Many shoppers think that they would love to grab a really great hotel shop but few understand all that is involved. Having done several dozen of them over the years, the most interesting thing about them is that the requirements are all just about the same, and if you are willing to put in the time and effort, they can be terrific, but as we all know too well, there really is no such thing as a free lunch, especially in this business.
Before you even apply, you should know the following:
- Most require that you have a vehicle available to drive to the property, so as to evaluate the valet service.
- Most require two large pieces of convincingly packed (weighted) luggage, because you will be evaluating the bellhop service.
- You need to bring about $20.00 in singles for tips.
- You must be willing to lay out what is sometimes close to or more than $500.00, as you have to pre-pay all of the costs and then wait for reimbursement. Sometimes it only takes a few days and they reverse out the charges on your credit card, but sometimes, depending on the MSP, you may have to wait a month or more.
- And finally, and this is HUGE, if you are discovered to be a shopper or your report is not accepted, you are then out whatever amount you have spent, because you will not be reimbursed. That is the biggest reason to carefully consider whether or not you want this type of shop. Like most everything else, the greater the risk the greater the reward, and the rewards are awesome, but the risks loom large.
The rewards that make hotel shops great usually include fabulous dinners in the hotel restaurant, drinks at the bar, breakfast in bed and often access to a pool and hot tub, all of which can make for a pretty terrific date night. Still interested? Okay, let me walk you through it, one step at a time.
You pull up to the property noting the exact time. “GeoVerify”, a free app, is great for this. It can be a shopper’s best friend. If you have not already installed it and are not already using it on every shop,
you owe it to yourself to check it out. It has saved me more times than I can count.
The first step is the reservation call. What time did you make it? How many rings did it take before it was picked up? Who answered? How did they identify themselves and the property? Were they warm and friendly, cool and efficient, cold and mechanical? These are all questions on you report.
You need to pay attention on your arrival to how long you wait for the valet, what they are wearing and how you were greeted. You also need to note their name. Going up to the lobby in the elevator usually gives you a chance to record this info into your phone. You will, of course, have already made sure that there is nothing in your car that might give you away as a shopper. That includes notes from previous shops.
Upon entering the lobby, you need to again note the time, the wait to be acknowledged, the greetings,
the friendliness or demeanor of the agent, and their name and appearance. They should not say your room number out loud. You need to notice whether or not they do. They should simply write it down, hand it to you and direct you to the elevators. After checking in, you need to request a bellhop to carry your luggage up. You will be expected to answer questions about names, appearance and demeanor of every single staff member that you encounter.
The bellhop is usually expected to use a doorstop to keep the door open, as opposed to using a foot, or worse, your suitcase. You will often be asked if they did. They will then usher you inside and bring in your luggage. He/she is also supposed to show you where the thermostat is and ask if there is anything else you might need. A bellhop’s tip is usually one dollar per piece of luggage. Keep track of how much you tip each person because it adds up quickly and most of the tips are in cash.
After waiting a short time, you need to call down to the front desk to report a maintenance problem. Usually either removing and pocketing the batteries from the remote, which is a common scenario, and telling the front desk that the remote does not work, or removing a light bulb from a lamp and telling the front desk that it is missing. Again, you will be asked all of the same details of the maintenance phone call that you needed for the reservation call. Now you also have to time how long it takes to get maintenance up to your room. You need to note how they identified themselves, how they were dressed, how long it took them to do the job and their attitude about doing it. You also need to remember to tip them and note how much you tipped them.
After about 30 minutes, you need to follow all of the same steps to request that housekeeping send up either more towels, more toilet tissue or an extra pillow. And again, you need all of the timing and all of the details of the housekeeping visit and tip.
You now can make dinner reservations following the same process of noting every detail. Then, after making sure that you have kept any paper notes locked in your suitcase, and that your electronics are not accessible, go down to the pool for a while and relax.
Once you have enjoyed an hour at the pool, and have showered and dressed, and having already made your dinner reservations, you are now ready to approach the bar. You and your guest need to note the signage and drink specials at the bar, note the timing and especially wait times, order at least one alcoholic drink and at least pretend to sip it, note if you were carded, note whether everyone else at the bar is being carded, make sure that all of the cash appears to be going into the register, keep you receipt and note how many patrons were at the bar. You also, of course, need to note all of the details of the bartender. Cell phones make a lot of this easier, as you can simply pretend to be texting throughout. It goes without saying that you need to keep updating your notes, as very few people can hope to remember all of this accurately. Hotel bars usually capture everything on video surveillance, so there is absolutely no wiggle room for truthful and precise notes. Also, obviously, it is important not to get drunk, as you still have several details to take care of and the shop must include all of them to get paid.
After your drink, you proceed to the dining room where you note how long you wait to be acknowledged and by whom. You need to note how long it took to be seated, how long it took to get a menu, how long to have your order taken, what the meal looked like and how long you waited to get it. Also, surprisingly at least for me, how long it took for the waitstaff to come back and ask if everything was okay. Most upscale restaurants set a specific time limit for their staff to double back. It is usually about 7 minutes on average, but different restaurants set different times. Timing is everything.
You might also be asked what side the staff served from and what side they cleared from, if they offered any suggestions and if they offered alcohol, coffee or dessert. Most reports will also ask you to report on a food prep question, such as, “Is this gluten free?” or “Does this contain cilantro?” The waitstaff is supposed to know the answers to questions like these.
After dinner, you are almost done. The next step is the security check. This step requires your partner to “disappear” for a little while. They can be anywhere except your room or the lobby. You need to leave your room key and wallet or bag in your room, go down to the front desk and tell them that you locked yourself out of your room. They should then direct you to security, who will walk you back to the front desk, ask you some questions like your home phone number or the make and model of your car or the type of credit card that you used. Security should then accompany you to your room, bang on the door loudly, open the door and request that you immediately show them ID. Trust me that it often does not go like that. In fact, I once had a security guard say that I looked honest and that “such a pretty woman would never lie to him” and just hand me a new room key. I am guessing that that particular guard was retrained immediately. I could have been a wife looking for blackmail photos to make my divorce settlement sweeter. Suffice to say, it never gets boring.
We are coming down to the wire now. The only thing that you still need to do at night is request a wake-up call, again noting number of rings, who answered and how they answered. Now you get to enjoy what is left of your evening.
In the morning, you will have been instructed to either order room service or go down to the restaurant for breakfast. Either way, noting all of the timings, the greetings, and names and attitudes will be required. You will also be asked about your food, its appearance and its quality.
These shops require a lot of work, but they can also be a huge amount of fun, and you are getting paid for them. Hotel shops can also sometimes be linked together, to make a cross country trip very affordable. This is an amazing business, as long as you treat it like one. Be honest, be dependable and there is no telling how far you can go.
Diane Kaye has been a mystery and video shopper for many years before becoming a scheduler with a company that sometimes offers great perks and payments. She lives in New York City with her wonderful husband and loves traveling both domestically and internationally.
Companies with Hotel Shops: