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Hot, Cold and Bothered at Wegmans

If you were ordering from this menu, how much would you expect to pay for a seven-inch Hot Meatball sub? (Bill Webster -- The Washington Post)

Ted Lewis’s sandwich got baked, and he got steamed.

Because the way Lewis sees it, the Wegmans supermarket where he bought his meatball-and-cheese sub charged him an extra 50 cents to heat it up, and he had no option but to pay. After all, who wants a cold meatball-and-cheese?

“How cheap can you get?” the Fairfax resident asked in an outraged e-mail he sent to the Food section. “Even 7-Eleven does it for free.”

As you might expect, the way Wegmans sees it is different. Here’s the store’s side of the story, as explained by Jo Natale, the director of media relations:

“In our sub shop, we have a hot menu and a cold menu. On the hot menu, there are four items. They cost 50 cents more than our standard subs.” But it’s not a surcharge, Natale maintains: The hot sandwiches simply have a higher price. For example, all cold seven-inch subs cost $5.49, and all hot seven-inch subs cost $5.99. Can you buy a “hot sub” without having it heated up and avoid paying the 50 cents? No, she says. “For food safety reasons, those have to be sold hot. We don’t sell them cold. You don’t have that option.”

But you can, if you want, buy a cold sub and have it heated up -- for 50 cents more. Or, Natale says, “you have the option of taking it to our cafe and using one of our microwaves,” which -- just like at 7-Eleven -- would be free.

Why does hot cost 50 cents more than cold? “It’s an additional step our employee has to take,” Natale says, “a combination of additional time, use of equipment, just an added cost over simply providing a cold sandwich.” The oven used, she points out, is not a microwave but a convection oven, which toasts the outside of the bread and produces a better result.

Sounded reasonable. But was Lewis just dead wrong? He sounded reasonable, too. So we went to Wegmans and brought back a sub shop menu, and that’s when Lewis’s complaint started to make more sense. When you look at the menu -- check it out at the top of this post -- it does seem like you’re looking at a surcharge. It lists a seven-inch sub at $5.49, and then, “Hot or Toasted, add $.50.” And if you look at the menu online, it says all seven-inchers are $5.49, regardless of temperature.

So after our exhaustive investigation, we have to fault the menu. By “Hot,” it means all the subs whose official name starts with that word, including the Hot Meatball. But that’s not really clear, and we can see how reader Lewis decided he was being hit with a hidden surcharge.

Now, if the store would just list a clear price for each individual kind of sandwich, that would solve the problem. I know it would make Ted Lewis happy.
-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  |  June 10, 2009; 10:40 AM ET
Categories:  Food labeling , Shopping  | Tags: Jane Touzalin, Wegmans  
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Is the graphic a printed menu or is it a picture of the menu at a store? I don't look at the prices that closely, but seem to recall that the meatball and steak subs were listed under 'Hot' subs with a different price.

Wegman's could easily end the confusion with some simple changes such as added a footnote to the meatball sub.

Posted by: skipper7 | June 10, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Actually, another issue is that from top to bottom, the charge is listed under the 14" sub. on the printed menu, so it looks like heating a 14" sub is 50 cents, while there would appear to be no charge for a 7" sub. That wouldn't make a lot of sense, but neither does their menu or their listing a required cost separately.

They could at least make the printed menu less ambiguous if they put the charge above both sub sizes, and added the word "any", so that it said "Any sub hot or toasted"

Posted by: MaxH | June 10, 2009 12:15 PM | Report abuse

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