Mystery Shoppers at UMass

Mystery Shoppers at UMass

'04-'05 UMass mystery shopper—Ashley Francis

Looking for a better way to evaluate your cafè? Ken Toong might have found the answer.

Toong, director of dining services at the University of Massachusetts, hires student 'mystery shoppers' who assess the quality of the food and services at their local dining commons. Using a mystery shopper program is not new at UMass. Prior to the student addition, it was made up of faculty and staff members.

"We wanted to get closer to our actual customer," says Toong. "In September we extended the program by hiring students of various representational demographics who use the meal plan day-to-day. Now we get more frequent, more frank feedback."

Dining Services hires 12 student ambassadorswho are paid $360 a semester. Each ambassador answers 12 questions that critique nearly every aspect of the dining process. The forms are submitted weekly to the head of the program, Martha Monaghan, who reviews the comments, then passes them to both Toong and the DC managers.

"The feedback is useful in helping us finetune many details," says Toong. "It can be something as simple as putting the cranberry sauce beside the turkey."

UMass' program keeps the student shoppers anonymous. "Most of the staff is unaware of the identity of the student ambassadors," says Toong. "When we train them, we make sure they understand they need to remain anonymous, or the program would not be effective."

Hidden cameras aside, faculty, staff and students at UMass can rest assured that someone is always watching what they eat.