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Calling foul on unexplained fried chicken fee

Friday - 10/21/2011, 4:53am  ET

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(WTOP Photo/Neal Augenstein)

Neal Augenstein, wtop.com

MANASSAS, Va. -- The bag of Popeyes fried chicken, red beans and rice, and cole slaw was already in my car, when I noticed the tiny sign on the drive-thru window: "57 cent service fee added to all sales over $5."

Right next to it was another sign reading, "Pay less with cash. Receive a 60 cent cash discount on cash sales $5 and over."

Rather than ask the employee at the window to explain, or hand back my tempting chicken, I charged the meal and drove away, wondering if I'd been ripped off.

Between bites of chicken I scanned the receipt.

There it was, beneath the order, subtotal, and tax.

A $.57 fee labeled "ESF."

Trying to get a human on the phone number listed on the receipt was fruitless.

An email from a skeptical reporter to Popeyes corporate headquarters produced some answers: Popeyes restaurants in the D.C. area are independently owned and operated franchised locations.

Two things are happening in our area.

First, the local franchisee is charging a $.57 "economic service fee" on all orders over $5. He told NBC4 recently it was to cover rising operating costs.

Second, local customers who pay cash on an order over $5 get a $.60 rebate.

In a statement from its corporate office, Popeyes says, "We have notified our franchise system that we do not condone the practice of charging different prices for credit card and cash payments, and continue to follow up with franchises regarding discontinuing this fee."

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)