Assume nothing to avoid the fast-food up-sell ambush


You buy a TV and get offered an extended warranty; you take a pack of razor blades to the check-out and get asked if you’d like to buy airtime; you order a salad off a restaurant menu and you’re asked if you’d like avocado with it.

But at least in the first two scenarios, the customer can’t be in any doubt about what the up-sell is going to cost them.

Not so with most restaurant up-sells. I’ve never heard a waitron say: “Would you like avocado with your salad, at an extra cost of R15?”

As with restaurant “specials”, a special form of up-sell, there’s often no mention of cost – the price comes as a special surprise on the bill.

Such a lack of disclosure is illegal, in terms of the Consumer Protection Act.

But many people are too embarrassed to ask the “What does it cost?” question, and restaurant owners know that.

At the other end of the dining experience – in the quick service restaurant or fast food industry – up-sell is routine.

In some cases you’ll not only not be told how much the extras will cost, you won’t be told that they are extras at all.

Mohamed Altaaf Raoof complained last week in a post on a Facebook group devoted to Durban restaurants about an experience his family had when ordering cheeseburgers from a local Steers franchise.

“On ordering the burgers we were Asked: “Single cheese or double cheese? We said ‘single cheese’.

But they were charged extra for cheese on each cheese burger.

“The manager told us we had asked for extra cheese when we said ‘single cheese’. But surely, if the item comes with a slice of cheese and your reply is ‘single cheese’, it means you don’t want extra cheese?

“They assume every customer wants extra cheese and that question is for them to know whether you want a single or double portion extra.”

“It would be better to ask the customer if they would like extra cheese.”

Exactly. The question ought to be: “Would you like to pay for extra cheese?”

If the customer answers yes, that would be the time to give the options and their prices.

I raised the issue with Famous Brands chief executive Kevin Hedderwick. (Famous Brands owns Steers, Debonairs, Mugg & Bean, Wimpy and several other franchises.)

He pointed out that customers not being made fully aware of the cost of up-sell options was an industry issue.

He’s right about that.

“We have repeatedly raised the extras issue with our franchise partners, insisting that they specifically state that any extra has a price to it, but trying to police this across a franchised network is difficult.”

Failure to be specific can lead to a related form of up-sell on the part of counter staff – omitting the smallest size as an option.

At two different branches of Kauai I have ordered a smoothie without specifying the size, and then been asked “medium or large?” as if those are the only two options.

This despite the fact that the price on the menu board is that of the regular or small option. (It’s R4 extra for medium and R8 extra for large.)

Other consumers have complained of the same thing on social media sites.

Kauai customer service officer Kerusha Tucker said staff were not trained to exclude the regular smoothie option.

The lesson here is to be extra vigilant about what you’re ordering, and what it costs. Assume nothing.

And fast food outlets really ought to get the disclosure thing right.


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