It can feel like everywhere you turn, someone is trying to swindle you. Turns out, you’re not even safe in the warm, welcoming arms of your favorite burger joint. Unfortunately, fast food restaurants are not the safe haven you might be hoping for — they’ve been known to take advantage of their customers, too. Whether it’s shady business practices or misleading advertising, here are all the ways your favorite eateries might be scamming you. “Gee, this is pretty good.”
The fry trick
It’s easy to scarf down McDonald’s fries, but have you ever felt like they disappeared a little too quickly? Your appetite might not be to blame. Former employees of the fast food chain have alleged that employees are encouraged to pinch the fry carton while pouring fries in, to make the box appear full when it’s really half-empty. By the time the customer notices — if they do — they’re already out of line and out the door. McDonald’s denied any knowledge of this practice, saying, “We believe these claims to be fictional, there are no ‘secret tricks’ and we have strict operational procedures in place to ensure that fry portions are not under-filled.” But of course they’d say that. It might be a good idea to keep an eye on those fries before you dive in next time — just in case. “There are several sacred things in this world that you don’t ever mess with. One of them happens to be another man’s fries.”
Same size, different price
Do you get the cup of soup or the bowl? Does it matter? They might be the same size, depending where you are — and one might cost more than the other. Online commenters have discussed this sneaky tactic at a number of restaurants, from local diners to major chains, claiming that everything from sodas to soups to milkshakes can get described misleadingly. At one unnamed chain, a Reddit poster wrote that, “People would pay more for a bowl, and just get a cup of soup in a bowl that was shorter and wider at the bottom than the cup.” The way containers are designed can make it harder than it should be to compare sizes at a glance, and it’s not illegal to sell the same amount of product at varying prices in different-sized containers. It’s just very misleading. [Rapping] “Check my Big Cups, double up heavyweight size, fill em up and guzzle til you’re satisfied.”
Track your order?
Ordering pizza for delivery has never been easier. But the technology that connects you with your dinner can be manipulated, and not in the customer’s favor. Take the Domino’s Tracker. This webpage allows you to see the exact status of your order on its way from the kitchen to your door — supposedly. But employees are the ones who enter that information, and can make your order appear to be at a different stage than it is, with pizzas being marked as dispatched to drivers who aren’t even back at the store yet. It makes the stores’ prep times more impressive, but at the cost of misleading you. But don’t give them a hard time — delivery boys have it tough enough. “Woah, he stole that guy’s pizza!”
Not what you asked for
Fast food slogans like “Have it your way” have led us to believe that the customer has the power when they order. But that’s not always the case. “What is — I ordered the barbeque beef!” Anecdotes from workers of chains like Burger King have claimed that, in practice, what you’re sold is sometimes not what you get, especially if there’s a chance you can’t easily tell the difference. Stories of decaf coffee being watered-down regular coffee have circulated, despite the fact that that’s not how decaffeination works. Full-fat mayo may be sold as light mayo, or vice versa, depending on what’s cheaper — and you may never even know.
Grill marks mean nothing
We see grill marks on our food, and we taste a distinct grilled flavor, but the grill you see in so many kitchens is a flattop. What gives? Most fast food restaurants receive product from companies whose job it is to add those grill marks, as well as flavor enhancers to make it taste like it came straight off the barbecue. According to Food Republic, the deceptive burger patties and chicken pieces are soaked in a solution that includes salt, animal fats, smoke flavoring, and other preservatives before being cooked with blasts of hot air. After that, the not-grilled food is branded to make it appear grilled. You have to wonder: Wouldn’t it be simpler to just… actually grill?
Receipts don’t add up
It can pay to be diligent about checking your meal receipts. In 2017, a Panera Bread customer told Chicago’s WGN9 that he noticed an inflated total after one visit. “There was an additional nine dollars in the subtotal, but there was no items in the line items above that suggested that it should add up to that amount.” In a statement, a Panera representative said, “We found a rare glitch in the system which resulted in the charge […] We implemented a change on our receipt structure which we believe has resolved this issue.” Others have since come forward with similar claims, so this glitch may not have been so rare after all. The bottom line is, well… always check the bottom line.
What you see, and what you get
Fast food ads know how to catch the eye. But the letdown is immediate when what you get in real life looks nothing like the picture promised, and that’s probably never going to change. Consumer Reports checked out seven fast food restaurants to see how the pictures on the menus compared to what they actually ordered. For the most part, the results were disappointing, with Subway coming in as the most misleading. “Trimble! Let’s see ya sub! No. No, meat on the inside, bread on the outside.” It’s extremely common stuff. So if this is a universally recognized problem, why can’t we expect a change? Isn’t it false advertising? Unfortunately, not really. According to a spokesperson for the Federal Trade Commission, “Truth-in-advertising laws do apply when restaurants show menu items in print and television ads […] but the FTC hasn’t pursued any cases alleging that food ads are deceptive based on photos.” Apparently, the government isn’t likely to take law enforcement action, quote, “in cases where consumers can easily evaluate the product, it’s inexpensive, and it’s frequently purchased.” Sounds like we’re all better off just adjusting our expectations — and maybe making our own food, too.