DennisBeaverNovember 20, 2009 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

One Saturday afternoon in early November, 2009, Fresno resident Ted, his wife and her parents visited a Black Angus restaurant for dinner. They were celebrating Ted’s finding a job after months of being unemployed.

“My in-laws helped us during that time, and I promised them that when I got a job, we would all go to Black Angus, which has been our favorite steak house. But we’re not going there any more, and our reason has nothing to do with the quality of the food or service,” he told me.

Campfire Feast — dinner for two $38

Ted found a Black Angus advertising insert in his weekend newspaper. “When I saw the ad, it was something I just couldn’t pass up,” he said, and was about to read it, when I told him that another reader had already scanned and e-mailed it to me. I would later be informed by Black Angus management that inserts went out to newspapers all over the Western United States.

The ad contained a coupon: “Campfire Feast Dinner for Two $38.00 — Your choice of any Starter to share. Chose any two of the entrees listed, and one dessert.”

The entrees were: Prime Rib, New York, Top sirloin, Ribeye, Salmon, and Chicken.

No portion size was mentioned. The coupon did not specify nor limit what size could be selected. The same thing was true for the Black Angus “$15.99 Top Sirloin Steak, Lobster & Shrimp” special, also in the ad.

These might be great offers if you can select whatever portion size you feel like having, but if they just give you the smallest on the menu and don’t tell you in advance? It sure seems only fair to know this before reaching a decision to go there in the first place.

“If they don’t disclose the portion size in the ad then shouldn’t the consumer have the option of selecting whatever size desired? Restaurant specials are intended to bring customers in for a nice time, not disappointment, a feeling of being tricked into going there,” my reader maintains. I agree.

Ted, and others who contacted You and the Law, felt that by using the description, Feast, “Abundance, large portions were implied, with guests encouraged to order whatever they wanted. The purpose of the insert was to obviously attract customers with the promise of a substantial meal at a very good price.” (And help a company recently out of Bankruptcy again be profitable-My observations.)

That’s right, Black Angus filed for Bankruptcy in January of 2009, but the judge did not put a steak through their heart.

Read the menu!

“Our waitress gave us menus — which had the Campfire Feast listed. My father-in-law said that he wanted the 3/4 pound Prime Rib-that was the middle size cut. The waitress pointed out portion sizes listed on the menu. Everything you could choose was the smallest size! We felt misled. Why did the ad not just reveal the ounce sizes? The menu lists them, and it is identical to the newspaper ad which does not.”

“She said there were a number of customers who had the same reaction. A manager told us, ‘Well, there’s nothing about weight in the ad, so here it is in the menu.’ He was polite, but missed the point. We should have known this before coming to the restaurant! We left.”

“I guess there was no room

in the coupon”

I contacted Black Angus Corporate in Los Altos, Calif. and spoke with Tom Taylor, Regional Supervisor, and “Tish,” in their legal office. Both were friendly, and responsive, but provided weak explanations.

Mr. Taylor simply stated, “I don’t think we have to state the portion size. And besides, the guest learns that when seated.” He might want to tell that to the California Department of Food and Agriculture — Weights and Measurements Division.

When I asked him why their website has the identical ad and lists the portion size, he had no reply.

“Tish” initially told me, “Well, I guess there is no room in the ad to list the portion sizes.” When I told her that seemed odd, as they show those weights on the website, she said I might hear from Becky Ann Harris, in Marketing.

Despite my placing two calls to Becky Ann, as of the date this story was written, no return call to my office was received.

So, was the Black Angus ad and coupon misleading, and if so, would it be bad enough for a D.A.’s Office to file suit over?

We’ll look at those issues next time.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.