A Contracts Reform Movement? Lawyer and Professor Take On The Cheesecake Factory and Other Restaurants Over Drink Prices

Some drinks just make you want to scream “UCC.” The Uniform Commercial Code that is. The Cheesecake Factory has announced it will yield to demands from Massachusetts lawyer Ross Mitchell who objected under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act to the failure to post the prices of its drinks. He is supported by Texas Wesleyan law professor Franklin Snyder who has invoked the UCC as required reading for anyone bar hopping.

Mitchell has announced that he intends to pressure other chains to post their prices. He was outraged recently when a friend was charged $11 for a margarita at a Cheesecake Factory. He said the server did not know the specific prices and could only give him a range.

Franklin Snyder wrote a New York Times column about how a person ordered a lunch special—pasta with white truffles only to be charged $275. Snyder pointed out that “[t]he code provides that where the buyer and seller have agreed to a contract but have not agreed on the price, the price is not what the seller subsequently demands. It’s a reasonable price for the goods at issue. Thus a customer has no obligation to pay for anything more than the reasonable price of a pasta meal at a trendy restaurant.”

That could be handy. But, speaking as a torts professor, I am little curious not to be hearing a chorus of calls for contracts reform and runaway restaurant litigation. Where are all those people insisting on the need for personal responsibility and citing how litigation is driving up the costs of cocktails. Those contracts professors have always been a litigious, margarita-chugging, menu-challenging group of stiffs. We may have our occasional slip and fall, but it is a darn sight better than their check and bounce.

30 thoughts on “A Contracts Reform Movement? Lawyer and Professor Take On The Cheesecake Factory and Other Restaurants Over Drink Prices”

  1. lottakatz 1, February 14, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Who buys something without knowing the price?
    Mr. Amurka.

  2. Who buys something without knowing the price? Srsly. White truffles go for 3 to 6k a pound, don’t order ’em if you don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for your meal.

    Monsieur Madeleine: “Not everyones’ restaurant uses cheap paper and black ink for their menus….”

    Oooooh, snap.

    But the *good* ones make sure that the ‘special’ price for food and drinks is posted on a table-side card, a menu insert of that the server states the price when verbally listing the items. Unless of course you’re of the mind that ‘if you have to ask the price you don’t belong here’ is a valid business model. I have a problem with that attitude but I know it exists.

  3. If you live in a small town and the restaurant is in that town and someting like this happens, then you have the rest of your life expectancy to warn people away from that place when ask about where to eat in New Bern. Avoid Captain Rattys!, I say. Now I got to say it to anyone who reads this post. They dont let dogs in either.

  4. For a complete understanding of our position on this issue, as well as of the breadth of the problem, please see http://www.facebook.com/PriceMyMenu.

    While this may not be a hugely important issue in and of itself, when multiplied by the millions of people who are affected by this practice every day, I believe it warrants addressing.

  5. I was out with my dad and wanted to order something for which no price was listed. He instructed me to ask the price and he added “we are going to buy it, but always ask the price.” Otherwise, as with Mr. Spindell, the honorable person is left with little recourse other than paying and not returning. (At least that was the case in those days: now one can hope to post something in the hope it goes viral in an effort to “punish” the establishment. But to me that seems petty, when I can control the situation by asking the price.)

  6. The last time I was in NYC we took our youngest daughter out to a restaurant in the suburbs. They had a special margarita, ot on menu and we all ordered it, twice. Whe the bill came I found out that they were $18 each and so the total of $108 was far more tha the 3 entrees and appetizers we ordered. I silently gulped, paid the bill and promised myself never to return.

    Bette Noire, you run a restaurant the way it’s supposed to be run, by giving out prices of the specials beforehand.

  7. Yeah, it’s ridiculous to want to know how much something costs before you agree to buy it. 🙄

  8. Just say ‘no’ to Cheesecake Factory HFCS drinks & desserts, CAFO meat and GMO side dishes. All their food is bad for you.

    I would sue them for that alone, but all those toxic ingredients are legal in the USA.

  9. Dredd,

    Spelling dialects is always a quandary..

    And for the fettucini, it hopefully had slices over the top, a whole pound of them at that price, not subsumed in the sauce.

  10. @ Bette,

    I’ll admit I didn’t really read the article very well before I posted. They aren’t trying to impose a federal regulation, it is a state regulation they are pushing to influence only on chains.

    Not everyones’ restaurant uses cheap paper and black ink for their menus, but that is irrelevant. Chains in Mass probably got the dough.

    But this could affect local chains who sometimes try to spice up their menus with off chain menu items.

    And then, should chains like Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang be forced to pay state fines or be sued if they do not comply with labeling their prices?

    Of course for the restaurant it would be cheaper to comply and isn’t really something to fight over… But at the same time I would say the same thing to Mr. Mitchell.

    Overall it seems a kind of silly suit to me.

  11. Truffles are expensive…… the drink prices…. well is generally cheaper….

  12. How odd. I run a restaurant myself. I type up a list of daily specials, including prices, and run off copies on my home computer every day before work. The servers hand them to customers with the regular menus as they are seated. It takes about three minutes a day, and costs pennies.

  13. Okay i will bite. I do not believe we need federal menu legislation.

    Ask the server the price.

    Haggle if necessary.

    Don’t go back if it is a bad experience.

    Yes, restaurants are not always rolling in dough, new menus would add to their costs.

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