No One Should Be Surprised That Fast Food Restaurants Want to Sell You a Bigger Combo
A Houston man—who just wanted a small fries and drink—has accused Burger King of dishonest practices when cashiers suggest medium and large options.
When you place an order at a fast food restaurant, you pretty much expect the worker behind the register or wearing the drive-thru headset to upsell you on something, asking you if you'd like to turn that sandwich into a combo-or if you want to SuperSize it, if that's your McThing. But one Texas man has had it with his local Burger King trying to turn every combo meal into a medium or large, when he just wants the standard small version.
"The girl automatically said, 'Medium or large?' So I said, 'I only want a number 6.' And she said, 'medium or large' with a higher tone," Glen Tharp told Click2Houston. "To me, it's not right to do that to the customer. I think it's dishonest."
Tharp told the outlet that he believes the restaurant is "tricking" customers into spending more money by selecting a larger combo; the medium version costs 54 cents more than the standard small size. "It's the principle about it," he harrumphed.
The Click2Houston investigative team visited seven Houston-area Burger Kings to find out how prevalent the small meal erasure was and learned that it maybe wasn't as big a problem as Tharp suggested. At five of the restaurants they visited, the reporters were asked whether they wanted a small, medium, or large combo, while at the other two, they were asked if they wanted a medium or large. ("When we replied asking if a small was available, the employee said yes," they admitted.)
The thing is, the idea of upselling at a fast food restaurant isn't anything new-and in 2007 a columnist for The Dispatch in Davidson County, North Carolina, complained that a Bojangles restaurant tried the same thing with his order.
"I ordered the Chicken Supremes combo meal, priced at $4.99 on their sign. [The employee] asked me about my sauce preference, the fries-or-other-side question and what type of drink," he wrote. "Then, the last question-'Would you like the medium or the large?' I respond politely 'Medium, please,' and I pulled up to the window to receive the food and pay. She asked for $5.86 and handed me a rather large drink [...] The combo meal I ordered for $4.99 was a small combo. I was never asked that, only medium or large. What a scam!"
If this happened to you, he suggested turning your engine off at the pick-up window, telling the worker that you "expect and demand that my order be what I ordered," and waiting for cars to "line up behind you." (That entire column should also be used as Exhibit A when fast food workers explain why they deserve to be paid a higher hourly wage.)
In 2019, QSR magazine studied how many fast food restaurants perform "suggestive selling" in their drive-thrus and they learned that it was, uh, pretty much all of them. "There are a number of reasons why restaurants suggest other menu items to add to a purchase," it wrote. "It could be to get trial on a new menu innovation, or possibly to complete a meal; the vast majority of upsells at every brand were either for a combo or a special. But of course, profit is the main objective, as suggestive sells drive higher check averages."
According to its research, Carl's Jr was the most likely to try suggestive selling, followed by KFC, Hardee's, and Arby's. Recommending a combo meal was the most frequent type of suggestive selling in nine of the 10 restaurant chains surveyed, followed by suggestions to upsize a combo, try a special promo, get a larger drink, or add dessert to the order-although the frequency of those other upsells varied from chain to chain.
So yeah, this isn't a new or an uncommon thing, and it's probably not a surprise to frequent fast food customers. But if you're not a regular at your local drive-thru, it's probably worth knowing that you can ask for a small, even if they recommend a larger size-and you don't need to contact the local news to get the order you want.