Posted By Jacob Jans, Editor

Thank You, Sandy, for Blowing It

Written by dspeakes

Two years ago this month I tucked my old pocket tape recorder into the cell phone pouch on my purse and walked into a sub sandwich shop in a local strip mall to do my first-ever mystery shop. I was nervous as a cat on a freeway at rush hour. I had already called in my order for a hot ham and cheese sub, no onions or tomatoes, and an iced tea, which even in my newbie-ness seemed a dead giveaway that I was a mystery shopper. But I had made the call, and now there I was, walking in the door to do the shop.

It was a disaster, but that disaster was saved by the clerk’s mistake.

There were no other customers when I arrived and I was greeted within a second of coming through the door. Yay. Nothing to time for either “greeting” or “time in line.” My sandwich was placed on the counter before I reached the register. Double Yay. No timing for “how long to get my food.” This was going great. I paid, got my change and drink, checked the restroom, and went out to my car. I drove a couple aisles over in the parking lot and out of sight of the store to fill out the report.

And then it all fell apart.

First question: Did you get a receipt? I looked in the bag, my purse, my pockets, and the seat of the car where I had dumped the bag of food and there was no receipt.

Uh oh.

Maybe I can just say she didn’t give me one? I really didn’t think she had, because I would have stuck it in my purse with the change. Would they accept that excuse? The pit of my stomach was saying, “No.”

Well, let’s go on to the next question. What was the clerk’s name? Name? I was supposed to get the name? I’d been focusing on her description. Darn. That’s two strikes. I suspected my career as a mystery shopper was about to begin and end with my first shop.

I wondered what excuse I could use to go back in for the receipt (this was now several minutes after I’d left, way too long for a Columbo-like, “Just one more thing” re-entry) so I could look at the clerk’s name tag. I couldn’t think of one that wouldn’t scream, “I am the most incompetent mystery shopper there is, take pity on me.”

Well, I might as well give it up and just enjoy the sandwich since I was pretty sure I’d blown the shop now. Maybe I could start all over again tomorrow.

I opened the sandwich. There were onions and tomatoes on it. YES! Now I had a reason to go back in!

I went through the rest of the report quickly, and it was okay except I had no idea if there was music playing. So, that’s four things now: receipt, name, fix the sandwich, music. Can I remember four things at once?

I drove back over to the front of the store.

I went back in and said, “I ordered this without onions and tomatoes.” She asked if they could just remove them and then I saw there was some white stuff and asked if it was mayonnaise, which I hate and which they hadn’t told me came on the sandwich so I could tell them to hold it. When she said it was, I requested she re-make the sandwich without onions, tomatoes, or mayo.

While she was doing that, I remembered the receipt and asked if she could reprint it. While the sandwich was heating, she stepped to the register and there was my receipt, lying right there on the counter where she had put it while I was getting my money out. I picked it up and felt stupid for not noticing it at the time. She handed me my new sandwich and turned away.

Okay, we’re rolling now…. I have my receipt, I have my new sandwich, I turned to leave and … remembered I’d forgotten to look at her name tag.
In desperation, I turned back to the counter as she was walking away and noticed a sign on the wall for some cookie they were selling. I quickly called her back over and asked what was in it and FINALLY looked at her name tag. Sandy. I can even remember that one, I had a horse named Sandy once.


I went out to the car, drove out of sight again and filled out my report. I’d again forgotten to listen for the music but my recorder saved me there because it had picked up the music playing in the background.

I submitted the report, got a “10” score for my report, and got paid for my efforts. I was now a mystery shopper.

I’m not sure if I ever would have done a second shop, though, if the clerk’s error in making the sandwich hadn’t given me the opportunity to redeem the rest of the shop I had so totally screwed up. About eight shops and a month later I found the Mystery Shop Forum. It was there that I learned about “bonus money.” That turned me from a $5 fast food shopper to a “have laptop, will travel” route shopper doing a variety of shops all over northern Arizona. My top shop fees? $400 for a multi-part bank shop, $200 for a video shop, and $150 each for several five minute bank shops and a few 20 minute cell phone shops in remote towns. Yay for “bonus money.”

I did that particular sandwich shop several other times, without the panic attacks, until they stopped shopping them over a year ago. I’ve gone from $5 and a free sandwich to $50 and a free dinner for two.

In the past two years, I’ve done 500+ shops and have put over $7500 in my pocket after expenses, and that’s with shopping maybe a half dozen days a month.

I guess I owe that all to those onions and tomatoes that gave me a plausible reason to go back in and finish doing my job right. Thank you, “Sandy,” for blowing your part of the shop so I could save mine.

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