Man sues Dunkin' Donuts over butter substitute

Mr Jan Polanik sued 23 Dunkin' Donuts locations in Massachusetts for serving him "margarine or a butter substitute" instead of butter with his bagels between June 2012 and June 2016.
Mr Jan Polanik sued 23 Dunkin' Donuts locations in Massachusetts for serving him "margarine or a butter substitute" instead of butter with his bagels between June 2012 and June 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • If you order chicken, you expect chicken. But if you order butter, is margarine or a vegetable spread an acceptable substitute?

It was not to Mr Jan Polanik, who sued 23 Dunkin' Donuts locations in Massachusetts for serving him "margarine or a butter substitute" instead of butter with his bagels between June 2012 and June 2016.

He filed a pair of class-action lawsuits last month against franchise owners who are responsible for multiple stores. He paid 25 US cents (34 Singapore cents) for butter and was not told a substitute was used, according to the suits.

If settlement agreements filed on Monday are approved, up to 1,400 people may claim up to three free buttered muffins, bagels or other baked goods from the 23 locations in places such as Grafton, Leominster, Lowell and Worcester.

Customers would not need to show a receipt of a previous purchase.

The stores will be required to use only butter - no margarine or butter substitute - for a year. If they use butter substitutes in the future, the menus will have to explicitly say so.

Mr Thomas G. Shapiro, a lawyer who represented Mr Polanik, said it was unclear what each of the restaurants used in lieu of butter, but one of the stores had "a large tub that looked a lot like a tub of Country Crock, a very inexpensive spread that is sold in grocery stores".

"The main thrust of the case is to get the stores, and hopefully Dunkin' Donuts generally, to change that practice and not deceive people," he said on Monday.

Dunkin' Donuts said in a statement that it was aware of the lawsuit, but did not address any company-wide butter policies.

"The majority of Dunkin' Donuts restaurants in Massachusetts carry both individual whipped butter packets and a butter-substitute vegetable spread," the company said in a statement.

The butter-or-margarine question rubs up against Coke-or-Pepsi as among the most contentious dividers of modern time. Based on either health concerns or personal taste, preferences run deep.

Take Wisconsin, for example. There, an unannounced margarine- for-butter swop at a restaurant is forbidden, punishable by a fine of up to US$500 and three months in prison for the first offence.

In 2013, a Dunkin' Donuts spokesman, Ms Lindsay Harrington, offered an explanation for why a vegetable spread might be used.

"For food safety reasons, we do not allow butter to be stored at room temperature, which is the temperature necessary for butter to be easily spread onto a bagel or pastry," she told The Boston Globe.

The recommended procedure in the store, she said, was for individual whipped butter packets to be served on the side of a bagel or pastry, but not applied. "The vegetable spread is generally used if the employee applies the topping," she said.

Such explanations were insufficient for Mr Polanik. Mr Shapiro said: "It's the basic principle that if something is misrepresented to you, it should be corrected. He just prefers butter for a number of reasons."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2017, with the headline 'Man sues Dunkin' Donuts over butter substitute'. Print Edition | Subscribe