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    P.F. Chang's is Sued for Extra Charges on Gluten-Free Menu Items

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Caption: Photo: CC--Mark Crawley

    Celiac.com 02/02/2015 - On December 9th, 2014, Anna Marie Phillips filed a lawsuit in Santa Clara County Superior Court against P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Inc., headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, for discrimination and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The suit claims that P.F. Chang's forces people with celiac disease to pay higher prices for gluten-free versions of their menu items. According to the complaint, P.F. Chang's charges one extra dollar per gluten-free item, however, they do not add these surcharges on to their regular menu items.

    Photo: CC--Mark CrawleyThe lawsuit is seeking class action status, and claims that over the past four years more than 3,000 people in 39 states have been affected at P.F. Chang's 204 restaurants. The plaintiff claims that the gluten-free diet is medically necessary for those with celiac disease, and those who eat at P.F. Chang's are forced to pay higher prices for gluten-free dishes, even if the dishes they order are naturally gluten-free. The plaintiff asserts that this arbitrary and unequal treatment constitues discrimination against consumers who have celiac disease and gluten intolerance, and that the added surcharge is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    In the lawsuit Ms. Phillips and her attorneys, Anthony J. Orshansky and Justin Kachadoorian of Counselone, P.C. in Beverly Hills, California, seek an immediate injunction against any further surcharges on gluten-free items, civil penalties, compensatory damages and punitive damages. P.F. Chang's is represented by Jon P. Karbassakis and Michael K. Grimaldi of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, in Los Angeles, California.

    On January 23, 2015, P.F. Chang's removed the case to U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (case number 5:15-cv-00344).

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    This is another stupid lawsuit out of California. Everyone is out to get something for nothing. I echo some other comments. Eating gluten free is MORE expensive in general, that is the way it is. The ingredients are more expensive, the prep (especially in a restaurant) has to be handled more carefully, and if you don't want to pay the price to eat at P.F. Chang's then don't go there. I agree, paying $1 more for something to be gluten free is a deal. Some of the pizza places I go charge $5 to $8 more for a gluten free pizza and it is actually smaller than a "regular" pizza. (....and I'm happy to pay it.) All crap lawsuits like this is going to do is raise the prices even more for everybody. If you don't like paying the price, eat at home.

    Dean, you are so right about the pizza. I think the gluten-free pizza at New York Pizzeria in Houston is fantastic, the best gluten-free pizza I've had anywhere. It's ridiculously expensive and only comes in "medium". I don't have it very often, but when I do, it's a treat for me that I know is safe and delicious.

     

    Same goes for P.F. Chang's. The first time someone took me there, I was so excited when I saw the gluten-free menu! I don't eat there often because of budget, but it's always wonderful to go there and enjoy food that is safe and delicious.

     

    Most of the time when I go out with friends, I end up with a salad because there's not much else. Always frustrating to glance over a menu and realize I'm going to leave hungry. I don't care if they charge me a little extra for food I can eat and enjoy!

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    Jeanne: So in your way of thinking, wheat flour and gluten-free flour (despite having different ingredients that have higher costs to produce ) should all cost the consumer the same amount. How did you come up with that paradigm? If so, let's have grocery stores make EVERYTHING the same price. Nothing should cost more than something else, right? That seems like the recipe for getting grocery stores to discontinue selling gluten-free foods. If that happens, perhaps you can become the grower, processor and distributor of your own line of gluten-free products and see if your business model of having gluten-free flour (for example) can be sold for the same cost as regular wheat flour. Good luck with that.

    Jeanne, I was totally in the same line of thinking with you. It stinks that we have to pay more for gluten-free food but in most cases it costs more to produce.

     

    Where I changed my mind in the article is where they point out that some of the items are naturally gluten free. So if their claim is true, well then it certainly shouldn't cost anymore.

     

    But yes, I agree with your point wholeheartedly.

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    Oh for heaven's sake, this lawsuit is a waste of everyone's time and money. What an idiot. She should be grateful that the restaurant even offers gluten-free items. We Americans need to learn to let the free market operate instead of suing everyone right and left. Nobody is FORCING that woman to pay anything. It is her CHOICE to eat at P.F. Chang's. If she's too cheap to pay an extra buck to ensure that she doesn't get glutened, then she needs to find some other place to eat or eat at home. Idiot.

    Exactly. I, for one, am grateful they are willing to go to the bother to feed me with my special needs.

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    I am with Jeanne on her comment! Why should we have to pay two to three times as much for a loaf of bread that has half as much bread as a regular loaf?

    Then make it yourself. Then maybe you will see all the flours needed in your pantry, time spent, the trouble in toting it around the country if traveling and much more. Be thankful that more and more restaurants are providing the needs for the gluten-free COMMUNITY instead of knocking them in the teeth for trying to do good. Maybe the day will come that they will be cheaper but they are just trying to get their feet on the ground right now. If they were not as careful then someone would be suing due to contamination. Get a life.

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    I am with Jeanne on her comment! Why should we have to pay two to three times as much for a loaf of bread that has half as much bread as a regular loaf?

    Unfortunately, the price of the ingredients, used to bake a gluten free bread are most of the time twice or three times higher than the price for wheat flour. To that you have to add the real cost for the bakery to keep a gluten free dedicated facility, the costs for the certifications, training of the employees, development of the recipes. Baking gluten free is not as simple as switching wheat for rice and that's it, it takes A LOT of work and effort. So in the end you can get a bread that has the same qualities in shape and flavor or a regular wheat bread.

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    Jeanne: So in your way of thinking, wheat flour and gluten-free flour (despite having different ingredients that have higher costs to produce ) should all cost the consumer the same amount. How did you come up with that paradigm? If so, let's have grocery stores make EVERYTHING the same price. Nothing should cost more than something else, right? That seems like the recipe for getting grocery stores to discontinue selling gluten-free foods. If that happens, perhaps you can become the grower, processor and distributor of your own line of gluten-free products and see if your business model of having gluten-free flour (for example) can be sold for the same cost as regular wheat flour. Good luck with that.

    MIKE: Although I understand your take, there are many equally good gluten-free products that cost less. Which leads one to believe that prices are jacked up just because they can.

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    Now we have to move forward with companies that manufacture gluten-free products and grocery store that charge 3 times or more for gluten-free products compared to others.

    Jeanne, I agree. After being diagnosed with celiac disease I started seeking gluten free alternatives. In my experience gluten free is much higher than even sugar free products. It is challenging enough to eat gluten free especially when dining out but being charged a premium is outrageous. For example; a pizza place charges $10 for a large yet when I order the same I am charged $15 for a small! Keep in mind it is made in a non-gluten free environment. It frustrating.

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    Jeanne: So in your way of thinking, wheat flour and gluten-free flour (despite having different ingredients that have higher costs to produce ) should all cost the consumer the same amount. How did you come up with that paradigm? If so, let's have grocery stores make EVERYTHING the same price. Nothing should cost more than something else, right? That seems like the recipe for getting grocery stores to discontinue selling gluten-free foods. If that happens, perhaps you can become the grower, processor and distributor of your own line of gluten-free products and see if your business model of having gluten-free flour (for example) can be sold for the same cost as regular wheat flour. Good luck with that.

    Yes, gluten-free costs more because it costs more to process but when a company charges more for foods that are naturally gluten-free than I think that is unfair. That part of the issue needs addressed. Most of time it's about making money. It's that way in a lot of avenues. Have you ever noticed how much they over charge for car parts. We need to research and pick our battles wisely.

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    Jeanne: So in your way of thinking, wheat flour and gluten-free flour (despite having different ingredients that have higher costs to produce ) should all cost the consumer the same amount. How did you come up with that paradigm? If so, let's have grocery stores make EVERYTHING the same price. Nothing should cost more than something else, right? That seems like the recipe for getting grocery stores to discontinue selling gluten-free foods. If that happens, perhaps you can become the grower, processor and distributor of your own line of gluten-free products and see if your business model of having gluten-free flour (for example) can be sold for the same cost as regular wheat flour. Good luck with that.

    I'm sorry but I disagree that gluten-free costs more to produce. Rice flour and corn flour are just as cheap as wheat. Legal seafood only serves gluten free fried batter and don't charge anymore than regular. The other issue is cross contamination, but these restaurants already have to be aware of different meats and ingredients being cross contaminated. It's a scam on the part of PF Chang's. If I order a dish with rice noodles or rice and veggies and ask for no soy sauce it will be gluten-free. But if I order the exact same thing and just mention gluten-free I will get charge an extra dollar for the exact same thing! I but gluten free oats grind them down and make pancakes. Believe it or not those oats cost about the same as wheat flour! So I'm sorry but the original comment makes complete sense. It's a fad charge but eventually these manufacturers will realize this is not a fad diet and hopefully prices will follow.

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    Two weeks ago I paid $1.50 extra for a gluten-free bun at Jeffery's Burgers in Menlo Park, CA, and was glad to do so. It was the first 'real' hamburger, with bun, that I have had in a restaurant in 8 years.

    It's simple economics. A special product that has a limited demand so it costs more to manufacture because of the small quantities and special requirements, will always cost more than something with a large demand (wheat bread) that can be manufactured in huge amounts with a lower cost per item.

    I get that to have gluten-free substitutions (like a gluten-free bun) is an extra cost that the restaurant has to bear. But at the same time I wonder the cost passed on to the consumer is usually *so* high. If order a hamburger with a gluten-free bun up here in NH I pay an extra $1.00-$1.50. I could buy a pack of gluten-free buns retail for about $3.00. I understand that everything is uncharged when you eat out but this sometimes seems absurd to me.

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    Celiac.com's Founder and CEO, Scott was diagnosed with celiac disease  in 1994, and, due to the nearly total lack of information available at that time, was forced to become an expert on the disease in order to recover. Scott launched the site that later became Celiac.com in 1995 "To help as many people as possible with celiac disease get diagnosed so they can begin to live happy, healthy gluten-free lives."  In 1998 he founded The Gluten-Free Mall which he sold in 2014. He is co-author of the book Cereal Killers, and founder and publisher of Journal of Gluten Sensitivity.

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