In most states, it’s illegal to over-serve patrons in bars. A law proposed in Michigan would make it illegal to under-serve them, too.
The legislation would ban bars and restaurants from delivering anything less than 16 ounces when a customer orders a “pint” of beer.
There’s no research to suggest there is widespread stuffing of Michigan drinkers, but state Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) told local media he got the idea for the law when he was under-served.
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“When people buy a pint and they’re served less than a pint, it strikes me as sort of low-level fraud,” Irwin said to MLive.com.
Now this is consumer protection at work.
Local government keeping close tabs on what goes into the glass in bars isn’t new. In 2011, the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control raided 29 bars as part of …wait for it…“Operation Swill.” The bars were committing an old-fashioned bait-and-switch, using cheap liquor (or other substances) in expensive liquor bottles. One wonders how authorities caught on, but I digress.
Fighting for Consumer Protections
Michigan has a reputation for protecting consumers in small but important transactions, and for truth in labeling. It was among the last states to require that grocery stores place price tags on all items; former head of Detroit Consumer Affairs office Esther Shapiro was a bit of a poster child for them.
While getting 15 ounces instead of 16 ounces when ordering in a pint of beer, the concept is a pretty big deal in consumer protection. It’s been dubbed “inflation by degradation” by economist Caroline Baum. In its simplest form, consumer goods sellers simply shrink their packages by an ounce or two every year and keep the price steady. Consumers are fooled into missing the effective price increase.
There are other ways to “shrink” a product, however. Shrink the service. Take passenger flights, for example. Imagine an airline with a certain flight to Chicago that had an on-time rate of 90% five years ago; that rate is 50% today. Even if the price is the same, fliers are getting less for their money — the odds they will get where they are going on time are considerably less. Since that’s why you fly — to get somewhere fast — fliers are getting less for what they pay (and sometimes they’re paying more for the service!).
So on principal, consumer advocates should cheer Michigan’s effort to make sure that a pint is a pint. You only wish that kind of zeal would also be poured into other important areas of consumer protection.