SO THIS food outlet in Kuala Terengganu was slapped with the maximum compound fine of RM22,500 earlier in the week for alleged overcharging.
Seems the establishment charged RM1.80 for a glass of iced Milo, which is about 20sen to 30sen over the accepted price. Apparently, it also did not advertise its prices properly.
As a result of this, Domestic Trade and Industry Ministry enforcement officers raided it. RM750 worth of food and drink were seized, and the shops signboard was taken down.
Bravo, you say. It almost makes you want to stand up and cheer, doesnt it?
Sure, it looks like the proprietor stepped over the line and got what was coming.
Its just that I cant help but be curious as to why this particular eatery, and why the maximum penalty.
Was it meant as a lesson, a warning to others? The bad news is that its not going to be all that effective as long as enforcement is based primarily on prices.
Im not defending all price hikes, nor am I saying anything one way or the other about the eatery in Kuala Terengganu. I simply dont have all the facts to do that. And before you start pelting me with eggs, yeah, I work for the paper that just increased the cover price of its weekend editions (but hey, we give you a whole lot more).
Consider the two key situations here: charging you slightly more and maintaining or even increasing/improving things a bit; or charging you the same but reducing quantity or quality by a significant, perhaps larger percentage?
If my own experiences and the lamentation of others is any indication, theres been a fair bit of that going on in recent months, and its not confined to stalls and coffeeshops, either.
Have you ever looked at the meat patty in your burger and wondered if its shrunk? Or lifted the top slice of bread in your (purchased) sandwich and noticed that the dollop of egg mayo you used to get has now become a mere smear?
Its probably not your imagination.
Theres this restaurant that the family liked (past tense) to go to. The last time we visited, my parents ordered their favourite dish. To our dismay, the amount of fish in the serving had shrunk by more than one third.
Not surprisingly, the amount of garnishing remained constant but how much do veggies cost in relation to fish, anyway?
I feel a lot better giving my continued business to a restaurant that raises its prices slightly every few years to keep pace with rising costs, but keeps the size of its steaks (or chicken chops, or fish fillets, or mounds of mee, or piles of pasta) consistent.
Sure, steam billows from your ears when youre charged a little more for a glass of iced Milo that tastes the same as it did at a lower price.
What about paying the same as always but getting a quarter less Milo and a quarter less milk to the extent that you may soon find yourself drinking coloured water?
As The Star Online editor and Why Not? co-columnist Raslan Sharif joked on Monday, the way some places are reducing their portions, they may soon have to change the name of Roti Bom to Roti Mercun.
For consumers to really get a fair shake the authorities need to look beyond just enforcing price tags; they also need to ensure that we get our moneys worth.
Its not so easy to do that, and it requires more critical thinking in the field, extensive studies and comparisons, and the establishing of standards in every level and branch of the retail and food sectors.
Come to think of it, while theyre at it, the authorities should look into establishing some kind of standards and practices to better protect the rights of consumers of services too, especially when it comes to banking matters.
The glass-is-half-full side of me believes that it isnt out of reach as long as consumers remember that, as Stevie G and Michael Owen say, the power is in their hands. And that power, to make a choice, is indeed great.
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