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Does Freebirds Really Overcharge?

Does Freebirds Really Overcharge?
Illustration by Kamran Yunus

Jack Betz
Staff Writer

With the remarkable turnover rate of restaurants and eateries in Isla Vista being as high as it is, it is commendable that specific businesses have endured long enough to become I.V. cornerstones. It’s a literal corner in the case of Freebirds.

Located at Pardall and Embarcadero del Norte, Freebirds has been serving up Mexican food to the local populace for decades. With their large portions and late hours, Freebirds has been wildly successful and often has a line of customers out the door on Friday and Saturday nights.

When considering Isla Vista’s reputation, it isn’t surprising that out of all late-night Freebirds patrons, a considerable number are intoxicated to some degree. Whether customers can be exploited and overcharged accidentally or on purpose, however, is something that both employees and patrons agree is a subject of debate.

One anonymous source claimed to have been told that his credit card was declined and paid in cash. On his next credit statement he saw the card has been charged. This could have been an accident by the employee.

University of California, Santa Barbara student Sarah Bristol says that on multiple occasions she has been charged extra for items she did not order, such as guacamole or steak instead of chicken. This has occurred both sober and not. Bristol calculates the amount she should be charged beforehand and has been forced “to dispute prices five, maybe six, times.”

Another anonymous student with a similar experience found her transaction suspicious. She ordered a veggie burrito around 1 a.m. and was charged for steak, the more expensive option.

She caught the mistake and the employee at the register corrected the blunder. It seemed less like a sincere mistake to her and more “like an attempt to cover something up.”

Not every transaction at Freebirds is manipulative as students keep coming back, but statistically, students think that mistakes of this nature should not occur this often by chance.

An anonymous employee stated that it is “frustrating for the workers cause they have to keep yelling at people to move.” She tries to repeat the order to customers for confirmation, and said that it was up to the customer “to correct me and the other cashiers if something is wrong with the order.”

She denounced the claim that Freebirds purposefully overcharges. “People who want more … food than what we are allowed to give … end up with an expensive order,” she said, continuing “[they] don’t exactly fully remember everything that went into their order” when paying.

“Everything extra will obviously cost extra,” she said.

Another anonymous Freebirds employee stated that “no one ever purposely overcharges, if it happens it’s an accident and it’s always super easy to refund.”

“[The employee] always says the total before they charge, always offers the receipt which offers an itemized breakdown of the prices,” the employee said.

One student, Abigail, recounted the last time she was at Freebirds late at night. One night, she ordered three meals for her friends and paid over $36 for her food. She insisted that she did not buy extra meat or a side of guacamole or anything that would charge extra.

“The next day when I thought about it, they ring you up so fast and kind of rush you out,” Abigail told The Bottom Line. “They don’t want you to have time to realize they are overcharging you.”

With the masses of people waiting to be served, it is understandable that Freebirds workers would want to work quickly so as to not keep people waiting long, but some customers believe there may be trickery behind it.

Besides allegedly overcharging customers, some also claim that Freebirds serves smaller amounts late on weekends. Another I.V. resident, Nick, heard this from several friends and confirmed it himself.

A few weeks ago he “lost [his] cool … because [the employees] were putting half the food they usually do.” Nick “ended up cussing out all the employees, including the security guard.”

“I explained to them why I was upset,” Nick said. “They … told me to talk to the manager. At least half the customers inside were listening to the argument.”

A Freebirds manager who identified himself as Elmer is confident that all serving sizes are standardized. When interviewed about student allegations, Elmer said that any mistakes were “never intentional.”

He affirmed that late night orders are more rushed because of the higher number of customers but assured that any mistake made would be corrected and refunded. When customers are drunk, they tend to not care and request extra food, which can lead to them becoming irritable or suspicious at the final price, he said.

While the statements above should be taken with a grain of salt, the frequency of them could lead to Isla Vista residents staying on their toes when ordering at Freebirds and speaking clearly and articulately to the servers.

It is not confirmed if the alleged exploitation is occurring at the hands of a single employee or if the dishonesty is more widespread. Freebirds insists that any such acts were unintentional.

Freebirds will always have new fluctuations of customers as students cycle in and out of Isla Vista, but students may be a little wary of purchasing their next burrito.

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