Mystery shopping services can assess all kinds of restaurants, from the drive-thru at McDonald's to the best steakhouse in town.
Most people are quick to assign the "fine dining" label to any restaurant that throws a white cloth over the tables in its dining room. That shouldn't be the case, though. In fact, eating at a fine dining establishment should be as much about the experience as it is about the appearance. Mystery shopping services are helpful in picking out the restaurants that will give you the best dining experience.
As a mystery shopper visits each restaurant, here's what he or she should look out for:
One of the most important parts of enjoying yourself at a restaurant, regardless of whether it's fine dining, is the service you receive while there. It starts with the first interaction you have with an employee. Most of the time, that comes in the form of a host or hostess. He or she should be pleasant and full of energy. Greeting guests with a smile goes a long way to improving the overall dining experience. Once you're seated at a table, most of the remaining service will fall squarely on the shoulders of the server assigned to you. A good waiter or waitress should be knowledgeable of everything on the menu, for starters. Aside from that, it's nice when the wait staff is familiar with the history of the restaurant and the chefs.
Another major factor that goes into the quality of the restaurant is the food it offers. If you're dining at a fine Italian restaurant, you want the lasagna or ravioli to be some of the best you've ever had. All of the food, from the appetizers to the dessert, should be of the highest quality. Mystery shoppers can be the first line of defense against poor cuisine by sampling it before you do.
The timing and presentation of courses are important, too. Although some of the timing between courses falls on the server, the final presentation of what you're about to eat is a big part of the fine dining experience. The last thing you want is to be served a sloppy meal you could have whipped up in your own home with little effort.
Almost all fine dining establishments have a bar area somewhere in the restaurant. That said, it's always nice to ensure the cocktails prepared by the house bartender are worth the big bucks you'll be shelling out for them. If you're a wine connoisseur, it's also a good idea to make sure the restaurant has wine suitable to your taste. If the menu doesn't have any pairing suggestions for wines, ask your server. He or she should be able to tell you which drinks are appropriate for each kind of food with little hesitation.