Burgers of Deception

11/01/2023
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    Some customers claim Burger King burgers such as this Whopper are falsely advertised. (AP/Gene J. Puskar)
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    Burger King faces a class action lawsuit for deceptive photographs of sandwiches. (AP/Gene J. Puskar)
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    The court will consider whether menu photos, such as these, amount to a “binding offer.” (AP/Nam Y. Huh)
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    Plaintiffs claim Burger King’s advertisements show burgers with twice the amount of meat as the real thing. (AP/Damian Dovarganes)
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    The attorney behind the Burger King case also filed a case against Wendy’s, another fast-food restaurant. (AP/Charlie Neibergall)
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If you’ve eaten fast food, you know the experience. The hamburger on the menu looks thick, juicy, and palatable. You order. You unwrap your burger, and—it looks nothing like the picture. It’s squished, greasy, and unappealing.

Most simply move on. But not everyone. Some hungry customers take fast food to court. In 2010, food and beverage companies saw only 45 class action lawsuits. But last year, they saw 214.

What makes a lawsuit “class action”? Sometimes, many people have the same complaint. When that happens, they can join forces as a “class.” Instead of dozens or even thousands of separate lawsuits, they present one big lawsuit.

The latest fast-food case targets Burger King. Consumers claim Burger King’s advertisements and menu photos are deceptive. They say the photos show burgers 35% larger than the real thing, with twice the meat. Had they known the true size, they wouldn’t have ordered the sandwiches. One attorney bringing this suit has filed similar cases against Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell.

Sometimes, companies settle such cases out of court. Instead of going to trial, they give the plaintiffs (lawsuit-bringers) money. This year, companies A&W and Keurig Dr Pepper paid a total of $15 million after falsely claiming their drinks featured “aged vanilla.” The drinks actually contained fake flavoring.

What about Burger King’s case? In August, a U.S. district judge dismissed some of the plaintiff’s complaints. According to the judge, food commercials don’t count as “binding offer.” But what about photographs on menus? The judge suggested such photos might count as binding offers.

Does the Burger King lawsuit stand a chance? It doesn’t look likely. A U.S. District Court has already dismissed similar cases against Wendy’s and McDonald’s. Plus, restaurant foods aren’t perfectly uniform like boxed products in grocery stories. It’s hard to claim false advertising for something that regularly changes.

Why are restaurant lawsuits on the rise? Social media plays a role. Today, photos of soggy sandwiches can go viral almost instantly. Modern consumers also increasingly pay attention to health and nutrition. Inflation too causes some restaurants to cut down on portion sizes. But sometimes, marketing materials—such as menu photos—might not catch up with those changes. That creates a situation ripe for complaints.

God’s word commends a “just balance and scales.” Businesses should practice honesty. But do customers really expect commercials to show reality? Restaurants hire food photographers to make their products look mouthwateringly delicious. Most people understand that such advertisements bend the truth.

So is this case really about hunger for burgers—or is it about hunger for money?

Why? The justice system exists to protect everyday people, but it can also be misused for gain.

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