Published In The Great North Arrow, June 1, 2023: Do You Want Fries And Taxes With That?

- jim Young


“Anytime you’re tempted to upsell someone else, stop what you’re doing and upserve instead.” - Daniel H. Pink


We joined a couple of old high school friends for lunch recently. When Deana ordered the Chicken Club, the waitress asked if she would like Sweet Potato Fries with that. 


Deana politely declined.


When the waitress left, Deana said, “I hate it when they try to upsell you like that.”


We hadn’t really paid attention to what had just happened.


“They ask you if you want Sweet Potato Fries but they don’t tell you it’s extra and all of a sudden your $17 meal becomes $20. AND…” Deana explained, “you don’t even get the French Fries that come with the meal, they just substitute the Sweet Potato Fries and charge you more!”


To add insult to injury, every $3 upsell increases the server’s tip by almost a dollar because, yes, your tip is calculated on the tax as well.


I suppose the adage “buyer beware” comes into play here as the upcharge is clearly described on the menu, (which the server has already taken away from you prior to putting her upsell into play) but it’s still a ploy that I can’t help believe is intended to be a bit deceptive.


There’s a fine line between good customer service and blatant upselling. It could be argued that the server was simply letting the customer know there was an option. But it was right there on the menu. If the server was assuming the customer had missed seeing that option, should she not have also assumed the customer hadn’t seen the upcharge?


When it comes down to it, it’s nothing more than a marketing ploy and it works well.


McDonald’s and similar fast food take outs have been using this ploy for years.


Me: I’d like a Big Mac Sandwich. (I add “sandwich” to differentiate between a single sandwich and the Big Mac Meal.) 

McDonald’s: Would you like the Big Mac Meal?

Me: Sighing, No thank you, just the sandwich.

McDonald’s: Would you like a drink with that?

Me: No thank you, just the sandwich.

McDonald’s: Fries?

Me: No thank you, just the sandwich.

McDonald’s: That’ll  be $6.99.

Me: Would you like a punch in the face with that?


Taxes, when not included in the list price, can also be considered an upsell even if they are not optional.


I remember as a young lad, around the age of 10, accompanying my Grandfather to purchase a part for his outboard motor.


“How much is this?” my Grandfather asked the sales clerk.


“$5.99” the clerk replied.


However when my grandfather went to pay for it, the clerk said, “That’ll be $6.41.”


“But you just told me it was $5.99,” my Grandfather argued. 


“Yes,” the clerk explained, “that’s $5.99 for the part and 42 cents for the tax. I have no control over how much the government is charging for tax.”


The Ontario sales tax had just recently been introduced and was creating havoc.


“I don’t care how much of the cost is tax,” My Grandfather countered, “When I asked you how much the part cost, you should have told me it cost $6.41 not $5.99.”


They were both right on a technicality. The clerk was selling the part for $5.99 but my Grandfather’s cost to buy the part was $6.41.”


It can be argued that the tax should not be hidden in the sale price of an item as the public has a right to know how much they are paying in taxes. And that’s a pretty good argument if it was applied to everything. The government however, does not want the public to be reminded just how much taxes they are paying on some things like gasoline or alcohol every time they make a purchase. They figure it’s better not to upset them.


While the public has come to generally accept that most goods they purchase come with a “plus tax condition” attached to it, I think many would prefer to just know the bottom line cost upfront. It makes budgeting easier.


The 42 cents my grandfather had to pay in tax might seem pretty small, although it would be 78 cents (not adjusted for inflation) at today’s tax rate and those small amounts can add up pretty quickly.


And it gets worse with large ticket items. Car dealers can be the worst offender for upselling and hidden costs.


A vehicle with a MSRP of $50,000 can quickly add up. Even if the potential buyer has prepared his budget to include the $6,500 in sales tax, there can be a lot of hidden costs and hidden taxes along the way.


“Would you like tires with that?” was comedian Gallagher’s exaggerated commentary on what to expect from a car salesman after negotiating a price. The reality, however, isn’t that much of a stretch.


“Do you want air conditioning, power windows, heated steering wheel, sun roof, leather seats?”


“Now we have to add in things like the Ontario tire surcharge, air conditioning tax, GST, HST, Freight” and on and on until the bottom line has reached well over $70,0000.


The over $20,000 difference is a result of upselling and extra taxes.


If you’re in the market for a new or used vehicle, however, there is a way to ease this stress. Drop in to Mac Lang in Sundridge and talk to Mark Bennett. From the time we first sat down in his office until we drove away in our new vehicle a few days later, not once did we hear the words, “plus tax”, “for a little extra” or “not including”.


This was my first experience with purchasing a new vehicle that I did not need to pull my pocket calculator out every few minutes to try to interpret what the car salesman was telling me. 


Mark Bennet handing us the keys to our new
Jeep Grand Cherokee at Mac Lang Sundridge

Taxes in. No hidden costs,” were practically the first words out of Mark’s mouth and he was true to his word.


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