Review – HGEM Mystery Dining – I’ve eaten £1,419.49 worth of free food in the last year!

Some links in this blog may be affiliate/referral links. This review and all of the information in it is completely independent though.

Update – 7 April 2023

The last two reports I have written have both had TTCs (Things to consider) – Each TTC dropped me down a status. I went from Platinum to Gold, then Gold to Silver, for two points that I think are incredibly pinickity. This is the downside of this type of platform – ultimately it is a ‘voluntary’ role, in which you are reimbursed for what you spend, but there is limited recall. I personally feel it is rather unfair to knock somebody down a status (and thus limit access to visits) for what I see as minor and debatable points. Given no updates were requested, the report has still went to the client as I wrote it (I assume), so its a bit of a kick in the teeth.

On balance though, I have also cancelled quite a few visits recently due to my ill-health, and so far, HGEM haven’t kicked me off the platform – so swings and roundabouts!

At the time of writing, I have completed 55 visits. This blog post is my independent opinion – I am not being paid to write about it.

What is HGEM?

HGEM offer mystery dining/visit services in order for companies to ensure their internal standards are being met and ultimately customers are being kept happy.

In turn, HGEM need people to complete these visits, so this is where me and you come in!

How does HGEM work?

In the first instance, you need to register using this link – this should take you around 10-15 minutes I would say.

As part of the registration process, you do need to demonstrate that you can write a report by answering three questions. This isn’t too arduous, but I would recommend proofreading before you submit.

I would also add that this little report-writing example is actually more detailed than any report I have written – once you are accepted onto the platform, you will never write a full report – read below for more information on this.

Is there a referral?

There is and there isn’t – if you do sign up then there is the option to input the below information.

At the moment, neither me nor you will receive anything for this referral, but if you have registered because of this blog post or my posts on social media, there is no harm in letting HGEM know that it is me who sent you their way!

You can register using this link .

I have been accepted as a mystery diner – now what?

Congratulations! Now you wait to see what visits are available in your area.

I find the easiest way to check this is on the HGEM app so I highly recommend you download that.

I also usually complete my report visits on my mobile phone as they are so quick and easy, but every now and again if I happen to be at my computer and haven’t done the report yet, I might answer the questions on my desktop.

What visits have I done?

Since becoming a mystery diner, these are the places I have visited and the number of times I have visited them:-

Last updated – 21/10/2022

Pret a Manger – 38 times

Itsu – 3 times

Wingstop – 2 times

Brewdog – 2 times

Dishoom (delivery) – 2 times

Pret a Manger (delivery) – 1 time

Byron – 1 time

Byron (delivery) – 1 time

Cosy Club – 1 time

Teamsport Go Karting – 1 time

Wagamama – 1 time

Turtle Bay – 1 time

Local pub – 1 time

Edit – 15/11/2022 – I am currently in a Starbucks writing this during a mystery dine but I haven’t submitted the report yet

How do I get the visits?

When you first sign up, you won’t see all available visits. However, the more visits you do, the higher your status will

All I can recommend is to keep checking the app/website. Ultimately you won’t be able to time it perfectly, and it is perhaps unhealthy to check every few minutes, but note that visits can go on the app at any time – this could be due to new visits being uploaded or another diner cancelling their own visit.

Which visits are my favourites?

This is a difficult question because for me, they all serve different purposes.

I think the best visits to do are the delivery visits. I am a little bit lazy sometimes, so the fact that I an get food delivered me at my own home for free (or in the office, if I am working there) is just amazing.

Pret is really useful to me when I am working in the office because I have many within walking distance of my office (including one on the doorstep – bagging that visit is the dream!), the reimbursement is a generous £8 and they recently halved the report so it now takes around 5 minutes rather than 10 minutes! (Update – I did a report at the airport before flying to Portugal and it seems the report is now even shorter again.)

Except this, I only take on visits that I think I will enjoy. It’s a great way to try new places that I might not go to otherwise – and from the list above, there are a couple of places that I love, and one in particular which I wouldn’t go back to again, even for free! I will let you guess which is which…

They don’t only do dines, though obviously this is the majority – Last week, we had a go-karting experience reimbursed! This also included some pretty disappointed food, but the go-karting itself was amazing! This experience cost us £105.10, but £105 of this will be reimbursed (I got an extra drink to take-away knowing that it would only, in effect, cost me 10p.)

Can I order whatever I want?

No you cannot. The brief will tell you what you need to order. In addition to that, it will also tell you how many people are required for the visit.

It’s rare that you will be required to order specific items, but it does happen. More often than not, you will have to pick from a certain category. This is all made clear in

You also need to keep an eye out for exclusions. The reason for these exclusions are, I assume, because they distort the type of visit the ultimate client wants. For example, the Pret brief (I think – but it changes often) doesn’t allow you to order a smoothie – this isn’t just saying that they won’t reimburse it, it is saying that your report is at risk of being rejected outright if that is on your receipt.

What if I don’t understand what is expected of me?

Contact HGEM support prior to your visit. I find the phone is the best way to get through to them, and regardless, support will only respond on a weekday.

Will the whole bill be covered?

The reimbursement amount is set for each visit. For a lot of places, especially the more popular ones, the reimbursement might not actually be enough to pay for everything no matter what you choose.

For example, Itsu only pays £7 at the time of writing, but it’s impossible to meet the requirements of the brief without spending more.

Another one is Burgerism, especially at Escape to Freight Island – I did have one of these scheduled but cancelled it after previewing the questionnaire. Due to the layout of Escape to Freight Island, the questions just didn’t make sense and coupled with the fact that I would not have the whole bill re-imbursed, I decided it wasn’t worth the time and effort.

This does mean that you have to be a little bit savvy OR simply accept the fact that you won’t have the whole bill reimbursed. I advise you check out the menu in advance and work out whether you can get it all covered.

When do I get the money back?

This might be one of the downsides for those who are on a tight budget. You will receive

Can I use extra discounts?

I would say, but don’t hold me to this, that you can safely assume you are allowed to use discounts unless it says otherwise. Sometimes in the brief it might specifically say you can use discounts (e.g online discount for Teamsport and blue light at Turtle Bay), and I equally the brief would specifically exclude discounts if you weren’t allowed to use them – see this for example.

Using discounts is a great way to get a little more bang for your buck because quite often the reimbursement will struggle to cover your meal – whenever I am on a mystery dine, I pay close attention to making sure my bill comes under the reimbursement amount if possible.

However, you cannot use a gift card to pay for your meal (or at least, if you do, whatever is paid on a gift card won’t be reimbursed!)

Should I tell them that I am mystery guest?

No – I have never seen a visit where you have to declare yourself as a mystery guest – the clue is in the name, and the whole point of it being a mystery is that you receive a typical service.

I do sometimes wonder if it is obvious though – I try my best to disguise myself and I feel as if it isn’t known (in stark contrast to incognito missions on an app such as BeMyEye (review coming soon) whereby I must remain unknown but yet sometimes take over a hundred, perfectly-framed photos – a big reason I don’t use that app so often.

For this reason too, you will be unable to complete visits where you personally know a member of staff.

What don’t I like?

I personally find that sometimes it isn’t quite clear what HGEM want in a brief, and the first checks of the report sometimes aren’t so understanding or sympathetic. I have never had an issue being reimbursed, but when an assessor makes a “point to note” on your report, enough of these can lead to a reduction in status (which will lead to a reduction in available visits).

My advice to you would be that if you think a point has been raised unfairly, to challenge this with the assessor. They may stand their ground and they may have good reason to, but on the flip side, sometimes briefs just aren’t clear enough.

One example is a recent report I did in which the assessor marked me down for not giving reasons when I said no to a question. At this point, the survey wasn’t prompting me to give an explanation (the comment box is there, but it wasn’t required).

I was given a ‘point to note’ about giving a reason for a no answer without justification. In my opinion, if it wants me to justify the answer, it should force me to do so.

Is it worth it?

I think it’s a no-brainer to be honest. You choose when and want you to do the mystery dines, so by definition you will only be signing up for dines that suit you.

Just be patient though – especially depending on where you live, you might get your first visit on day one or you might have to wait a few months or longer!

Are there any other mystery dining websites available?

Yes there are – however, so far I have used HGEM for all but one of my mystery dines. Therefore until I have more experience with other websites, please check out this MoneySavingExpert article.

If you love food, check out these deals too…

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