Lawsuits Claim Applebee's Weight Watchers Food Has Too Much Fat

Awhile back we posted about some testing done by a group of local news affiliates that showed that the actual amount of fat (and calories) in certain “healthy” menu items from a variety of restaurants was different than what was listed on the menu.

Now it seems that the inevitable lawsuits have begun, (though we know of no direct connection between these particular test results and the lawsuits.)

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer says that a lawsuit filed earlier this month in King County Superior Court claims that Applebee’s Weight Watchers menu has two to three times the amount of fat advertised.

“Applebee’s made certain representations … and independent lab tests showed that the representations they made were way off,” says Jason Epstein, an attorney with Premier Law Group.

This isn’t the only lawsuit to be filed about the issue. There’s another one in Kansas. Applebee’s parent company has responded to that one, telling the Washington Business Journal that the lawsuit is without merit.

According to the lab tests reported by WXYZ in Detroit, Applebee’s Cajun Lime Tilapia was supposed to contain 6 grams of fat, but really had 14.3 grams of fat. Applebee’s Garlic Herb Chicken also was advertised at 6 grams of fat, but really had 18. If you’d like to take a look at the results, click here. (PDF)

The P-I says that the Washington lawsuit is seeking class action status.

Suit accuses Applebee’s of understating calorie counts [Seattle P-I] (Thanks, Rob!)

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  1. zigziggityzoo says:

    How would you prove you were affected? I mean, I’ve eaten at applebee’s a number of times. I may have had one of these meals before… Do I have to show a receipt? Class action lawsuits rarely help those affected. Sure, they hurt the company, and add a few million bucks to the lawyer’s coffers, but what about us?

  2. Red_Flag says:

    If they advertised falsely, they should be penalized. I’d like to see Applebee’s justify their numbers.

    • GMFish says:

      @Red_Flag: “I’d like to see Applebee’s justify their numbers.

      The justification would be easy: “We lied to increase our profits.”

  3. mazda3jdm says:

    Its Applebee’s if you wanted to eat healthy go somewhere else. I am not surprised their weight watcher meals where totally false they tasted to damn good to be healthier.

    • alexawesome says:

      @mazda3jdm: that’s not the point. the point is that they (allegedly) blatantly lied about their numbers. When I read nutritional value, I tend to trust that those numbers are accurate primarily because if they aren’t, someone is going to sue your ass for a lot (and presumably, that’s a damn good incentive not to lie).

      It isn’t easy to lose weight. If a restaurant partners with the organization you’re paying to help you come up with a healthy and manageable way to lose weight, it’s going to be a very big deal if that restaurant is lying about the nutritional value of what it serves you – especially if there’s a lot more calories/fat per serving than they say.

  4. When dealing with meat, is it possible to get the exact amount of fat? I mean, if they switch suppliers, and this new supplier doesn’t cut enough fat away, would the average employee notice? I think if it’s a dish with something manufactured, like cheese, then yeah, it’s easy to average the fat, but meat seems to be varied depending on the animal, time of year, what it was fed, the processor, the distributor, etc…

    • rpm773 says:

      @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy–>: That’s a good question when talking about beef. But I’d think tilapia and chicken breast are relatively consistent, regardless of who supplies it or where it was produced.

    • chrisjames says:

      @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy–>: They should be able to get a statistical average through regular QA, then adjust the advertised numbers accordingly or screen their suppliers better. A lawsuit shouldn’t have merit unless they use similar statistical averaging to prove Applebee’s is wrong.

      That makes me wonder though. Do nutritional labeling laws cap variances? I’d guess labeling 6 grams of fat doesn’t allow for anywhere between 0 and 20 grams, so long as the average is 6.

      • @chrisjames: @rpm773: One ounce = 28 grams. In a chicken breast, if you don’t trim it right, a half ounce of fat could stick to the breast. Also, depending on the bird, it could be a bird with more “marbling” which could lead to the extra fat. If you look at the chart, a lot of the higher calorie counts coincide with the higher fat amounts, which can be explained by the presence of the extra fat. And almost all of the higher fat errors are with meat based products.

        @jusooho: I meant for the average person, judging an extra ounce of fat could be tough.

        • chrisjames says:

          @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy–>: Yes, but that doesn’t address being able to statistically average the fat content in supplied meats. The cuts will vary. Everything varies. 100% identical cuts of meat still succumb to measurement error. That’s why you establish an average, and that’s your nutritional content. They could be trying to cheat and are posting below their mean reported content. How many standard deviations below and is that acceptable?

          Reasonably, the opposition can’t make a claim without doing similar research. You need to show both that Applebee’s has posted fat content below the average amount they serve, and it’s below acceptable limits. In that case, they’ll need to collect dishes served and run a very similar statistical analysis. In this case, it’s easy enough to just take a straight average.

          In the end, there is no exact amount required. But, what’s an acceptable deviation, and similarly what’s an acceptable measurement (or supplier) variance?

          • @chrisjames: I’m guessing they have the paperwork from the place they got their numbers from. They would have had to gone to a lab, and that lab would certify the numbers. I know for me, when it comes to meat, I take the numbers on a package(if there is some) as a minimum. The same size cut of steak can vary depending on where you get it from on the cow, the location it was raised, etc… I think it’s the price you pay when dealing with “fresh” food. If they were serving a Snickers bar sundae, I would totally expect them to be within 2% of what they state b/c the snickers bar has it’s set value, as does the ice cream.

    • jusooho says:

      @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy–>: 2 problems with this:

      1) The lawsuits claim the actuale values are 2 to 3 TIMES the stated values. This should account for more than supplier variation.

      2) IF it is impossible to judge the fat content due to supplier issues, it should not be stated as a fact on the menu.

    • Roclawzi says:

      @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy–>: Make the claims, assume the responsibility for the variables.

  5. GMFish says:

    What would the damages be? Unless you ate there a lot, you could not prove any serious weight gain or health problem relating to the extra calories.

    I’m not saying that Applebees shouldn’t be punished. I think the states’ attorney generals should drop the hammer. And drop it real hard.

  6. TouchMyMonkey says:

    I thought that portobello steak was a little too yummy. Still, portion control is better than no portion control.

  7. TheGreenMnM says:

    This makes me think there might be confusion with the portion size served as opposed to the portion size tested. Maybe the fat/calories they advertise is only for half the meal they put in front of you?

    • nybiker says:

      @TheGreenMnM: Right. Like packages that we consumers drink/eat as a single package but yet the labeling says ‘contains 2 servings.’

      But who only eats half a meal? Can’t say I do.

    • TracyHamandEggs says:

      My guess is a difference between how the item is supposed to be “built” and how it is actually served.

      For example, back when I worked for a restaurant we had a lasagna that was supposed to be topped with one piece of cheese. The problem is that the cheese only covered about 1/2 of the piece of lasagna, and customers often complained. So our cooks would put 2-3 piece of cheese on top to completely cover the dish.

      I would wager that that is the biggest cause of the increase. Cooks/servers trying to make the dish look more appetizing and upping the fat.

      (or using too much oil in the prep)

    • h3llc4t, breaker of office dress codes says:

      @TheGreenMnM: Looking at the website ([www.applebees.com]) there is no indication that what they serve on the plate is intended to be anything other than one serving. I’m apt to think that when the meals were designed they stuck to one portion and the cooks got lazy or were pressured to add more food by customers and threw the portion control out the window. Still, the advertisement is wholly misleading.

    • Burgandy says:

      @TheGreenMnM: If they labeled it that way on the menu then there probably wouldn’t be these lawsuits.

  8. MaytagRepairman says:

    I don’t care for Applebee’s but my wife likes it so we go there from time to time. I’ve ordered the steak and portobellos from the Weight Watcher menu twice. The amount of food on the plate varied quite a bit between the two visits which could account for the differences.

  9. Roclawzi says:

    For people trying to stick to those weight watchers points systems or whatever, there is a limited amount they can choose from, particularly when eating out. Applebee’s took advantage of this by promising a selection to make it a more attractive place for groups to eat since, if a member or two of the group is on WW, they aren’t left to have soup and water. Probably especially good for lunch rush.

    So they made a promise to their customers and did nothing to maintain the veracity of it, despite the fact that they were making this promise every time a customer was handed a menu.

  10. MadameX says:

    Some degree of variance has to be expected, but 2-3 times what they’re advertising isn’t acceptable. I’m sure Weight Watchers wouldn’t be pleased that they’re so far off, as there has to be a licensing agreement for them to be able to use the WW name.

    That said, I was in El Pollo Loco recently and ordered two chicken tacos. Their nutritional info said they were 190 calories and 6 grams of fat each. When they arrived, they were dripping with oil, and appeared to have been deep fried after the meat was put in (similar to a true Mexican style taco).

    They were tasty, but I do not for a second believe they were anywhere close to 6 grams of fat each. :)

    • CumaeanSibyl says:

      @MadameX: That’s a good point — I wonder if WW can sue for breach of contract or something. They probably stand to suffer more from the association than the average Applebee’s customer.

  11. gopher646 says:

    I worked at an Applebee’s from 2004-2005, when these Weight Watchers options were originally put on the menu. We had a mandatory staff meeting and everyone was required to attend (per corporate). We had to watch a presentation and were told that under no circumstances could we change anything (“extra ranch”) in case someone from Dateline or one of those shows comes in here and tests this food”.

    While I didn’t enjoy my time working there, Weight Watchers had Applebee’s under a microscope making sure we were preparing the food correctly, and not adding anything that would increase the fat/calories.

  12. Outrun1986 says:

    These meals are misleading period, whether you are on Weight Watchers or just on a normal diet, so I can see how someone would be upset about this. The cheesecake factory’s “weight management salads’ actually have in upwards of 50 grams of fat each, I looked up the menu myself. Um, if I was eating these for lunch or something once a week I don’t think it would help me to manage my weight! Of course they don’t disclose this to the public and just label it as weight management so everyone automatically thinks its healthy for you.

    A person paying for WW is paying for the program and the Applebees meal, so a meal endorsed by them should be safe to eat and within the posted fat and calorie limits and within the program. Now if the customer wants to add something or eat a dessert with their meal the waiter obviously cannot say no (thats the eater’s responsibility) but the prepared meal as it is delivered to the person’s table should be off the menu. The waiter/waitress isn’t there to tell you what to eat and what not to eat and is not paid to be diet patrol.

  13. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    wonder what the american diabetes association has to say about misleading carb counts?
    because while extra fat will be an awkward weight gain, extra carbs will be dangerous for a diabetic
    then again, the heart disease and cholesterol folks might have even more at stake than weight watchers

  14. RedwoodFlyer says:

    I hate the people who sue fast food places for fattening them up….no one forced the food in your mouth…

    However, when a restaurant gives out nutritional info so that people can make those rational decisions that the restaurants claim we are capable of making….and they’re off by this much, sue away. Masshats…

  15. Cary says:

    Wait.

    You’re saying my fat ass is MY fault?

  16. HClay says:

    Having previously been trained in the culinary arts, I will bet you that the official nutritional info was based off of something created in a test kitchen with strictly controlled measurement of ingredients, while what is being served to customers is the product of a food service worker (I will not call such a personal a ‘cook’, let alone a ‘chef’) who just ‘eyeballed’ things when putting it together.

    In a high-volume commercial kitchen, it is rare to find people carefully measuring anything but the most expensive ingredients, such as meat (and that’s just to make sure they don’t give you TOO much, so that they don’t lose money). Most people tend to greatly underestimate the true weight/volume of the ingredients they add, just as consumers underestimate a portion’s true size.

  17. Nofsdad says:

    If you don’t want to gain weight, don’t go into a restaurant and gorge your fat ass. How much simpler can it be? How often would you have to eat at Applebee’s in order to blame even a pound of weight gain on them in the first place?

    This whole bullshit thing of forcing eating places to provide you with a detailed laboratory analysis pf every bite you ram down your gullet is stupid on the face of it and it’s fostered by the same flipping kind of lawyers that force companies to put labels on products to supposedly save you from your own stupidity. Just something to sue somebody else over.

    Take some responsibility for yourself, dammit. People who are too damned stupid to regulate their food intake and get a little exercise other than walking to and from their car at Applebee’s are going to gain weight. Period.

    So go ahead and sue every restaurant in town. You’ll have a few bucks (maybe), some trial lawyer(s) will get filthy rich and in the end (no pun intended), your ass will still be fat.

    • RedwoodFlyer says:

      @Nofsdad:

      No one forced Applebees to put the fat info on their products…they chose to do so as a marketing decision, because they knew the low fat content would attract business. Since the product was sold on the premise of being low in fat, it must live up to it.

      People are obviously trying to regulat their intake, but it’s hard to carry a calorimieter with you, so they depend on what info is provided to them.

      It’s no different than those 100 calorie packs containing 300 calories…If every product sold was off by 3x, imagine how much more obesity would result.

      Put another way, this is about as ethical as a treadmill maker claiming that their treadmill is a super fat burner, by just setting the calories burned display to multiply everything by 3.

    • DrGirlfriend says:

      @Nofsdad: Jeebus, how often is this going to have to be pointed out? The problem is not that people are blaming restaurants for their weight, it’s that – wait for it, because it’s a very complex situation – the restaurant is providing erroneous information. So if someone wants to go to a restaurant not to gorge their fat ass, but to have a reasonably-caloric meal, they end up gorging on high fat food unknowingly. Just like if any company that makes anything other than food misrepresented their product, they would get into trouble once people figured it out.

      God I am so sick of this “stop being a fatass” argument. It’s purposefully dense.

      • Outrun1986 says:

        @DrGirlfriend: Its more about misrepresentation than anything else. If someone was going out daily for lunch for these meals for example thinking the meal had 500 calories but was really taking in 800 to 1000 calories due to misrepresentation of the content of the meal then it would make a huge difference.

        How would you feel if you bought an apple at a grocery store in an attempt to get 5 fruits a day only to find out that someone laced that apple with 20 grams of fat. This is hypothetical obviously but if you kept eating the apples without knowing it you would have unexplained weight gain.

        People who are trying to lose weight cannot just shut themselves into a cave, eating in the USA is social regardless if its bad for you or not and these meals were designed to allow someone to go out to eat without having to ingest 1000 to 2000 calories on a single meal and ruin their diet for a week.

        There are times when you will have to give into the social pressures of eating out to be polite. Its definitely not polite to go to a restaurant and order a diet soda only. Its not polite to the waiters since you are taking up space in the restaurant and it just makes your party feel extremely awkward. A better way to handle it would be to order a meal and finish half of it, since everyone else will likely be leaving some food as well this is acceptable.

        Its really impossible to avoid eating out, I have tried and tried and tried to avoid it, someone will always drag you along even if you don’t want to go. This is real life, its not as simple as saying, stop going to a restaurant, its much easier said than done. Believe me I do not eat out because I choose to eat out. I might eat out once or twice a year and thats much less than the average American. Not everyone who goes to a restaurant is a complete glutton either. You cannot avoid eating out unless you are a complete social recluse with no friends or family at all. You would basically have to be living under a complete rock to stop eating out completely and that type of lifestyle is not healthy to have either.

  18. fallstreet says:

    All of these companies appear to be taking advantage of customers who pay attention to nutritional information when they eat at restaurants…

  19. Anonymous says:

    the problem is showing that you where harmed. the best thing to do is to tell everyone you know NOT to eat there. Jackpot justice only makes thing cost more and makes lawyers rich. All of you that think that they should be sued are a farce. I am offended that you cant take you fat ass to subway or exercise a little more. We as a country have gotten to the place where it is NOT MY FAULT, so i will sue to get my way.
    How about all of the companies that you do not like just give up and close their doors. would that make you fat asses happy?? get off your ass and protest, write to WW and get them to cancel their contract with applebees. Here is an idea only eat half of the dinner and save the rest. To be serious about losing weight, you do not eat out.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I am so upset about this. I specifically go to Applebee’s to stay on track with my Weight Watcher’s points. Sometimes I spend a lot of money to eat as healthy as possible when dining out is practically a requirement at times. Subway was getting very old and I was so happy that I now had an option for a nice dining out experience when gathering with friends and family.

    I only began to question this when I felt so “loaded down” after eating a WW recommended meal. I am very disappointed that both Weight Watchers and Applebee’s are not working closely enough to insure the claims they are making.