The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

04 March 2007

Become a mystery diner

Big restaurant chains require continuous customer feedback to help them maintain standards of quality and service.

There may be no such thing as a free lunch; but you may be able to get a free meal for yourself and up to three friends if you are prepared to provide feedback on your dining experience next day. You can do this through MysteryDining. The procedure is as follows:

1. Apply on line to become a Mystery Diner
2. If your application is successful, then you sign up to the terms and conditions of Mystery Dining.
3. You read the “Diner Handbook” and then answer some questions.
4. You view available Dines, and if you are interested, you call to discuss and then book yourself in for that date.
5. You preview a questionnaire, and confirm that you have done this.
6. You then go out and eat. Enjoy your meal. But be discrete and observant.
7. After the meal, complete the questionnaire and return this by noon the next day.
8. You need to remain available to answer any questions.
9. The cost of your meal is then credited to your bank account.

Sign up as a Mystery Diner and help maintain or improve the quality of chain restaurant dining:

Go wild with flowers

Landlife is an environmental charity working mainly in urban and urban-fringe areas, with the aim of bringing nature and people closer together. It promotes the sowing of wildflower seeds, which can bring colour back into the environment and help turn a patch of derelict land in any local community into a stunning wildlife area.

Landlife’s objectives are to:
• Develop and support creative conservation sites.
• Bring people and wildlife closer together.
• Promote better understanding of wildflowers and wildlife.
• Address issues of climate change.

You can buy mixed seed packs from Landlife Wildflowers. You will require about 1 gram of seeds per square metre of land. Order your seeds now and get sowing.
Trial size: 1 sq m = 1 gram
Small area: 10 sq m =10 gram or 100 sq m = 100 gram
Large area:
1000 sq m = 1 kg 
or 5000 sq m = 5 kg

Get your wildflower seeds from Landlife Wildflowers:
Visit the National Wildflower Centre in Liverpool:

How to create a Wildflower Meadow
Landlife meadow mixes are made up of fine grasses and flowers that bloom in their second year. The best sowing times are early Spring, or late Summer to Autumn. However, most wildflower seeds will germinate during the summer months if you are able to keep them moist.

It is very important to get the ground preparation right - fertile grassy areas will swamp wildflowers completely. You need to:
1. Ideally, scrape off the rich topsoil as it is full of weed seeds which will result in a lush growth that will swamp the wildflowers. If sown in topsoil spray the area or use an organic method to get rid of coarse grass and weed seed.
2. Create a fine seed bed in the subsoil and lightly sow the seed. If the area is large divide it into sections and sow evenly (mixing with barley meal, silver sand or sawdust helps to spread the seed evenly and helps you to see where you've been).
3. Rake in thoroughly and firm down to ensure your seeds have a good contact with the soil.
4. If you do sow in topsoil, you will have to keep on top of the weeds and thin out the grass periodically.
5. Mow the area at least three times in the first year to a height of about 5cm, this will also reduce grass competition. It is very important to remove the cuttings, as they will increase fertility. Treat the area as you would a lazy lawn i.e. cut when it looks untidy, approximately 3 times a year.

In year two, when the meadow will start to flower, cut once (make sure your flowers have all set seed), this will usually be by mid September and again remove the cuttings to a compost heap. These are some Do’s and Don’ts:
DON'T scatter your seed onto existing lawn/grass - it won't work.
DON'T apply fertiliser to your meadow.
DO keep the area watered in dry spells

Consumers fight back

UK banks made profits in 2006 at record levels.
• HSBC: £12 billion
• Royal Bank of Scotland: £9.3 billion
• Barclays: £7 billion
• HBoS: £5.5 billion
• Lloyds TSB: £4.25 billion
That’s nearly £700 for every man, woman and child in the UK.

This high level of profit has brought into focus some of the ways in which the big banks have been overcharging their customers.

The law on what the banks are allowed to charge is clear: any charges that they levy on their customers must be proportional to the actual costs they incur. The simple question is… “Does it really cost £35 to send an automated letter when someone has gone 1p over the limit?”.

Once this question was posed, many people wrote to their bank requesting a list of the charges made during the past six years, asking for a full refund on the basis that they were overcharged (of course plus interest added to this). They threatened to go court using the small claims procedure. In most cases, the banks paid out; one person received as much as £17,500. There’s no guarantee of getting anything back, but so far the majority of people with a legitimate case have been able to do so. This has been one of the campaigns promoted by MoneySavingExpert, which has even provided a sample letter to use when requesting a refund.

“Companies try to screw us for profits. MoneySavingExpert shows you how to screw them back.” Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert has made it his mission to ensure that customers take action when there is a financial rip-off and that they have sufficient information to get the best deal on a wide range of services.

Martin is a 34-year-old journalist. He has had his own ITV1 series “Make Me Rich”, and his book “Money Diet” was a bestseller. Martin created the website in February 2003 with these key principles – “that it should be free, ad-free, independent and unbiased”. It has grown to become the UK's biggest money site, covering credit cards, shopping, phones, utilities, savings and investments. Loans and banking, insurance, travel and transport, mortgages and homes.

"I’d been working as ‘the Money Saving Expert’ since June 2000 and was already lucky enough to have a newspaper column and regular slots on different TV and radio programmes. During the course of my research, I began to send tips to my friends as and when I spotted a good deal during my research. Jokingly I called it 'Martin's Money Tips'."

"After a couple of months, I was at a party and people I’d not met kept thanking me for the e-mails. It turned out my friends were forwarding it to their friends, so to make it easier, I set up an e-mail list built around a basic homepage."

"The e-mail took off with 1,000 recipients, so I decided the site had potential to help me promote my journalism work, and I paid a web designer in Uzbekistan £100 to design a proper site. This was launched on 20 February 2003, which for me is when it really started."

"Frankly the growth of the site after that astounds me. It luckily coincided with more high profile broadcast work, which helped build my reputation and thus bring people to the site. And vice versa, the site’s growth also helped bolster my reputation, bringing more TV work."

"Now, only a few years later (as at 27 Feb '07) there are nearly 6 million visits a month to the site from 2.48 million people in the UK and over 1,000,000 people who have added themselves to the distribution list to receive the weekly e-mail."

"Writing and running the site now takes most of my week, and I’m more than ably assisted these days by a team. I’m staggered by how it all happened, but very grateful, and hope the site will go from strength to strength, continuing to be a true force to be reckoned with by companies, and a place consumers can call home!"

“I deliberately retain 100% ownership. This way regardless of scale it can retain its non-profit-driven ethical stance."

The site is free to use, but generates money from traffic generated from the site to other sites A part of the revenue generated goes to charities selected by the site’s users and a part to the site’s own charitable fund.

Take a tour of, play the money saving game, sign up for the newsletter, and do one thing to get yourself a better deal.