When is a $5 deal not a $5 deal? 

By Tim Nelson
October 18, 2019
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For low-budget Mexican food, Taco Bell has always been among the best. Maybe not necessarily in quality or taste, but certainly in terms of food-per-dollar. Its prices have helped out many a broke college student scrape by, and reduced the cost of many a drunken mistake at the end of a long night out. 

Now, one New Jersey couple is such a firm believer in the Bell’s budget prices that they’re taking its parent company to court over a deal gone wrong. Specifically, the $5 Chalupa Craving Box deal. 

Back in September, Nelson Estrella-Rosales and Joann Estrella filed suit against Yum! Brands in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, alleging that they were overcharged for the so-called $5 Chalupa Craving Box they had both purchased a while earlier. The issue arose when, upon the completion of their Chalupa Supreme, beefy 5-Layer burrito, crunchy taco, cinnamon twists and medium drink, the couple noticed they were charged $12.18 plus tax for the two Craving Boxes, a 21.8% markup from the advertised price. Once the employee they spoke to about the price discrepancy was no help, they initiated a lawsuit seeking compensation for their “time wasted driving to Taco Bell, the gasoline expended to drive their vehicle to the subject Taco Bell, and in the amount of $2.18.” 

At the heart of the matter is the old refrain of “prices may vary.” According to NJ.com commercial that convinced the Estrellas to make the trip to taco bell stated as much in the fine print, appearing on the screen for less than two seconds. That’s why their lawyer is crying foul. 

“It’s a classic bait and switch,” attorney Douglas Schwartz told NJ.com. “It’s consumer fraud being perpetrated upon not only citizens of New Jersey, but all over the country. Taco Bell has reaped huge profits from their false, misleading, and deceptive advertising.” 

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This isn’t the only recent (potentially class-action) lawsuit to bemoan false advertising for a food company that’s papered over by a tiny disclaimer. Nestle is the subject of a lawsuit over its supposedly misleading, not-chocolate “white chocolate,” though the company claims it made no such promises. This Taco Bell lawsuit over $2.18 does feel a bit pettier, however. For their part, a Taco Bell spokesperson said that “our advertisements are truthful and accurate, and we will defend this case vigorously.” 

Everyone has the experience of feeling miffed when a transaction rings up a little higher than expected. I guess the plaintiff’s argument here centers on the point at which advertising a certain price creates an expectation that the company doesn’t truly intend to honor. After all, if prices varied from $5 at every location, was the $5 Chalupa Craving Box deal even real to begin with? Hopefully the Taco Bell trial of the century will provide fourth mealers with some answers. 

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