Get to Know Charles Stiles, the Host of Mystery Diners

by in Shows, June 18th, 2013

Charles StilesOn Food Network’s Mystery Diners, Charles Stiles and his team of mystery diners go behind the scenes with hidden cameras to find out what restaurant employees are up to when the boss is not around. What they discover just goes to show how bad customer service can get when employees don’t put the success of the business first. What you might not know is that Charles’ company has been servicing businesses in need of help for the past 18 years. Business Evaluation Services uses undercover mystery shoppers and diners to get to the root of an establishment’s problems.

FN Dish recently chatted with Charles to find out more about his company and what it does for restaurants and retail shops around the nation. He talked about how his company came to be, how people can become mystery shoppers and how to prevent the failure of a business. Read the Q&A with Charles and watch the new season of Mystery Diners on Fridays at 10pm/9c.

What made you decide to get into the field of mystery diners/shoppers? What was the turning point in your career?
Charles Stiles: At the time I owned a retail store and had expanded to multiple locations. The mystery shopper business developed out of my own particular need for managing my employees: developing training programs and setting certain expectations for the service culture we were providing for our customer base. I wanted to make sure I was monitoring it all even when I wasn’t on location and that the policies and training that I had put into place were being followed. I incorporated my own shopper program to have customers evaluate the service and provide feedback. Soon thereafter, a number of restaurants and retailers began asking if I could do the same for their businesses. My new business grew from there. I started working for a lot of local restaurants and retail stores and expanded into a national presence. I decided at that point that it was the direction for my career. I sold off my retail shops as the leases expired and/or closed locations and got out of retail entirely. That was almost 18 years ago.

Who makes up your company Mystery Shopper Services? What’s your day-to-day job like?
CS: The company has a database of almost 400,000 mystery shoppers throughout the United States. We have a full staff in two different offices as well as a virtual staff of employees who work from home. There are about 30 different employees that we call schedulers, who schedule assignments or edit reports as they come in. On a day-to-day basis I manage full operations of our staff, write proposals and handle client support. I’m also on the board of directors for the Mystery Shoppers Providers Association. There are currently about 150 mystery shopper companies that make up the association. I’m also active on lobbying to keep the status of independent contractors, because about 98 percent of my employees are contractors.

How does someone become a mystery diner or shopper? What kind of experience does the position require?
CS: Our mystery shoppers are contractors, who are paid per assignment. We require a full evaluation on their demographics and they must sign a noncompete and nondisclosure agreement. Once registered, they get assignments from a postings board. For example, a mystery shopper in Dallas might see restaurants, hotels, banks and retailers in the area. They can then send in a request for those particular assignments. The mystery shoppers range from college students all the way to retired doctors because different assignments have different profile requirements. For example, high-end car shopping will require someone that has a higher income and higher education level.

On the show, in some episodes, you’ve used family members like your daughter as a mystery diner. Are members of your family involved in the business?
CS: My youngest daughter worked for me for about 2 years and was very active in our customer relations, shopper support and scheduling department. She recently decided to go to medical school. My older daughter does mystery shopping for us, appears on the show periodically and she’s also starting school for fashion design and merchandising. My wife works on accounts payable, accounts receivable and does some bookkeeping.

It seems that the bad employees on the show always get fired by their employers. Is that mostly the case or have you ever seen a boss forgive a bad employee, allowing them to stay on if they improved?
CS: There are times when the employers do forgive; we’ve had a few instances where that’s been the case. The biggest problem is that when the employee is caught, most will have an excuse as to why it’s not their fault. Typically their dishonesty makes the employer angrier, and in the moment, what could have been employee retention turns into employee dismissal due to their defensive demeanor. Occasionally there will be a breakdown with an employee who has a legitimate reason. Maybe they have a drinking problem, a gambling problem, are going through a divorce — whatever the reason, in some cases the issue will be worked out between the employee and employer.

Do you have any advice for a struggling business?
CS: It starts with upper management, proper leadership, creating accountability for your expectations, developing a service culture with nonnegotiable standards and some kind of measure to audit that, to make sure your staff is clearly following what you have set as a mandate for your service. That’s where the biggest disconnect is — when there are no policies put into place or no one is enforcing those policies. Owners will tend to overlook that and focus too much on the inside of their business and lose sight of the business as a whole. The key to success is to have the owner really work on the business, and put the key leadership on someone who can be trusted to pay attention to whether people are doing their jobs. Most successful companies grow because there are good people in place. This frees owners to focus on building the business instead of being in the day-to-day grind where it’s difficult to pay attention to what’s happening around you.

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Comments (93)

  1. Joel says:

    They have proven some of the waiters and waitresses are actors. Deenie Castleberry? Type in her name and check it out. You guys at Food Network insult my intelligence. You make me sick. Most reality shows are mostly if not 100% fake, but Mystery Diners doesn't even do a decent job of faking it.

  2. Cathryn says:

    I won't name names or episodes, but I don't believe I am mistaken when I say I have seen one of the portrayed "villians" on Mystery Diners in a reinactment for another show on the Biography Network. Times have certainly changed. I really do miss the days when the shows on the Food Network featured cooks/chefs that actually taught you how to "cook." When I was in college over a decade ago, I used watch the Food Network which, believe it or not, actually featured shows with people "cooking." I would write down recipes featured on the shows and prepare them in my dorm hall kitchen. Food Network…I must say you have certainly lowered the bar in your programming and I am disappointed in you.

    • Robert Ostrowski says:

      Cathryn – I, too, am a cooking show lover just like you and believe me, I have vivid memories of 1999 when I watched – and video-taped – the Saturday morning cooking shows on KRMA Channel 6 Rocky Mountain PBS TV out here in Denver. I am, to this date, a fan of "Lidia's Italian-American Cooking" and I woujld give ANYTHING to show up at her restaurants in New York City or Kansas City MO, even if it were to mean wearing my ultimate formal best for the occasion! But Mystery Diners is unfortunately an example of the recent reality TV trend, and to me, it needs to air a "viewer discretion is advised" alert each time BEFORE it airs any episode, as I personally get very emotionally overreactive to it at times. The content of some episodes lately has had me MORTIFIED over the REPULSIVE IDIOTS in real life!

    • Chad says:

      Some of my favorite cooking shows were the instructional ones too. I loved to watch Julia Child, Jacques Pépin, Sara Moulton, Graham Kerr, Martin Yan, Justin Wilson, and others of that ilk. Too bad the Food Network does not re-broadcast those shows.

      • guest says:

        I agree.The FN used to be a great place to watch how certain foods were cooked. I also liked to watch PBS for their cooking. The FN has gone way off course with all of the cooking competitions and such. I like Mystery Diners. I knew it was fake from the start and you can the people that work on it, Charles Stiles and his crew are not actors, I don't understand some of the comments. You don't like it, don't watch it. I do wish, though, that the Food Network would stop some of the competitions and get back to what they started out doing, teaching people to cook.

  3. Marie Briiswalder says:

    Hi this is for Jennifer and Charles I'm Trins Grandmother Marie,I was wondering about Mystery Shoppers can you give me some info Please.

  4. FAKE, FAKE, FAKE – That is all you need to know about Mystery Diners. It is completely fake. There is absolutely no way that they could record the video and audio they use on this show without the people being recorded being in on the scam. Don't waste your time reading about "Charles Stiles".

  5. Chris says:

    You know, if you want to do a show that's fake just put a disclaimer at the top of the show. It can still be based on real incidents, but this show is obviously acted, not real, and it's not mentioned. Come on.

  6. KathleenMM says:

    Okay, so it's a reenactment. Could you guys at least take acting lessons?? So badly done, so poorly scripted. Just state it's a reenactment.

    • Chad says:

      I do not think it is a re-enactment, although some of the dialog is definitely scripted. I think they take tons of tape from a week's work and then use a tiny, tiny bit of it is the show, so the tapes we see are real, not re-enacted. However, the problem I have with the show is that we get to see very little of the problems and too many comments from the "plants" and too many re-caps after each commercial. I would love to see this as an hour show, but with much more substance from the actual tapes.

  7. done says:

    I've tried to act and was terrible at it..these people are as bad as I am at acting. I can spot them a mile away. Watch closer at their faces, they almost sneak peeks at the camera. I've seen them do it in several episodes, they know they are being watched. Some customers I've noticed are not in on it but all involved in the show Are in on it. I always thought they were to let us know when a show is not real, but I guess I'm wrong. It is hilarious for a good laugh at how fake it is. Watch them, I mean REALLY watch them, they are as fake as it gets and I too have seen a person or two in other shows. I do like most of Food Networks shows but this one takes the cake for all kinds of wrong. I like cooking and food challenges but this show is a waste of air time and I am deleting it off of my DVR to record no more of the episodes.

  8. Mark says:

    There is a disclaimer at the end of the show that appears for less than a fraction of a second, (you have to pause your tv to see it) that says the show uses reenactments. I just wonder about the actors who participate – what happens when people meet them and think they really are thieves/ drunks/ etc…

  9. Anon345 says:

    The one thing this show has over RESTAURANT STAKEOUT: Charles isn't nearly the insufferable blowhard that Willie Deagle is. : P

  10. Granatelli says:

    Pretty disappointed. At first I liked the show, but now, it alll seems either scripted, fake and or reenactment. If I was an employee at a restaurant, I'd spot those obvious cameras the first day. And the person that's targeted and does all the wrong things, well – it just goes over the top. I've worked in plenty of places, and I've never seen anything as ridiculous as I've seen on this show. And when the person gets pulled into Charles' back room with the cameras and monitors, the person is like, "Who me? What did I do?" Most people would figure it out pretty quick. Cameras = Busted = Gave Over. This show is 100% fake that I can tell.

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