Saturday, April 3, 2010

Careful: I’m Watching You!

I joined the thousands of New Yorkers outside today for the long-awaited ultimate thaw. This winter was particularly wicked, long as ever, but with a cold snap that just didn’t want to surrender. This would not be news to anyone living on the East Coast, all the way down to Florida, of all damn things.

While most were out with their double-wide diesel-powered strollers, walking dogs or dining at outdoor cafes, I was on the hunt for cash. Today, I worked my way through four Mystery Shopper venues, truly among the most ludicrously comical endeavors I’ve ever gotten myself into to make a dime. But tough times call for ingenuity, even if I have to make a fool of myself to score a can of beans. So blow it out your ass if you have a problem. (Har, har, get it? Just kidding withchu, cool cats.)

Destination 1: A fast food joint in metro NYC. I’m there to time how fast the line moves, how quickly food is served, how it looks (Salt on the fries? Cheese melted on all four edges of the burger?), staff attitude (eye contact? Greeting? Thank you?) and the appearance of the shop, from cleanliness to stock to restrooms. A stopwatch is requisite, which thankfully I have on my cell phone. All of this must be done anonymously, since workers at any of these corporate monsters are made aware that we Mystery Shoppers are out there en masse—and the one time you fuck up could be the very day I’m playing 50 questions to nab you.

Destination 2: A cellular dealer for one of the major carriers. How fast did you greet me? Tell me about smartphones. Offer to demo one. Explain why your service is better than the others. Tell me about your superior coverage and the various plans available. And most important, try every technique in the book to get me to sign up before walking out the door.

On one hand, it’s hard not to feel a little guilty about the ruse. Some of these folks are working for commission, and clearly, I have no intention of buying what they’re selling. Admittedly, that smarts a little.

Destination 3: A public storage company. I need to move a load of furniture out of my house within the week. What are my options? Price points. Special deals. Will you show me the various-sized spaces? And again, how effective are you at encouraging me to sign on the line now?

Destination 4: A national restaurant chain. Boy, these guys are precise, down to checking to make sure that all of the light bulbs are working. Again, time from stepping in line to food delivery. Quality of the meal. Cleanliness, staff demeanor, restrooms, signage out front and even whether the sidewalks are swept and with no grease marks or gum.

For my efforts, I'm awarded between $7 and $9 for these particular shops—plus, free food, baby! It’s all out of pocket now, but with receipts, the meals are refunded. So in addition to scoring $30 for walking around New York today and spending anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes talking to youse, I didn’t pay a dime to fill my stomach. I’ll take it.

Next up: a bank, where I have to obtain an advance on a credit card and see if you treat me like a king. Stand tall, be sweet, because I’ll be watching!