You might think that getting half of something would cost, well, half the price. You'd be wrong.
Last year, Starbucks was fined by the state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation after an investigation found the company's stores were adding an undisclosed fee to the per-pound price of coffee when half a pound was purchased.
Now, a reader points out that Panera Bread is engaging in a similar practice. After ordering half of a sandwich - but not taking the half sandwich and soup deal - she was charged three-quarters the price of the full sandwich. Nowhere on the menu was a disclosure that there would be an up-charge for only getting half of a sandwich.
Barbara Anthony, who heads Massachusetts' Consumer Affairs Office, said Panera can charge whatever it feels like - as long as they tell consumers first. "You can charge more for half a sandwich, you just have to disclose it," she said. "Disclosing a price is not optional under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act."
For its part, Panera explained why half a sandwich doesn't cost half the price.
"Our pricing is basically based on our customers ordering full portions of meals or creating You Pick Two combination meals," said Panera Vice President Linn Parrish. "As a service to our customers who ask - and it's a small percentage - we will provide just a half portion of a salad or sandwich. The reason we charge more than half price is because our prices reflect more than just the cost of the food. The half portion is also served with a side order - either a piece of baguette, chips or apple). Since the half portion option is really offered more of as a courtesy to our guests, the pricing is only provided when a customer asks."
Even if that makes perfect sense, Anthony said as long as they sell half a sandwich, they still have to post the price. The costs at stores in Massachusetts - particularly at bakeries, for some reason - are often a mystery.
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About the author
Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com