15 Fast Food Tricks That You’ve Probably Fallen For

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Nowadays, no one is safe from scammers. They’re disguised as websites, hidden in your inbox, and they constantly make you screen your phone calls for those sketchy out-of-state numbers. Plenty of scams are even recognized by the Federal Trade Commission with official advisories on how to avoid them. One recent warning was for phishing, and it provided tips for how to avoid falling for fake emails and texts that are really ploys to get your login IDs, passwords, account numbers, and more.

But not all scams are made to steal your personal information. There are plenty of things we experience in our day-to-day lives that might seem totally normal… but are actually pretty shady. Fast food joints are a prime example. Although these practices may not be universal to all fast food locations (with many being independently-operated franchises), former employees and customers have alleged to sneaky tricks that companies might pull to blindside fast food fans. Don’t want to get scammed in any way, shape, or form? Here are a few things to keep an eye out for next time you’re at your favorite fast food spot.

1. Check your receipts — there might be mystery charges.

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The whole point of fast food is that it’s convenient and served quickly, which means you probably aren’t analyzing every item on the receipt. Turns out it could cost you, as one man in Illinois found out after visiting a Panera and finding a mysterious $9 charge on his receipt, WGN News reported. When he brought it to the attention of Panera employees, they were unaware of why the charge was added and offered him pastries for the trouble.

Another woman also shared her experience of a “phantom charge” at Panera on Facebook.

In response to the extra charge on the receipts, Chief Information Officer John Meister at Panera Bread released a statement to CountryLiving.com that the company takes “inaccurate receipts extremely seriously.” Meister also said that the extra charge was due to a “rare glitch” and that the company made a change to fix the issue.

2. You might pay for toppings you didn’t ask for.

Some customers can be pretty particular about their orders.

Maybe they want extra pickles, no ketchup, extra honey mustard — the options are endless. But when the orders get too fancy, things can get a little messy — or in one case, in Florida, cheesy. In 2018, a class-action lawsuit was filed against McDonald’s for $5 million because customers claimed they had to pay for cheese they didn’t ask for on their Quarter Pounder sandwiches, the Miami Herald reported.

According to the lawsuit, customers are able to order between the sandwich with cheese and without cheese, but aren’t given that option when they order in person. The suit also claimed that “customers have been forced, and continue to be overcharged for these products, by being forced to pay for two slices of cheese, which they do not want, order, or receive, to be able to purchase their desired product.”

The lawsuit ended up being dismissed because customers couldn’t prove they were harmed by having to pay more for a cheese-less Quarter Pounder. So if you ever find yourself feeling conflicted for having to pay more for a topping, maybe ask to speak to a manager before filing a class-action lawsuit.

3. Your “grilled” food isn’t actually grilled.

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At fast food restaurants, you’ll rarely see an employee flipping burgers or chicken on an actual grill like you would at a backyard barbecue.

So why do grilled menu items look legit? Well, they might not be, according to Food Republic. “Grilled” menu items are allegedly pre-cooked and branded with dark stripes to give off the look of authentically grilled food. However, one former Burger King employee came to the company’s rescue and put to rest any concerns of its grilled food, Popsugar reported.

“They use a broiler and you load frozen patties onto the tray and then shove them in and [it’s] a flame grill inside,” the former employee said.

4. Most of your food was probably frozen.

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This one might be less surprising, as fast food is, well, fast, and it’s highly unlikely your food is fresh off the farm.

It might be hard to imagine that a toasty breakfast sandwich or a comforting bowl of soup was once an icy mass, but according to a former Panera employee, it’s true. “All soups came in frozen and we just heated them up in plastic bags, this goes for the mac and cheese as well and many of the pastries, cookies, etc.,” one user wrote on a thread on Reddit.

A Tim Hortons employee also wrote that the “always fresh” tagline isn’t exactly true. “Everything is frozen, and re-heated when they need to be served. The doughnuts, the eggs in the breakfast sandwich, and any baked good [were] all frozen, put in the oven, and then served,” the user wrote.

5. Speaking of not-so-fresh food, it might be expired.

Okay, so we’ve come to terms with the fact that most of our fast food was frozen, but expired? That’s just not right.

According to a Reddit thread, fast food employees from multiple fast food chains claimed that customers were often served food past their expiration dates. A former Subway employee alleged that frozen meat would be used up to seven days after being defrosted as opposed to the standard three days. “When the meat is defrosted to be used, we had like 3 days to sell it. After that we’d have to throw it away,” the user wrote. “The franchise owner and area manager would often intimidate staff into keeping the meat on sale for up to 7 days to cut costs. I reported them to corporate of course.”

Another Subway employee also claimed that expiration dates were really tested for not just days, but weeks. “My manager at the time was really conscious of food costs… to a fault. Most commonly was changing the expiration dates of food so it wouldn’t have to be thrown out. This may not be a huge deal for a couple days, but food would last a couple WEEKS. He would also take lettuce in a pan and put it back into the bag,” the user wrote.

6. Beware of the fries carton.

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Now, this one is just plain rude.

According to a McDonald’s employee, there’s a common trick to making it seem like you’re getting more fries than you actually are. “I worked at McDonald’s and they taught me how to pinch the fry carton just right while putting the fries into them so that it looked full, but actually wasn’t,” a user wrote in a Reddit thread called “What did your job want you to hide from customers?” “I only had 1 customer call me out on it. He shook the fries out into his bag and poured them back into the fry carton himself and it only filled up halfway, so I had to give him more fries,” the employee wrote.

But the fast food company fought back and said the allegations about the fries scam were false. “We believe these claims to be fictional, there are no ‘secret tricks’ and we have strict operational procedures in place to ensure that fry portions are not under-filled,” a spokesperson told The Independent. They added that their employees are constantly working to make sure customers have the best time possible, and that any claims that go against that is false.

7. Drive-thru customers get first dibs.

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You might think that since everyone uses the drive-thru, it might be quicker to hop out of the car and order inside the restaurant.

However, that’s not always the case. Thanks to the detective work of Reddit, people have found that not all orders are treated the same. One Reddit user claimed that customers with drive-thru orders are prioritized over customers who come into the fast food restaurants to order because “they’re the majority of customers.” They stated, “If you come in you’ll get your food between us serving drive thru.”

Another user also backed up the claim because of “the drive time,” which is the amount of time it takes for a customer to receive their order and drive off. “We had to keep our average drive time under 3 minutes, or something absurdly low like that,” the user wrote. “If it got too high, our store managers had some kind of penalty.” We had no idea.

8. Container sizes are basically an illusion.

If you’re ever debating between ordering food that comes with different size options, it might not really matter.

Take the cup vs. bowl debate, for example. At Panera, you have the choice to get your soup in a bowl or a cup, thinking the bowl is the bigger option and a cup is the smaller one. One Reddit user wrote that when it comes to how much soup you’re actually getting, it ends up being the same in the end — so that’s one less decision you have to make.

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9. Combo deals might not actually be much of a steal.

Combo deals do half the work for you when it comes to figuring out what to order.

The portions and drinks can be customized and it seems like you’re getting a good deal, right? According to one Reddit user, not so much. The user claimed that “pretty much all combo meals everywhere are scams.” The user added, “They used to be a deal, [but] now they are all premium sandwiches and the meal costs $7-8.”

But there’s a neat trick to play the system and that’s by making your own combo deal through the value menus: “You can get a whole meals worth of food from the value menu for $5, but it’s not as easy as picking a number from the board.”

10. You might not always be eating what you think you are.

This might break true avocado lovers’ hearts, but your favorite fast food guacamole might be a sham.

One Reddit user admitted that a burrito chain made its guacamole from avocado paste instead of fresh avocados. “A burrito chain that I worked at was on Undercover Boss. In the episode, the chain wouldn’t let ABC show the fact that our guacamole comes from avocado paste-not fresh avocados,” the user wrote.

Another small infraction revealed by a former Subway employee is that there isn’t a difference between the light and regular mayonnaise. “We put light mayonnaise in both bottles because it’s cheaper than normal mayonnaise,” the user wrote.

And what’s in your “decaf” coffee might literally keep you up at night, as one Burger King employee wrote that its decaf coffee is just regular coffee watered down. Yikes.

11. You’re most likely a victim of expectation vs. reality.

We’ve all been there.

The fast food you see on commercials and ads almost never looks like what you get in real life. Never. To the point where people rarely have that high of an expectation anymore. Of course, fast food companies want to put their best foot forward to make the food look the most appealing in its ads, but it shouldn’t be too much to ask to up the presentation just a little.

In an experiment done by the Consumer Reports team, staff members took a trip to different fast food chains to see how menu items matched up to how they appeared on ads. The team reported back to note that “some foods resembled their publicity shots, but at each chain, at least one sample of one menu item didn’t.”

12. Delivery trackers aren’t always accurate.

Have you ever ordered a pizza online and you get your food way later than the expected delivery time? That’s because some employees can enter information to make it appear that the order is in a different stage of the process than it actually is, according to one Reddit user.

Other Reddit users backed up the claim, saying that their experiences with the Domino’s delivery app, in particular, weren’t so great.

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But it might just depend on the location because another Reddit user said quite the opposite.

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13. Don’t be fooled by “healthy” menus.

Plenty of fast food chains are coming out with more and more healthy-looking options, but are they really that much better for you?

One of the most common fast food items that seems healthy is a salad, especially in comparison to other things on the menu. At McDonald’s, a Big Mac is 540 calories, but a Southwest Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Salad is 520 calories. What seems like a healthier option is really only 20 calories less than a burger. However, there are some other salads on the menu that are as low as 320 calories.

14. If you’re counting calories, you might want to reconsider fast food in general.

Or, at least be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.

With companies trying to hop on the feel-good wellness trend, it’s easy to see why people might think that fast food (along with everything else) is getting healthier. According to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, it’s really not. Because of such a large increase in portion sizes and sodium levels, we were better off eating fast food in the ‘80s, when fast food was smaller and less salty.

15. But actually, don’t be fooled by menus in general.

If you’re a frequent Target shopper, you might have noticed that the Starbucks menus inside are simplified in a way that might be more strategic than saving space for some chalkboard art.

Most menus start off with a Grande option rather than a Tall, which could trick customers who want to order quickly that a medium drink is the smallest (and more costly) option. It’s not just Starbucks either — a Burger King employee wrote on Reddit that the team was told not to mention smaller sizes to its customers unless they specifically asked.

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