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Monday, January 18, 2010

Papa John's Overcharges You and Then Shows You How They Did It

When I was a wee Mongo, I wanted to do one of two things when I grew up. I either wanted to own a pizza shop or be a fire truck. (That’s my go to comedic response. I need new material, I know.) This was of course before I saw the Star Wars Trilogy and all that changed. My parents’ hopes for a doctor in the family dropped to 66%.

Flash forward to 1996 and I’m working for an amusement park in Ohio. As I come back to my matchstick dorm room after a long day, I find someone waiting for me.  It's  the pizza guy. Turns out, the local Papa John’s franchise was smart enough to make a bunch of plain and pepperoni pizzas ahead of time and then just camp out in front of the dorms, waiting for workers to return after their shift. They were able to sell out nearly every single time. It was actually a great thing as you could never get through to them on the phone, because they were inundated with calls from the park.

I quickly became, and remain to this day, a fan of the excellent pizza as well as the garlic sauce for dipping my crusts.  Perhaps one of my cholesterol level’s saving grace is that there isn’t a location within delivery distance of my house, and I don’t get welcomed home from a hard day’s work by the pizza guy, waiting for me with a large extra cheese.

But from time to time I do get the opportunity to have a PJ pie and will drive the fifteen minutes to go pick it up. This weekend was one of those times. I looked online to see what they were offering and found a deal for two large, one topping pizzas at $16.99. Not bad. Along with a two liter of cherry coke at $2.29 (which is a huge rip) and tax brought my total to $20.44. My wife asked me to call it in so that the online order didn’t get screwed up. We both have an aversion to ordering food online to be picked up or delivered.  I placed the call for pickup and even asked if they had a two liter of cherry coke available, just in case. The guy on the phone said, “Yeah we got about two left.” He rang up my order and told me a total of $22.86. I said, “Um, are you sure?” He said, “Yeah, both pizzas and the two liter comes to $22.86.

Now, I didn’t want to argue with the guy on the phone because I didn’t want anything done to my pizzas while they were being made, ala what happened in the kitchen at a Dominoes in North Carolina. Instead, I said fine and then immediately looked at my mock order online for my location with the exact items at the same prices and hit “PRINT.” I drove out to the shop to pick up my order. Once again, the guy said, “$22.86.” Now, with proof in my hand and the pizzas already in front of me, I debated the point.

“Look here, fine sir.” Ok, I didn’t really say that but I was polite. “We did a mock order online and came up with a different total.” He said, “Yeah, online ordering has different prices and specials.” I said, “Really, because the deal was two large, one topping pizzas at $16.99. Your menu up there confirms that as well as the $2.29 for the Cherry Coke. Are you telling me that online tax is different for your location?”

Now, he starts back peddling. “Yeah, it is. Here I’ll show you how we got that total. I’m not really supposed to do this, but come around and check out the screen.” I walked around the counter while thinking back to my younger days of wanting to be on this side of things and looked at his screen. “There, you see? You have two large pizzas at $12.48 each with the discount making it $16.99 total plus your two liters, $22.86.” I looked at the screen and said, “Well, there’s your problem. You have two bottles of soda on there and neither one of them are Cherry Coke. I mean who the hell drinks Fanta, anyway?” Now, I’m not one to immediately call shenanigans on someone but this was clearly not on the up and up. After all, he had to confirm that he had Cherry Coke in the cooler and then added two different sodas instead. If he would have added both sodas as Cherry Coke, I might have missed it.

“Oh,” he said, “Yeah that’s not right. Ok, let me fix that but it’s still going to be more than what you saw online.” I said, “Fine. Let’s take a look.” After he spent two minutes toggling between screens and trying to figure out how to salvage his markup, with me directly over his shoulder, he finally fixed the order to have two pizzas, one two liter, and tax bringing the total to $20.44 which is exactly what I had on my print out.

Whether or not this was an intentional attempt to overcharge me remains to be seen. Seeing as how I would be the one retrieving the two liter from the cooler leaves him free to not have eyes on the slip. In fact, you don’t even get a real itemized receipt except for a sticker on the side of one of the boxes. In any case, I walked out of there with what I wanted for the price I expected.

I always get looks from my wife when I closely inspect receipts and bills that seem a little odd to me. And while $2.42 for a phantom pop plus tax is hardly cause for an EECB to John Schnatter and company, I still think that you need to be very careful on how you get billed for these things. Of course, asking him to relinquish his gold Camaro as reconciliation for overcharging is not a bad idea.

Still, it isn’t the first pizza place to try and dupe me into paying more because of fuzzy math. A local Fox’s franchise gave me three different totals on an order. I called up, placed the order and got one total. I did a double take on that and called back. They gave me a different total and I asked them why? “Delivery charge.” I said, well then, change it to pick up. I live five minutes away. I went to get it and they gave me a third total, different than the first two, even when I subtracted the delivery charge. Needless to say, I do not order from them anymore.

The one I can never truly reconcile, without a calculus degree, is Pizza Hut since they do the entire bill and then discount your coupon leaving you to wonder if they really did do things correctly. I would expect the discount to come immediately under the line item in order to remove confusion.
So, the next time you go out, take a minute to inspect your bill and don’t be afraid to get an itemized receipt. You may be surprised what secret ingredients get baked into the amount. Perhaps I should have followed my dreams, as a child making Play-Doh pizzas. Just think how I could have made a fortune on overcharges alone.

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