The Ruling McDonald’s Extra Value Meal Eaters Everywhere Need to Know About

McDonald’s “Extra Value Meal” label may not signal savings like you think it does and that is totally OK, a judge decided last week.

The April 6 decision ended the fight in a class-action lawsuit filed against the fast-food chain in Chicago.

The plaintiff in the McDonald’s lawsuit, Kelly Killeen, said she paid $5.08 for a sausage burrito extra value meal at a restaurant in Chicago. Her meal came with two sausage burritos, one hash brown and a medium coffee. Later she realized that she could have ordered the same items individually, and her total would have been 11 cents less.

Killeen argued that using the word “value” to advertise the combination of items would make a reasonable customer believe the meal would be cheaper than buying the items a la carte. She accused McDonald’s of fraud and using deceptive business practices.

Judge Elaine Bucklo acknowledged that most McDonald’s customers might believe the value meals would be their cheapest option, but said there was no evidence suggesting McDonald’s misled its customers.

“Anyone familiar with fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s surely knows that prices are typically displayed on menus located near the registers,” Bucklo wrote in a five-page opinion dismissing the case. “Understandably, plaintiff may not have wished to take the time to compare prices, but there is no question that doing so would have dispelled the deception.”

What Is and Isn’t Deceptive Advertising

There is a thin but clear line between what Bucklo considers a deceptive business practice and what is just a normal and legal advertising tactic. She gave examples of both in her written opinion.

For example, a grocery store could advertise an item for one price in its print or online ads and for the same price on in-store signage. After you buy it, if you get home and realize you paid a different price, you can’t sue for false advertising.

As in the McDonald’s case, Bucklo points out, all the information is there for you. As long as the accurate price you paid is printed on your receipt, that’s enough for the grocery store to argue it didn’t mislead you into spending more.

But there are limits to what a company can do to advertise its products.

For example, if a juice company printed “fruit juice” on its label alongside pictures of specific fruits and the ingredients label shows there is little to none of those fruits in the juice, that could be grounds for a lawsuit.

Although the ingredients list is available to the customer, the requirement that the customer read the ingredients or any other form of fine print to know that claims that are prominent on the label are false could be seen as deceptive in court.

In the McDonald’s case, the judge pointed out, the individual prices are clearly visible. It’s your job to do your own math.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She writes about how government and court actions impact your wallet.