which itself can be a long process  down the chain of command from corporate to district managers, to store managers to shift managers) and then contacts the staff member that served the shoppers. This process is drawn out to unnecessary lengths.

A few questions to ponder: Is this timeline acceptable? Is a secret shopper program even worth it, when the majority of experienced servers can pick out a secret shopper within the first 5 minutes of interaction? By the time the feedback returns, does the employee in question even work at the restaurant anymore?

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Enter in 4G mobile phone networks, high speed internet, and social media, and the timeline for customer feedback is much shorter. A guest can write a review from the table on Yelp from their phone, or they can be tweeting or updating their Facebook status about everything that is happening. The best part  is that  restaurant managers and staff have an opportunity to correct a potential problem as it occurs, and establish a personal relationship with guests by monitoring these forms of media.

The key is to utilize the instant feedback available, and stand out from the crowd in your social media responses. Don’t just type a response – when someone checks in on Foursquare, find them in the restaurant and thank them for dining with you! Monitoring the correct channels also enables managers to address issues with staff (positive or negative) immediately or at the end of the shift in which they occurred. Events are still fresh in everyone’s mind, and ways to correct or compliment are relevant.