Report: #200393

Complaint Review: Cheesecake Factory

  • Submitted: Tue, July 11, 2006
  • Updated: Thu, May 24, 2012
  • Reported By: East Coast (above mason dixon line) Other
  • Cheesecake Factory

Show customers why they should trust your business over your competitors...

As an employee of the Cheesecake Factory I am writing in this forum because no one physically will ever respond to any prior issues at hand.

I am fed up with recent events taking place in my store. The company spends ~2.5million or so a year on an outside company to secretly come in to the restaurant posing as guests to evaluate our services. The "mystery shopper" must remember dozens of questions, exact times, and details without any note taking.

This outside company services many restaurants and other business types. Without any training but only the incentive for a free meal, the shoppers evaluate numerous things throughout their entire visit but again all through memory to report at a later time.

Week after week, prior to opening the restaurant all staff are aligned and repremanded for their disgraceful actions from the prior shopper report.

We are told that we are worst in the company for service, that we need to get at least 100 % or we will be finding other jobs. We are told a quarter of the staff is looking to be fired. We were told that corporate is sponsoring an incentive plan to anyone who has the most improved scores will win a party (BIG DEAL), but that we as a team shouldnt even worry about it because we suck so bad we wont win anyway. Everyday this behavior gets increasing worse from management.

These scores are not at all a clear indication of this stores performance. In fact, our restaurants staff is exceptionally better than other area restaurant chains. The reason we have a 2 hour wait time compared to other restaurants is because of our exceptionally fresh food, and great staff. The people who work at our store are extremelly dedicated and very hardworking.

However, management gets bonuses for the scores in which the servers receive. This is why such a huge deal is made to push us to get above 100%. The fact is servers get absouletly nothing in return but either a pat on the back or a hard time day in and out. There is never any real incentive for the waitstaff to do better- we never see the money management gets. We are supposed to be a team and the leaders are very money hungry-driven and in direct result make daily negative comments about our poor service when infact its how the shopper is reporting it. We have caught many shoppers reports to be lies (partially).

It is the servers job to "feel" the guest for the mood they are in. If its a quick lunch break, get them in and out. But why must we take the downfall when shopper is in a hurry to get in and out and asks for the check halfway before the meal is completed and then dashes and later reports that a dessert presentation wasnt done (minus 6 points).

This person is only after the free meal and doesnt care about the real issue at hand. Or a women comes with a child and since we arent kid friendly and dont supply crayons or toys that the ambiance was bad and she didnt enjoy her time because her kid was screaming- yet thats our fault.

I could go on and on about how people twist things in their direction to make it the restaurants fault.
The shoppers are unaware that people who have worked for the company many years will get fired over the fact they had a bad shopper score. I believe too much emphasis is put into these shoppers and should be a mere suggestion.

I really feel the company should use the millions spent on shoppers to have better training or incentives within the company. This would not only raise the moral but keep staff longer and more loyal. Why waste the money on an outside company who isnt trained themselves and doesnt help us but help us better if the money was redirected back to us. This would better increase profitablity and wouldn't everyone be much happier?

Utterly Annoyed
East Coast (above mason dixon line)
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This report was posted on Ripoff Report on 07/11/2006 08:17 AM and is a permanent record located here: The posting time indicated is Arizona local time. Arizona does not observe daylight savings so the post time may be Mountain or Pacific depending on the time of year. Ripoff Report has an exclusive license to this report. It may not be copied without the written permission of Ripoff Report. READ: Foreign websites steal our content

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#1 General Comment

totally agree

AUTHOR: laura shopper - (United States of America)

to the employee, i so agree with you i am a secret shopper, i do not knock a score and neither should anyone else for wait times if they realize the wait is because everyone loves the place , not because the staff is poor, i don't really think i have ever given a score under 85, except one where i was the only person there besides a couple with 2 kids, i even stayed 10 minutes longer than my required 20 minutes to give them opportunity to clean the place up, dirty tables, trash overflow, bathroom no toilet paper, there were 2 cashiers one drive thru 2 in cooking area and a manager sitting in booth on cell phone the whole 30 minutes , in this time there were 2 people come thru drive thru & one come in and ordered,  needless to say yes they got a 50, They were very friendly , correct food, correct money so i gave them 50 for that but like i said it took a lot for some one to fail, who ever is shopping  is lying to the company about knowing someone there and is sabotaging yall on purpose, seriously they should send some else in from within the company, & not take the word of a complete stranger!! i guarantee the person is intentionally hurting you ,you know your awesome and if your manager does not know that, you should not want to work sit him/her
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#2 UPDATE Employee

Shoppers Moods

AUTHOR: Truth b told! - (United States of America)

I am also a previous employee with the Cheesecake Factory. I agree with both sides to a certain degree. CTS is a snap shot of our service, However some of those shoppers taking the snapshots got a hold of a disposable camera and truly need to invest in a digital one that takes good pics!!!

I once got a shop, scoring like a C+, I got put on a FINAL and immediately, my job was held over my head. Every day from that moment on, my job became very stressful and I no longer looked forward to going into work. My job performance remained superb, however I was very nervous and on edge about everything I did. It became a more stressful work environment for me. Here is what happened.

 It was a couple..they had a baby. I greeted the table very happy and energetic, they barely even looked at me. I tried to play with their baby. Nothing!....I followed all the steps of the food was coming out, and i saw the servers carry the food, I quickly ran to a station and hurry to put ketchup down, because i forgot earlier, but got it there at that moment before the food went down. They got me for not pre-prepping the table. They got up and went to restroom..I was running other food to another table handling an issue because ''every guest is my guest'' and when i noticed, and by the time i got there to fold the loose napkin...they were back from the restroom. They got me for not folding napkin.

I couldn't pre- bus table because they kept putting everything way on the other side of table against wall and seemed to be deliberately blocking me from getting it. They got me on not pre-busing. I could never get clear communication with them because they never looked at me?? They were not pleasant at all. They seemed very annoyed by me although I greeted them with a pleasant smile and high energy. They looked at me the whole time like i was crazy.

Next day! I was in trouble. So i agree with the OP. Why does someone's job in this bad economy have to be threatened by some shoppers who may be unprofessionally trained, arrogant, mean, spiteful and unhappy in their life. It is truly unfair to terminate someone based on these reports. And after they are long gone, it is their word against yours. and depending on your management. they just don't care what you have to say anymore. It's all about numbers. They even refuse to check the camera's to prove the prior interaction.

Where is the compassion and the understanding, better yet. Why can't management work on incentives for ways for people to perfect their jobs, instead of terminating people at the drop of a dime for something that may be based on assumptions and lies. Everyday while Cheesecake is Providing signature service to our outside guests. We on the inside are being treated like ways i can't even explain. It was a great company to work for but the morale was extremely low, and the management treated and spoke to you like you were this little (.)

Shoppers occasionally do things to trick you up so they can get you on something..say or do something to deter u. like run quickly to bathroom so you don't have time to fold napkin...block their plates from being removed off table, say something like ''the server didn't offer coffee at the end'' when they already ordered it at the beginning when they sat down.

It is so sad!!!!
We look good in white
but are unhappy in our hearts.
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#3 Consumer Comment

Secret Shoppers can be a good thing...IF they are truthful in what they report....

AUTHOR: Nic - (U.S.A.)

I believe mystery or secret shoppers are necessary to evaluate companies sales practices, cleanliness, and turn around time. If used appropriately, employees can get the training needed, and the company can make necessary improvements. If used inappropriately, employees can get in a lot of trouble. Worst case scenario, being fired. Sometimes, it IS unjust.

I had a secret shopper phone my place of employment to place a phone order for some alcoholic beverages. She then stated she lost the advertisement she recieved, but she remembered the special sales price. She also could not remember what item was for sale! She asked me if she could find what she wanted by price. So I obliged. I did the best I could to find what advertisement she was talking about. (Our company sends out many fliers with different prices, so it's imparative for the shopper to have their ad handy when ordering-there are special promo codes on them) Finally, I found the only thing in our inventory that matched the prices the secret shopper mentioned. I verified the items, and the secret shopper just said, "That sounds like the deal I had, ok, I'll order it."

On the report, the secret shopper claimed that she did not get what was advertised on her flier and said she was over charged by $7. ( I thought the flier was lost????) She also stated I did not go over the price of the order-AFTER saying she had me search by price and even AGREED to pay it! She should have disputed the total before we hung up with each other if she felt it was wrong. She was a difficult customer. Normally, we are not supposed take orders from those who refuse to give us information.

Case and point, the secret shopper witheld valuble information and then reported a negative experience. The experience would have been more positive if she didn't withold information, therby sending me on a wild goose chase. Several other employees recieved the same reports, only different words by the same "Secret Shopper". Luckily, our employer was smart enough to see the flaws in her reports. She's made a name for herself.

Hopefully, the next secret shopper will be more truthful about what really happens during their shopping experience. I also hope the can remember what they want to buy! lol. This is the only way to gain accurate information about what customers generally experience on a daily basis.

If I had worked at the Cheescake Factory, I probably would have lost my job. I have a family to take care of. I would never jeapordize my job. Yet, perfectly good employees have lost their jobs at the hands of a dishonest secret shoppers. It's sad, because those people have themselves & families to support as well. That is a flaw on behalf of management, and those who hire the shoppers.

If you do your job well, one bad report shouldn't hurt you. If it does, you may consider finding another employer. One bad report shouldn't stand out if you have a ton of good ones!
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#4 Consumer Comment

I'm sorry.

AUTHOR: Whatsupmrcheezle - (U.S.A.)

I am also a certified mystery shopper and my boyfriend has worked as a restaurant server. The first week he worked as a server, he saw someone get fired as a result of an answer he'd given to a mystery shopper. Something completely asinine too, in regard to vegetables.

Waiting can be a thankless job. It annoys me to think that mystery shoppers are making it worse by going into restaurants and basing their reports off of their moods and/or subjective experience. That's one of the biggest things that the shop companies drill into our heads - stay objective!

It isn't at all fair. In fact, I'd recommend you send an anonymous letter to the company handling the mystery shops to let them know your objections.
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#5 Consumer Comment

Mystery shopping in Restaurants

AUTHOR: Rob - (U.S.A.)

I wanted to comment on Mystery Shopping in Restaurants. I am both a Certified Mystery Shopper, and a Restaurant Server. I have 15yrs experience in Market Research, and have held supervisor positions in the field. I also have 17yrs experience in the Restaurant industry and have held Management positions.
I currently work 40hrs a week as a Server and freelance as a Mystery Shopper, although my mystery shopping is in Retail/Finance/Banking.

I believe that Mystery Shopping used correctly is an effective and beneficial way for Companies to get an unbiased view of how thier employees are performing. I would certainly hope that the Mystery Shoppers are not merely looking for a free meal but have a desire to improve training/Customer service in the establishments that they shop.

When I am preparing to do a shop, I read over the instructions and guidelines carefully. I aim to be fair and accurate. My job is to report factual information. In no way am I trying to mislead or "trick" anyone. I take into consideration the time of day it is, how busy the establishment is. Any circumstances which may alter the normal business activities.

It is important to remember details, times and what transpires, however when one is experienced in the field it becomes almost second nature. There are ways of conducting the shop and being able to detail this information accurately without drawing any suspicion that one is a shopper.

In my opinion you should direct how your Managers use the shoppers report to your Area Manager or Corporate office. It sounds as if your direct management team is more concerned with humiliation than positive training. If Management wants thier bonus they need to understand that employee morale is what will get them that bonus.

If they use the shoppers report to point out shortfalls in service or standards, explain the reasons it is important to your company and retrain in a positive way they will achieve happier employees that will in turn utilize the training to create a happy Customer. Perhaps some employee incentives as well would be beneficial.

In conclusion I will add a Shopper should never bring young children along as they are a distraction to the reason the shopper is there. I rebut the statement you made about shoppers not being trained. It is possible there is a shortcoming in the particular company doing your shops or just the shopper. Overall, the Companies I do shops for are very professional and do provide adequate instructions based on what the client wants to know from the shop.

West Coast
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#6 UPDATE EX-employee responds

Mystery Shoppers Kill Morale

AUTHOR: Mr.president - (U.S.A.)

I worked at the Cheesecake Factory for 7 months and it wasn't that pleasant of an experience. The employee turnover rate was ridiculous. They were always hiring and we lost at least 1 server every week or two. This was mostly due to employees receiving bad shopper reports, people just being fed up with the management, or both.
Before every shift, no matter who the manager was, they would always say how people weren't getting high enough scores on shopper reports. Our place was usually shopped 5 to 7 times a month. I've seen single mothers with 2 and 3 children let go because of a bad shop. Despite receiving good shops before hand. The managers never seemed to care what they were saying before the shift to uplift anyone and were usually too busy to really care about the staff during shift.
I think shop reports take away from the dining experience as well seeing as you don't have time to talk with the guest for more than a couple seconds trying to make the 2 minute beverage time, or the 6 to 8 minute appetizer time, because they're both questions on the report. I lost count how many times I would have to cut guests short just to make sure I was within all my time windows just in case one of my tables was a shopper. God forbid something were to actually go wrong too like one table changing their mind about a meal option, having to run to expo to tell them what's going on, and changing it in the computer because you probably just missed your 30 second initail greet time for a table that just sat down.
Luckily I was able to leave their and go somewhere with better pay, and a way better work atmosphere. I've worked for 5 different restaurants in my life and The Cheesecake was the worst. I received 4 good shops while I was there and never felt better or was rewarded after any of them. The thing I always see with restaurants that rely on shoppers for employee feedback are :1. Low morale. 2. Beyond stressed employees. 3. The inevitable view that takes over every employee that each guest is out to get you and they are annoying.
The things I've noticed in Every restaurant I worked for that didn't rely on shoppers were: 1. Way better morale. 2. Positive atmosphere. 3. Way higher guest satisfaction.
Personally this is why I don't work at a chain restaurant anymore and why I don't care to eat them much either.
Also about secret shoppers. My cousin was a secret shopper and I've had the opportunity to talk to 2 others as well. There are more than 175 Cheesecake Factories in business. Just because the shopper gets 25 dollars a meal or a discount doesn't mean that's what the restaurant pays them. They also have to pay the agency that sends to the shoppers to their locations. Shoppers do forget aspects of the service and put down anything sometimes, especially depending on what their mood is. No one is going to know if they're telling the truth so writing in whatever they want is not out of the question for them. NOt saying every shopper is like that but who is actually checking on these shoppers, maybe they need to be shopped on their secret shopping. It's a unjust system that doesn't work. If a company needs to hire secret shoppers to check up on their employees then maybe they should look better into their management.
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#7 Consumer Comment

Secret shoppers are a complete waste of time

AUTHOR: Erin - (U.S.A.)

I have worked with secret shopper companies and I can attest to the fact that most reports are inaccurate and a poor excuse for proper management. If you employ an experienced staff, keep them motivated and your management team is on point, there shouldn't be any need for such a company. Hire people with pride in themselves and their job, support their strengths while being aware of their weaknesses and you'll discover you don't need spies to ensure your staff is doing their job. As the poster stated, hanging their livelihood in the balance decreases morale and promotes intimidation as a style of management. To hire a person who absolutely has no clue about the business to ensure that the professional is doing their job is ridiculous! These people employed to secret shop aren't properly screened they only need to have a major credit card and transportation. Most I've encountered have been bored housewives with no knowledge of exactly what it means to "dine" in the first place.

The poster is right, they are only out to catch a freebie. We could always spot a shopper on site it isn't like they were smart enough to fly under the radar which is why we always tag-teamed the table to compile first hand witness accounts of the incidents. After subsequent documentation for numerous inaccurate reports, we finally let them go. Our company has thrived since then, my employees are happier and my profits are sailing. Besides, I can have one of my fellow restauranteurs report on food, service, cleanliness, and ambiance for free.
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#8 Consumer Comment

I worked FOR a Mystery Shopping Company

AUTHOR: Giselle - (U.S.A.)

Many years ago I worked for a mystery shopping company. I've never actually been a mystery shopper. My experience was that most of our "shoppers" seem to feel this obligation, so to speak, to find something, anything wrong with their shopping experience. The mentality was "if I don't find something wrong, then the company is going to think that I didn't properly evaluate the employee or business and won't give me anymore shops. Not all shoppers were like that, but I noticed A LOT were.
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#9 Consumer Comment

mystery shoppers

AUTHOR: Melissa - (U.S.A.)

I can understand how the OP feels about the mystery shoppers, although getting a bad one every week seems kind of extreme.

I used to work for a company that used them, and most of the time they were pretty accurate. In fact, you typically can tell who a mystery shopper is because of the questions they ask. Overall, they're no big deal. But every once in awhile you got a shopper who was either lazy, didn't care, or didn't report accurately. And yes, management bonuses and employee "prizes" did depend on them.

I once got in serious trouble because a shopper failed me and reported that I greeted her, told her to wait, took out the trash, and then helped her. What really happaned was another busy employee in my department greeted her when i was already outside, and told her I'd help her in just a moment when i got back from taking out trash since she was with a customer. Not exactly my fault.

I certainly helped her as soon as I saw her. Another time a shopper walked in the store, up to a register, and proceeded to ask her the quesitons for every department in the store instead of walking around like she was supposed to, and left. A manager saw the whole thing, and sure enough, the next day we got the results of that shop and the woman had failed us cause that poor cashier didn't know the proper answers to the other departments. Corporate didn't care and counted it anyway and sent out reprimands. Just a couple of the most extreme examples.

It sounds like the shoppers who replied to this take their job seriously. They realize that the answers they give do affect people and their jobs and bonuses and raises, even for the average employee.

Mystery shops can be a great tool, but they've got some serious flaws in the way they are set up, and when a bad shopper screws you, that's definately a rip off. Typically, at my former employer, a bad shop was only accurate about half the time.
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#10 Consumer Suggestion

2.5 Million ? I doubt it !

AUTHOR: Michelle - (U.S.A.)

You say your company spends 2.5 million on mystery shoppers?
I doubt it !
Mystery shoppers are paid approx $25 per visit ,Yes i AM one !
There is only 109 Cheesecake Factory stores , so lets say that the MS company is paid $100 per visit now that works out to 25,000 visits per year , which would make it 229 visits to EACH restaurant per year !
Where did you get your info ?

Now about the mystery shoppers having to remember dozens of things and check them off on a form , that isnt how it works , yes we are given forms to review , but there is a very specific protocol that is followed , one mystery shopper may be there to rate suggestive sales ,while another will go in for cleanliness etc. Ive done many shops , and never have i had to "wing it" on a report .

There is usually very specific information on what we are to look for , it isnt hard to take notes on your pda or cell phone , and since your there from 30 mins to 1 hour , you have ample time to get the information requested .

Free meals ? Not quite , we do get reimbursed ,it usually takes 4-6 weeks after the report is filed and with very strict spending limits ($5 for a drive in , $25 dinner & drinks (mandatory , but not neccesarily alcoholic) for 2 people at a steak house) now add in our gas money , time spent reviewing and filing the report . It makes a nice way to get a cheaper dinner , but definitely not free !

The fact that you said "Big Deal" when it came to your manager trying to give you incentives to raise your level of customer satisfaction says VOLUMES about why your store obviously scores low !
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#11 REBUTTAL Individual responds

In response

AUTHOR: Elizabeth - (U.S.A.)

I was never fired. I am stating people are being threated to be fired and my last job did infact fire people for specifically one low score. Ive never been fired because I do my job. This is not a direct problem of my own. I have never had a bad report. Being part of a team I am only disgusted in the way management treats its team members because of it. Half of the mystery shoppers dont realize the extent to what they are reporting.

It looks to corporate on paper that our restaurant does poorly at times because of sometimes bad scores, but infact we are highly respected as a restaurant for our area. Which is why we still have the customer base who still wait 2 hours.

I realize you dont need to take notes on the reasons you suggested (if things are clean or not) But specific questions about the exact time it took for the server to initially greet you a)0-1 minute b)1-2 minutes c)3-4 minutes d) over 5 minutes. How do they know after maybe days of reporting what the time was. Are they really going to remember that we put the sugar caddy on the table before we approached them with their coffee.

Are they going to remember we even asked them if they wanted coffee when they were busy conversing? Did we describe 2 deserts or 3? People dont really remember tiny details that make up so much of the report and its all in opinion anyway. The glass is either half full or not. Restaurants carry so much weight on what these people say. Thats all I was saying.
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#12 Consumer Comment

Mystery Shoppers ARE Valuable

AUTHOR: Elaine - (U.S.A.)

I don't know what your specific Cheesecake Factory issues are, but mystery shoppers are a valuable tool in assessing customer service and business performance in nearly all businesses. I can't tell you how many companies put on their best show, clean up, put their best employees on duty for the days the "big shots" show up, but for the average joe customer, they couldn't care less. That is the point of the mystery shopper. As for not taking notes: mystery shoppers evaluate service time from the time they walked in to hostess acknowledgement to seating to ordering, bringing food and drink. They will visit the bathroom. They will look around the restaurant at the "ambiance" looking for filth. Was the menu itself clean or sticky? Were dishes chipped, silverware bent? Were all the items on the menu available, or were they already 86'd? Does one need a notepad or tape recorder for that? As for a free meal, not all mystery shops are free. Sometimes the shoppers pay for their meal to see how well the payment process works with cash/credit card versus a gift card/check, and if they buy something in addition to the check and/or try and return an item. I've never been a mystery shopper, but I've used their reports and found them to be extremely accurate for the day and time they report. You say you were fired for the results of one shopper report, my initial thought was that was the last straw; there was probably more items on your individual record than being identified on a mystery shopper report as a poor performer. It costs a heck of a lot of money to train one employee. It's hardly worth it to hire and then fire over one small issue. If I am wrong and Cheesecake Factory cut you loose for one lone bad report, well then, you're better off.
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