This Man Learned His Value Meal’s Not a Value, and Now He’s Suing

extra value menu
Mike Mozart under Creative Commons

Fast food can be so unhealthy that the name “value meal” is questionable in the first place — given the physical costs of the meal.

But at least you can rest assured knowing you’re getting the best bang for your buck when you order off the value menu. Right?

Well, maybe not. As it turns out, even the simple pleasure of cheap, greasy burgers isn’t always that simple.

This Guy Revealed the “Extra Value Meal’s” Dirty Little Secret

James Gertie, a Chicago-area McDonald’s customer, recently filed a class-action lawsuit against McDonald’s franchisee Karis Management Co. for false advertising.

After running some quick numbers, he discovered that the two-cheeseburger “Extra Value Meal” he’d been ordering would actually be cheaper if he purchased the included items a la carte — to the tune of a whopping 41 cents per transaction.

Gertie purchased the meal from five Karis-managed McDonald’s restaurants over the course of about a month, and he states he was charged $5.90 for it each time.

But according to posted menu prices, the meal would only cost $5.49 if he’d purchased the items individually: two cheeseburgers for $2.50, a medium order of fries for $1.99 and a medium soft drink for a buck.

According to the lawsuit, that means that, although the burger bundle is advertised as an “Extra Value Meal” on the menu, it’s actually not a value at all — let alone an “extra” one.

Gertie’s suit asks the defendants to repay customers what is, essentially, unjustified extra fees. The jury’s still out on whether he’ll succeed, though.

Yes, There’s a Problem with Calling it a “Value” Meal if it Isn’t

Although it’s easy to scoff at this lawsuit, it does serve as a valuable reminder about the sometimes sneaky sales tactics retailers use to get us to buy more goods, or higher-priced ones, when we might otherwise not.

For example, some stores will run “clearance” sales on items that are actually only discounted by a penny — or worse, not discounted at all. It’s worthwhile to peel off that sale sticker and see the original price!

And practically everyone’s overzealously bitten on a “limited time only” Groupon sale, only to discover the deal actually lasts for months.

By making a purchase sound like a bargain — or saying the sale price will only be available for a short period of time — sellers tell customers to spend their money right now so they don’t  miss out.

However, this same sense of FOMO also prevents you from critically examining that purchase… and possibly deciding to keep your wallet right where it is.

By falsely amplifying an item’s value, sellers take away or modify a key element in your decision-making process. And even if the difference is only a few bucks (or 41 cents), that’s not cool.

So I don’t know about you, but next time I’m in the drive-thru, you can bet I’ll be surreptitiously plugging prices into my calculator app. (Fast-food prices vary across markets, so you’d do well to do the same at your own favorite guilty pleasure stop.)

After all, it’s already probably a bad decision from a nutritional standpoint. I might as well make sure it makes sense from a financial one.

Your Turn: Is your favorite “value” meal actually a deal?

Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her writing has also been featured at The Write Life, Word Riot, Nashville Review and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.