Mystery Diners, currently being broadcast by the Food Network cable network, is a reality television series based on uncovering problems behind the scenes at restaurants through the use of “mystery diners”. A mystery diner is roughly the same concept as a mystery, or secret, shopper in the retail business. Unknown to the employees in the restaurant, a person or people are sent in, posing as regular customers, to monitor and evaluate what is happening within the business, usually reporting back to the owners.
The series made its debut on the Food Network on May 5, 2012. The show is hosted by Charles Stiles, owner of Business Evaluation Services and Mystery Shopper Services, both California based companies. So far the series has produced 11 seasons, giving the viewing public just over 135 episodes.
The basic premise of the show is that mystery diners are sent in undercover to perform sting operations, and sometimes setting up hidden cameras as well, in an effort to catch employees that the owners suspect of doing wrong in one way or another. In season nine of the series, changes were made to the format of the show, along with the addition of new technologies and sometimes using private investigators to aid the core team. Stiles has stated that these changes were made because restaurant employees seem to have updated their scams as they’ve become more aware of both the show and his company.
In general the show begins with Stiles conducting a consultation with the owners of a given establishment. They go over the problems the owner is concerned with and come up with a plan to try to catch the culprit(s) in the act. A control room of sorts is usually set up where Stiles and the owner can watch the goings on through closed circuit TV as well as hear what is happening through microphones placed in various places throughout the restaurant and on Stiles’ employees. Often at least one person on the team is introduced to current staff as a new employee and set to work as a waiter or cook, depending on where he/she is needed. Others will come into the establishment, fully wired, posing as regular customers. In later seasons, a private investigator is often brought in as well, to do background checks on employees and sometimes provide other information regarding any illegal activities.
Of course, once the guilty party is found and recorded during their illicit acts, the show usually comes to a close with both Stiles and the owner confronting the guilty party and showing off that they’ve been caught by the sting operation. Although no criminal charges are usually filed, many of the accused are obviously angry, and either end up fired, or sometimes quitting on their own.
Adding to the controversy of the show, the series has been accused of being both completely fake and scripted. Several people claiming to be involved with both Stiles’ companies and restaurants that have been featured on the show have come forward and stated that not everything broadcast on the series is real. It has been rumored that actors are used in place of uncooperative employees and even that entire scenes and episodes were made up completely of actors following a pre-written script. Apparently there have been some law suits filed concerning these accusations, but so far nothing has been proven publicly one way or the other.
Regardless of the level of reality of the show, it’s fairly obvious that it has done well with audiences as it’s already last for 11 seasons. Food Network is also quite obviously happy, as they keep renewing the show and loving the numbers it brings. The last episode of season 11 was set to air January 27, 2016. It’s still a little bit too early to get official word from Food Network on whether or not season 12 is in the works, but it’s likely that fans have nothing to worry about. With a show that has been running this long, the network will usually give fair warning about any kind of cancellation even before the last season finishes airing. So in this case, no news is most likely good news. There’s been no announcement of cancellation, which would lead us to believe that a renewal is very likely and season 12 will be coming along right on schedule.