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The Mystery Dining Company

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The Mystery Dining Company logoFree food! Mystery dine at Prezzo, Carluccio's & moreShoppers being recruited to dine at big restaurants

UK-wide
Big restaurant chains such as Prezzo, Carluccios and Wagamama use mystery shopping companies to keep staff on their toes, and ensure food, service and premises are up to scratch.

One of those companies - The Mystery Dining Company - recruits diners across the UK. You don't need any previous experience to apply, just good written English, a camera (to take a picture of receipts) and access to the internet so can file a report by noon the next day.

If you're accepted as a reviewer, you can choose assignments from a regularly-updated list in your area. If you're picky, you might do two or three a year, but some do as many as 20 a month. You don't get paid for your visits, but you'll be reimbursed an agreed amount.

Each task varies. Sometimes you'll get a budget that will cover you and a partner or even a whole family, and at other times you'll be asked to purchase specific items or test staff knowledge of certain products and menus.
MSE Michael says:

If you fancy a bit of 'cloak and dagger' identity, mystery shopping can be great fun. My partner and I did it at university and dined out on gratis grub about twice a month - it was a great way to treat ourselves when money was tight.

Stick to the budget you're given and you dine out for nowt, or if you fancy spending a bit more, you can treat it as a discount. The reports take about an hour to write, and I recommend completing it the same evening so you don't forget any of the details.

More info
It's important to remember that not everyone gets accepted and demand for mystery shoppers varies depending on the area of the country you live in - for example, the south east of England is usually particularly well-covered. Travel expenses are not included.

If you don't file your report by 12 noon the next day, you risk not getting paid, and there's a limit on the amount of alcohol you're allowed to purchase. If the company finds out you're half-cut when you file your report (even if you paid for the booze yourself) it can be declared invalid.

There are other mystery shopping companies you can sign up to - some pay a fee as well as reimburse your bill, while others just give you vouchers. See the Boost Your Income guide and the Mystery shopping forum discussion for more tips and info.
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use the money mantras

Before spending, use Martin's Mantras. If you answer 'NO' to any, Don't buy!

are
you
Skint? ask:
  • Do I need it?
  • Can I afford it?
are
you
not skint? ask:
  • Will I use it?
  • Is it worth it?
Section 75

Free protection for all shopping!

There's a little-known piece of legislation that turns any credit card into a financial self-defence superhero. 'Section 75' of the Consumer Credit Act means your plastic must protect anything you buy for more than £100 for free, so if there's a problem or the company goes bust, you can still get your money back.

And although Section 75 doesn't apply to debit cards, there is something else to fall back on if you've paid using a debit card, or used a credit card for a purchase under £100. Known as Chargeback, this is part of banks' and card companies' internal rules and not a legal requirement. Read full details of Section 75 or Chargeback, plus how to claim, in our guides.

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