There are only a few things you really expect when you visit any one of the fast food restaurants across the world. You want a fast, filling meal at a decent price, and… that’s about it. You’re not looking for something super-healthy, and you’re not even looking for choices your mother would necessarily approve of. That’s not asking much, right? It turns out, you should also ask for fair service and treatment from the establishment you’re visiting, because according to customers, there have been a lot of times when that didn’t happen.
We apologize in advance for ruining your trust in your favorite junk food mecca, but it had to happen eventually. These are the times that fast food restaurants cheated customers.
Burger King’s Croissan’wich price hike
Burger King ended 2017 by settling a class action lawsuit claiming Maryland customers had been cheated for almost two years. According to Fox News, the lawsuit was filed by Koleta Anderson of Maryland, and she claimed customers who used a Buy One, Get One coupon for BK’s Croissan’wich were paying an inflated price. Anderson says when she used the coupon, she was charged for a single sandwich at $3.19. Without the coupon, she was charged $2.16 for the same sandwich.
Anderson says she tried it at a few different Burger King locations, and her lawyer’s investigator did, too. They said they got the same result, and claimed BK was hiking the price for coupon-using customers. BK denied there was any funny business going on, but they still settled the matter and agreed to hand out some $2 and $5 gift cards.
Chipotle’s questionable calorie interpretation
Chipotle’s claim to fame is fresh ingredients and the fact that it’s a healthier alternative than some competitors, but their eagerness to share just how healthy they are didn’t sit well with diners from Los Angeles. According to the LA Times, Chipotle was the target of a class action lawsuit when diners finished their meal and felt much fuller than the advertised 300-calorie burrito should have made them.
The confusion came in when diners looked at a menu board that showed a picture of the chorizo burrito, a summary of ingredients, and a note that claimed simply, "300 calories." Fortune says Chipotle’s nutrition calculator gives you a grand total of 930 calories for just a chorizo burrito with white rice and black beans (much less than the advertised burrito was filled with). Turns out, the chorizo alone was the 300 calories referred to on the signage. While it might seem obvious that all those ingredients will add up to more than 300 calories, everyone from customers to registered dietitians chimed in to say the advertising is incredibly deceiving — and therein lies the problem. Since California law requires restaurants to make complete nutritional information available to customers, it was a double whammy that (as of January 2018) is still waiting for a resolution.
Dunkin’ Donuts look-alike ingredients
It was a rough 2017 for Dunkin’ Donuts. They made headlines a few times when they were accused of using ingredients that weren’t exactly what they advertised, and it started in April. That’s when The Boston Globe says a Massachusetts customer got a settlement out of a lawsuit filed against the coffee and donut chain claiming customers at a group of 20 locations were being served margarine or butter substitute, even if they asked for butter. The suit had been in the works for a few years after it came to light franchisees almost always used butter substitute, saying it was easier to spread. It’s also worth noting that the ten plaintiffs were awarded $500 each, while the attorneys took home a whopping $500,000.
In June, Boston.com reported on another lawsuit, this one filed in New York. This time, they were being accused of using ground beef in their steak-and-egg sandwiches. The ingredients list officially says "Angus Beef," which the plaintiffs say isn’t actually the "steak" advertisements describe. And in August, yet another class action lawsuit was filed. Today Food says this one claimed products labeled as "blueberry" didn’t contain any actual blueberries, and instead used sugary "flavored crystals." To be fair, that’s not exactly an unheard of practice, but this customer says he wouldn’t have paid as much knowing the fruit was artificial. Both recent cases are still awaiting a verdict.
Starbucks’ questionable lattes
Next time you get a latte from Starbucks, pop the top. What do you see? According to a 2016 lawsuit (via The Guardian), you might see 25 percent less coffee than you expect.
Plaintiffs claimed that Starbucks lattes were carefully constructed to save the company money and short-change the customer. It even went as far as alleging that the pitchers Starbucks employees were instructed to use to make their coffees weren’t the proper measurements, and when the case made it to court, it was found the case hinged on an idea that could be interpreted a few different ways.
Lattes need foam, that’s what makes them a latte. The question is, do you expect foamed milk to take up room in your cup, or do you expect your 16-ounce latte to contain 16 ounces of liquid? According to the reporter sent out by the Today Show, his 16-ounce lattes only contained 12 ounces of actual liquid. What gives? It wasn’t until January 2018 that Reuters reported the lawsuit was dismissed because the foam was considered part of the drink, and Starbucks’ measuring system was completely acceptable — even though many customers don’t agree.
The great Jimmy John’s sprout fiasco
In 2014, the StarTribune reported on a class action lawsuit one disgruntled customer brought against Jimmy John’s. She claimed she didn’t get alfalfa sprouts on her sandwiches when they were very clearly listed on the menu, so she sued for a whole list of offenses like negligent misrepresentation and fraud. Clearly, she takes her sprouts seriously, and here’s where the story gets odd.
After an outbreak of E. coli in 2012, Jimmy John’s was one of the restaurants named as a source of illness. The culprit? Raw sprouts. Jimmy John’s promised to get rid of the ingredient completely, and while they did, they didn’t change their menus.
They denied wrongdoing, but still settled and agreed to give unhappy customers a voucher for $1.40, that could be redeemed for any side item or soft drink… but not a side of sprouts.
McDonald’s fry cheat
We’ve all been there. We go through the drive-thru at McDonald’s, but when we open our bags, there’s a suspicious amount of fries that seem missing.
According to the Reddit thread "What did your job want you to hide from customers?" one McDonald’s employee claims they were told to pinch the bottom of the fry container when they filled it, so it looked like it was full… but really wasn’t. Other employees confirmed the practice — and that customers occasionally called them out on it — but when a McDonald’s representative reached out to the Huffington Post they wholeheartedly denied that was ever a practice put in place in any of their locations. This may be a case of a few isolated locations — or a really good cover up. We may never know.
Subway’s great "footlong" debate
We’re sure you remember hearing about this one, and it went on for so long you’ve probably forgotten some of the details. With the help of Forbes, let’s recap. In 2013, a customer at a Subway in Australia posted a photo of his footlong sub next to a tape measure that showed it was only 11 inches long. The internet was not about to stand for that sort of thing, and a group filed a class action lawsuit against Subway.
It was found the length difference was down to the way bread baked, and since all loaves start from the same amount of dough, you’re guaranteed to get a particular amount of bread. In spite of that, the case was settled for $525,000 and that should have ended it. One plaintiff refused to settle, though, and kept the case going.
And going. And going. It wasn’t until August 2017 that Reuters reported the entire case was thrown out of a court that condemned not Subway, but the attorneys for trying to milk it for all it was worth. So, while you might not be getting exactly 12 inches of bread, the courts say you’re getting your money’s worth.
Burger King’s timer shenanigans
Here’s one that hasn’t resulted in a court case, but it’s something that everyone should be aware of — especially because it can happen at any fast food place, not just Burger King. If you regularly go through the drive-thru, you may have been asked to pull up and wait for your food so customers after you can be served. That’s completely legitimate, especially if it’s a large order. But when blogger Amy Oztan of Amy Ever After was asked to pull forward then back again (along with several other customers), she asked what was going on.
She says they were straight with her: They were resetting the timer that keeps track of how long it takes drive-thru customers to be served. The employee told her they had specific criteria they needed to meet, and since they weren’t, they were asking for a little help from their customers when it came to cheating the system.
The point of fast food is to be fast, right? The only way that happens is if everyone is on the up-and-up, so keep that one in mind if anyone ever asks you to pull up or aside for no apparent reason.
Domino’s pizza tracker lies
Domino’s kick-started their pizza tracker in 2008, and in theory, it’s pretty handy. But by 2017, a lot of people were still calling foul when they were continuing to find the tracker didn’t match what was actually happening on their doorstep.
According to The Wall Street Journal (via Fox News), customers were saying that not only was the tracker getting delivery times wrong, but it wasn’t even getting the delivery person right. Domino’s responded to Fox News by saying it was all legit, but alleged employees and angry customers took to Reddit long before that to say that the name of the person making your pizza was usually just the manager’s name, and the app is pretty much a 30-minute timer.
Pizza Hut and Papa John’s trackers have had similar skeptics, and according to a former Domino’s employee (via Huffington Post), Domino’s tracker was sort of legit… but the problem was that employees could easily fudge the system. Drivers would set up dummy accounts to make it easier for them to combine deliveries into one trip, and employees in the store would mark deliveries as finished to make their numbers better. The moral of the story? Don’t believe the tracker.
McDonald’s Extra Value Meals don’t necessarily contain extra value
You hit McDonald’s for lunch, order a sandwich, fries, and a drink… but wait. There’s an Extra Value Meal for that, and it’s going to save you money, right? Not necessarily.
Savvy shopper Kelly Killeen filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s over the price of their Extra Value Meals. Her argument was that a sausage burrito meal cost $5.08, but separately, the items would cost $4.97. That sounds hugely misleading, but a court of law doesn’t think so.
The case was dismissed, and the official ruling was that McDonald’s was violating no laws with their Extra Value Meals. Since the prices of everything were clearly listed, they weren’t misleading anyone. According to Judge Elaine Bucklo (via Fox News), "Here, a straightforward, price-to-price comparison based on information available at the point of purchase would unequivocally dispel any misleading inference that could be drawn…"
So basically, it’s up to you to do your math, because pricing at McDonald’s doesn’t work like you think it does.
McDonald’s cheese-free cheese sticks
McDonald’s had a ton of problems with their cheese sticks, starting with customers complaining because they found their cheese sticks were missing something important: the cheese. According to NBC Chicago, so many people complained about the quality of the cheese sticks and posted photos of empty breading shells that McDonald’s was forced to make a statement saying the cheese seemed to have melted out during cooking, and they were sorry.
Is that how cheese works?
It wasn’t long before news outlets were reporting that one California customer filed a lawsuit over the mysteriously melting cheese, claiming it wasn’t the "real mozzarella" and "100 percent cheese" they were advertising, but a cheese product made with fillers. McDonald’s issued another statement saying, "We intend to defend ourselves vigorously against these allegations."
The company had made promises to address the cheese problem after the first wave of complaints and photos hit social media, but instead, discontinued the mozzarella sticks not long after (via Business Insider).
McDonald’s unwanted cheese
McDonald’s found themselves facing another cheesy lawsuit in 2018, this time over the Quarter Pounder. Their in-store and online menus allegedly recently offered a Quarter Pounder without Cheese, a menu item that seemed to be for sale. But two customers said it was very different when you headed to the restaurant and asked for a cheese-less Quarter Pounder.
According to the lawsuit (via USA Today), the only way to get a Quarter Pounder without cheese is to order a Quarter Pounder, get charged for the cheese, and ask them to take it off — in spite of the fact that the cheeseless version was advertised. Cheese-free Quarter Pounders at lower prices have since disappeared from signage, they say, and they claim McDonald’s is actually breaking antitrust laws and creating what’s termed an "illegal tying arrangement."
The lawsuit stated: "McDonald’s is being unjustly enriched by these practices, because it receives payment for cheese it does not deliver to its customers." McDonald’s says the lawsuit is "nonsense," and that if it goes through, it opens the restaurant world up for "utter chaos" (via Inc.). Legit lawsuit, or no?
Burger King’s size problem
In 2010, Burger King got in some trouble over a massive misrepresentation of their Tendercrisp burger… and by "massive," we mean that literally.
You don’t expect the items you get served to look exactly like they do in the advertisements, but Burger King represented their new sandwich so badly that the Advertising Standard Authority stepped in. According to their statement (via the BBC), they found "… the visuals in the advert were likely to mislead viewers as to the size and composition of the product."
That’s a big deal, and it’s impossible to tell how many customers sidled up to the counter and ordered it only to get something that was almost completely different than what they’d seen on TV. The ASA had bought three of the sandwiches in question, and found what was actually served was so far removed from the advertisement that they just couldn’t let it slide. The ad in question — which showed a man in a hotel room "cheating" on a beef burger by eating the chicken sandwich — was banned.
Long John Silver’s false advertising
In 2013, the Center for Science in the Public Interest took a look at Long John Silver’s Big Catch meal. What they found was pretty disturbing, and it just starts with the fact that anyone who gets one of these meals because they’re thinking fish is a healthier option is sorely mistaken. Loaded with 33 grams of fat and a shocking 3700 mg of sodium, they ultimately named it the "Worst Restaurant Meal in America."
But there was some shadiness going on here, too. Most of the bad stuff came from the partially hydrogenated oil the fish was fried in, and when they looked at the fish, they found customers weren’t getting what they paid for. Even though it was advertised as being between 7 and 8 ounces of premium haddock, CSPI said their samples were around 4.5 ounces of fish, and 3 ounces of deep-fried batter. That makes it only about 60 percent fish, and sure, deep-fried batter is great, but that’s not in line with what they were advertising.
Two months after their findings were released, Long John Silver’s announced they were planning to discontinue the meal and change their frying process.