Secret shoppers check out bars, eateries |

Secret shoppers check out bars, eateries

SUMMIT COUNTY – Most of the county’s servers and bartenders know local law enforcement agencies and the Summit Prevention Alliance conduct compliance checks. Now, their employers will be keeping the servers on their toes.

The Summit Prevention Alliance announced Thursday the results of a secret shopper program it conducted this summer. The undercover operation produced positive results, said prevention coordinator Beverly Gmerek. In July and August, the shoppers ordered drinks and appetizers in 11 bars, pubs and fine-dining establishments that volunteered for the program. The secret shoppers found:

? 70 percent of the shoppers (ages 21-27) were carded;

? 64 percent observed other people being carded;

? 54 percent of the servers suggested food when shoppers ordered alcoholic beverages;

? 24 percent of the servers suggested water; and,

? 94 percent of the establishments had posted required standard drinking-age signs.

Gmerek said shoppers identified problems, too. Some servers, who had completed responsible alcohol service training that gives tips on dealing with customers and explains liability laws, sipped drinks on the job, ran personal drink tabs or served drinks ordered by customers for others who weren’t seated at the table and didn’t present identification.

“These weren’t all the goody-two-shoes restaurants,” Gmerek said. “But that’s what we wanted – real results of how we’re doing. We’ve trained thousands of people in the responsible service classes, and we wanted to know in a snapshot if it’s not working or we’re doing a good job.”

This summer’s program is a pilot, Gmerek said. The idea originated with the Breckenridge Police Department and Breckenridge Restaurant Association but has now evolved into a self-policing tool for restaurants. Resort Loyalty, a Breckenridge company that helps conduct customer service training and similar secret shopping programs, will be offering the service to Summit County establishments.

“To me, its a great example of a community being proactive,” said Daniel Johnson, owner of Resort Loyalty and author of nine books on customer service. “They’re saying, “We want to police ourselves to see if we’re good, and we’re willing to pay for it.'”

Johnson said the most successful restaurateurs know the secret is more than a menu – it’s good, responsible service as well.

“There are many people that love a meal and never come back,” Johnson said. “These managers really want to catch their staff doing the right thing and want to reinforce how important that is.”

Dillon Dam Brewery co-owner George Blincoe participated in this summer’s secret shopper survey and said his restaurant has done similar tests in the past and will continue to use the service.

“It’s used industry-wide by restaurants that want someone coming in who has no baggage,” Blincoe said. “They can give you an objective snapshot. They can do it for security and cash-control, cleanliness, friendliness or quality of product. It’s very valuable.”

Blincoe said using the secret shoppers has a motivating effect on staff members. When they find out a check was conducted, he said, servers’ reactions tell him who is sticking to their training and who isn’t.

“You can see some stomachs drop,” he said. “But there are others who smile and perk up because they know they don’t have anything to worry about.”

Resort Loyalty is offering establishments five secret shopper visits between November and March for $199. For more information, contact Johnson at (970) 547-4435.

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