I walked into a fast food restaurant in New York City where a large poster in the front of the store advertised a new dinner special for $6.99. That was quite a bargain so I went to the counter and ordered it. Apparently the "special" was so new, it wasn't on the menu. At any rate the staff refused to honor the advertised $6.99 price, and computed an a la carte (sum of the parts) price that came to over $10. I declined to buy the special at that price.

I returned the following week, and the special was available, with a new posted price of $9.99. The staff would let me have it at that price (a small discount from $10-plus but not the bargain of $6.99), but for the same price, I ordered something else.

I didn't want to be an SOB the first time, but supposing I was, could I have legally held the restaurant to the posted $6.99 price for the special?

Under the law of common law contracts, posting a price is an invitation to treat and is not binding.

However, in many jurisdictions, there may be (probably is) statutory consumer protection law that make this practice illegal. Whether this means the business must honor the price or merely makes them liable to prosecution and fines depends on the specific law.

For example, in Australia the law refers to this as multiple pricing. The law requires that the business withdraw the product from sale until the multiple pricing is fixed (i.e. they take the poster down) or, if they are unable or unwilling to do this, they must sell for the lower price. If they do neither then they have committed an offence and are liable to be fined by the government; the consumer does not get any compensation.

  • Would the situation be any different at a sit-down restaurant? In the case of counter service, as in the question, the customer can clearly refuse to buy the food at the higher price but, at a sit-down restaurant, they would already have eaten it. – David Richerby Oct 7 at 10:08
  • “If they are unable ..., they must sell for the lower price” – Dale M Oct 16 at 22:45

It depends on where exactly in the world you are.

In the United Kingdom, you cannot force the shop to trade at the advertised price. They can claim that they made a mistake and refuse.

However, they are not allowed to use incorrect pricing to lure customers in. After you try to buy and they refuse because of a mistake, they need to fix that mistake and change the advertised price. If they deliberately advertise a price at which they don't sell, that would be misleading customers and illegal. In the UK, "Trading Standards" would be interested to hear about that.

If you suspect that's what's happening, take a photo of the advertised price, ask them to change the price, and come back the next day. If the price is unchanged, and they still refuse to sell, you might be forced to notify Trading Standards. Obviously that shouldn't happen.

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