Bait and Switch Pricing Scam

Businesses rely on a steady flow of prospects, customers, and a profit. Unfortunately, some businesses utilize illegal strategies as an attempt to boost their profits. One illegal method some retail establishments use is known as 'bait and switch', which is regulated by the FTC - aka the Federal Trade Commission.

Some consumers may not be aware that bait and switch isn't limited to purchasing a product from a retail establishment, but it can also occur at a restaurant. Have you been a victim of bait and switch? The following example may help you to determine if you have.

Imagine a restaurant advertises on their menu that the individual one-serving meal is 'served with rice and salad'. However, when you pick up your meal the order doesn't match what their menu states is included! Two combo meals were ordered to go, both of which were to be 'served with rice and salad'. The individual one-serving salad is in a separate container from the hot food, but when two combination meals were ordered only one individual serving of salad was received.

You know how it is when you're in a hurry with to-go food; you may not be paying attention to what was put inside the to-go bag. But then upon returning home it's discovered you were only provided one salad, and it's obviously only one-serving.

The first time this occurred you may have thought the restaurant simply overlooked including two salads, but then imagine it happened a second time when returning many months later. However, when the cashier is questioned as to where the other salad is they replied that you only get one salad with the two meals! Say what?

Imagine you ordered two meals and their menu states (advertises), each meal is 'served with rice and salad', their pricing is for each individual meal and therefore it is bait and switch to only serve you one salad for two meals purchased! The exception would be if you requested to not have the second salad, which they should consider a price reduction for providing you less food, or perhaps offer an equivalent substitution.

How do you determine if it's bait and switch? Let's take a look at how the FTC determines if an ad is deceptive, and then we'll compare it to the advertised menu items in this example. The FTC states many guidelines to determine if an advertisement is deceptive, but this is the key point that is applicable to this situation:
The FTC looks at the ad from the point of view of the "reasonable consumer" - the typical person looking at the ad. Rather than focusing on certain words, the FTC looks at the ad in context - words, phrases, and pictures - to determine what it conveys to consumers.
It's fairly cut and dry to determine that the restaurant menu advertised each meal is 'served with rice and salad', but if you only received one salad for two meals, and they deliberately cheated the consumer out of the second salad that would be an example of bait and switch!

As per the FTC's description of deceptive advertising, if what is conveyed to the consumer is contradictory to what they actually receive for the price advertised, it's bait and switch! The next time you order a meal, or purchase an item advertised, pay attention to what you receive in exchange for what you paid. If you're in doubt and the establishment refused to provide a good explanation, review the FTC deceptive advertising guidelines to determine if you were a victim of the old bait and switch scam.

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