Surge pricing leaves behind bad taste

by Leonard Greene

After the Five Guys franchise went viral the other day over a $12 burger, the joke making its way around the internet was that customers would have to start going to Four Guys just to save a little money.

But it turns out that Five Guys wasn’t the worst offender when it came to putting price gouging on the menu.

That distinction went to Wendy’s, whose CEO, Kirk Tanner, floated an idea about raising prices during peak demand.

It’s like what would happen if Uber and the Big Mac had a baby.

Tanner, in an earnings call to investors, said that Wendy’s would begin testing features including “dynamic pricing” as early as next year.

“Dynamic pricing” is another way to say “surge pricing,” which raises the cost of goods and services based on demand, especially during peak hours of the day.

It is most often associated with shifting airline ticket prices or how ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft adjust fares at busy times.

But burger lovers weren’t having it.

Tanner’s comment sparked an online backlash, with some vowing to stack their freezer with the company’s signature “Frosty” milkshakes to hoard for summer months.

Among those outraged by the hamburger hustle was U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who once had a burger named after her in Harvard Square.

“That means you could pay more for your lunch, even if the cost to Wendy’s stays exactly the same,” Warren tweeted. “It’s price gouging plain and simple, and American families have had enough.”

Quicker than you could say “New Coke,” Wendy’s execs backed down, but not without trying to convince consumers that the new pricing plan would have been for their own good.

“This was misconstrued in some media reports as an intent to raise prices when demand is highest at our restaurants,” the company said in a statement.

“Digital menu boards could allow us to change the menu offerings at different times of day and offer discounts and value offers to our customers more easily, particularly in the slower times of day.”

Yeah, right. And a footlong sandwich at Subway is really 12 inches.

Fast-food restaurants have all kinds of ways to mislead us. The first is that they are fast.

There is little worse than ordering ahead in the fast-food app, and going through the drive-through, only to have a cashier tell you to wait in one of the handicap spots for your order.

Then when you get home, your fries or nuggets are missing.

And, I know I should check the bag before I leave the parking lot, but getting the order right isn’t rocket science.

It’s not even regular science.

And, no, the burgers look nothing like they do in the Times Square billboards. We know that by now.

But there should at least be some expectation that the price won’t charge between the time we leave our homes and pull up to place our order at the kiosk.

Coca-Cola bombed with customers in the ‘80s when the company tried to change its formula and fix something that wasn’t broken.

The only thing that kept the backlash from being worse was that there was no social media back then.

No such luck for Wendy’s. Same thing for Five Guys, which was trending on X after a customer posted a receipt with a $12.49 charge for a bacon cheeseburger.

With fries, soda and tax, the meal, for one person, came out to $24.10.

“I just bought a Five Guys meal,” another customer posted on X. “Now I’m going to be a month late on my rent.”

Surge pricing is a bad idea for burgers. What’s next? Congestion pricing for the drive-through lane?

Leonard Greene writes breaking news articles and commentary as a member of the newly-formed investigative Strike Team at the New York Daily News.