September 5, 2011

A Labor Day Tale

I got off to something of a bad start to Labor Day. I had breakfast at my nearby McDonald’s (at 225 Mt. Lebanon Blvd., Castle Shannon, PA 15234) where I decided to try something I had not ordered before, a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel meal. On the menu above the counter, the price was listed at $4.79. The man who took my order entered it into the register and announced that I owed $5.34. The sales tax here is 7%, but that clearly did not explain $5.34. I handed him a $5 bill and two quarters and waited expectantly for my change and register receipt.

When I looked at my receipt, I saw that the meal was listed as $3.99, my coffee came to $1.00, and $0.35 was listed as tax. In other words, I was being charged $4.99, not $4.79 for my meal. I immediately announced the discrepancy, but rhetoric escalated quickly when the counter man said, essentially, that the computer said the meal was $4.99. “That isn’t what it says on the menu,” I replied, with rather too much emotion, and I found myself asking to speak to the manager. The manager was nearby, working about as hard as anyone else—it seemed like a busy morning—and, before I got her to open the cash drawer with her key, she mumbled something about having to change the overhead menu. In any case, I was given 20¢. I was actually owed 21¢, but I didn’t want to make a bigger case out of it.

I took my tray and found a table, where I planned to eat my breakfast and work on my poem. (See “A Labor Day Lament.”) I was feeling bad, however, about giving workers such a hard time on Labor Day. (The manager deserved it, but the counter man didn’t.) As it happened, my concentration on the dispute over my check caused me to leave the counter before getting my hash browns. This was rather fortunate, as it gave me an opportunity to apologize to the counter man who came to my table to deliver my potatoes.

Not long after I began eating, the manager had someone on a ladder changing the menu. The price was now really $4.99.

McDonald’s receipt


  1. I try to pay attention...I´m a retired merchant and wholesale product development person...I watch every cent because it matters when digets gets sloppy and shortages (worse, overages) occur...I also lost a small group of very successful stores (my own) because I found myself busy with the more creative and merchandising aspects of the business rather than focusing more on those same digets (that I´d prefer to think are correct--I don´t know why, other than general laziness)...afterall, I was on top of the world until I wasn´t anymore because I didn´t don´t the i´s-- yes, I now pay attention and know it pays to say yes and no (and mean it) all my affairs.

    Good for you for making amends where/when it belonged.

  2. The board should the price of the meals including sales tax, then it would be a lot easier to spot that it hadn't been amended after a price increase.

    How do people work out when they've been unfairly overcharged? Does everyone have to do the maths all the time?

  3. Erika,

    There’s another problem. Old cash registers used to display individual prices both to the clerk and to the customer. At the McDonald’s in question, the customer does not see prices until receiving the paper receipt. This is very common today.

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