Street Vendor Fired for Selling Hot Dogs to Tourists for $30. I Blame the Tourists.

A street vendor in New York was charging tourists as much as $30 for a hot dog.

He’s been fired. He was apparently telling the cart’s owners he was getting only $2 and pocketing the difference. And yet it’s the cart owners who are facing fines for “being too close to a crosswalk, having items outside of his cart and failure to list prices” (this last in furtherance of overcharging tourists).

I don’t have a problem with charging tourists $30 for a hot dog, per se. I do have a problem with tourists who would pay $30 for a hot dog. Nonetheless, contra Gawker, the guy isn’t a hero because his fraud in my view was perpetrated against his boss. That said,

If Ahmed Mohammed had built a shitty “prix-fixe” dinner restaurant charging $60 for a “pre-theater” meal, he would be a respected businessman.

As tourists, don’t we have some obligation to know what things ought to cost?

It’s easy to be intimidated by locals when you don’t speak the language. If I’m taking a cab to a hotel, though, and the cab wants to overcharge me I get out, make sure I’ve secured any luggage, and then enlist the help of the hotel (which certainly knows what a ride should cost, and has me as their guest not the driver).

If you buy something (even ‘unknowingly’) and are charged an absurd price you can certainly get yourself into trouble especially if there isn’t such a thing as a ‘neutral third party’ in the country you’re in. If you’re somewhere that the police are on the take from the scammers your position isn’t strong.

But if you’re handed a hot dog in Manhattan, and then told $30, you give it back. You don’t pay $30.

And as consumers, shouldn’t we have some fidelity to our own values and preferences? If you actually value a street vendor hot dog at $30, fine, although even then you ought to move to the next street vendor who will charge you $2. Personally I’d value that hot dog under most circumstances at negative $30 given the likelihood of heart burn and the opportunity to eat a better meal foregone. Assuming you don’t value the hot dog at $30, though, even if you’re quoted that price… why would you be intimidated into paying it?

As a tourist, I don’t blame the vendor. There are real tourist scams and you should learn to avoid those. Simply being asked to overpay isn’t one of those.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Gary, When you paid $75 for a 3 hour food tour in Colombo, I backed you up. But with this line in today’s post, ‘As tourists, don’t we have some obligation to know what things ought to cost?’, I am having second thoughts. 😉

  2. @Ram I think paying $75 for the time of two people, for a car, for the expertise and not just the food makes sense. And there aren’t a lot of providers of food tours as such, at least who had availability (remember the first one even cancelled on me). And in any case, *I wasn’t complaining about it*. That’s the point. Don’t criticize someone offering a service or item at a given price, people buy freely.

  3. Thank you! If someone tried to charge me that, I would hand back the hot dog and walk away. What is so hard about that?!

  4. Like the Delta airlines frequent flyer mileage redemption with no published prices, I think Delta is now selling hot dogs from New York food carts to boost ancillary revenue.

  5. Even across the Pond, news came out about consumer stupidity and food. Aldi sold blood/black sausage and mislabel the packaging. In time, a Muslim figured out the secret ingredient and the crap hit the fan.

  6. I’ll bet the tourists really, really enjoyed those hot dogs.

    “Are you catching an aroma of aged grease-water?”

    “These onions were simmered ever-so-delicately in Heinz 57!”

    It’s like an insanely expensive bottle of wine – part of the enjoyment is the expectation and the extravagance.

  7. This is what I like to refer to as the “idiot tax” for anybody who was enough of a fool to fork over $30 for a dishwater dawg.

  8. Honestly, feeling a little queasy about having been a customer of Gary’s after reading this.

  9. I don’t understand how you can seriously make this argument, Gary. I’m a smart tourist. I’ve been to 38 countries. But if I were in Oslo or Copenhagen or some notoriously expensive city where I don’t speak the language and I was told the price was X amount, it would not be easy for me to say “Aha! I am being scammed! I refuse to pay!”

    I think it is reasonable to expect people not to rip each other off rather than claiming it is the victim’s fault

  10. If someone is stupid enough to pay 30$ for a hotdog – they deserve to be ripped off. Just my honest opinion.
    The world is full of wealthy people making money off the stupidity of others. a’int fair, but this is the reality.

  11. Sorry I’m late to this story, it shouldn’t take me too long to ketchup though

  12. This is ridiculous. Tourists can’t be responsible for knowing what everything costs in every country, and even if they do, they will often just pay to avoid a fight or worse. The idea that it is the tourists’ fault is absurd. We should, as a society, be promoting tourism and trying to make things more palatable to others who want to spend money here. Blaming this shakedown on the tourists is horrible.

  13. “Fidelity to our own values and preferences?” So some tourists were ridiculously overcharged and this is somehow a case of them betraying their own “values and preferences” rather than about either a silly mistake or a scumbag vendor? And the I love the impeccable logic that indicates that because some people do foolish things or make errors that they essentially deserve to be cheated and conned. Take that moronic line of thinking a little farther and see where it gets you…

  14. Sorry, I disagree.
    Assuming all buyers are native English speakers, understand the “right” to hand the hot dog back, and understand the currency is a bit much. I’m an experienced traveler, but I know I’ve been afraid of making a 10x error when the currency is very different from mine (quick divide by 20000 to figure out the price in dollars, etc). And there are plenty of places where you can’t just “hand it back” without fear of physical (of other) instant reprisals.
    What’s really funny about this is that there is a huge tsunami of outrage against a Thai restaurant for overcharging some tourist customers and few have suggested it was the tourists fault.
    As for the owners being charged for their employees failures – well that’s a whole other issue.

  15. I have to agree with James K and Poyntee as well, the tourists shouldn’t be blamed. In addition to wanting to pay to avoid a conflict in an unfamiliar place, language barriers, and et cetera, it could be hard to gauge the value if one is unfamiliar with the currency and exchange rates. Gary, I’m certain given all your extensive traveling that at some point, you paid for a meal, a taxi ride, or hotel that was just as overpriced as a $30 hot dog based on the local purchasing power of the currency, even if the amount seemed reasonable to you. It also reflects pretty poorly on you to assert that if you can get away with cheating someone, you should.

  16. Joseph Stern says: “These onions were simmered ever-so-delicately in Heinz 57!”

    Another term for a mongrel dog is “Heinz 57” or in other words, your female dog got a backyard visit when she was in heat and the puppies can’t qualify for AKC papers. So lets hope these hot dogs and cashew chickens don’t have anything in common.

  17. Yup, another +1 for James k and ponytee. For someone as well-traveled as Gary, I think this is a fairly ignorant opinion of his.

  18. I have to agree with James K and Poyntee as well, the tourists shouldn’t be blamed. This post is completely asinine — there is no moral universe where ripping people off is justified.

    I don’t even know what the market price for a hot dog on 5th Avenue in NYC is. But I do know that if I get a hot dog for my toddler in country XYZ and I’m asked by the burly vendor to pay 567,000 zgotlys for it, you can bet I’m not going to “give it back” and trigger a scene and the inevitable toddler tantrum. But after doing the math I will for sure post this incident on social media, telling all how XYZ is a terrible place to visit.

    Good job to NYC regulators. The company has a choice of employees and they obviously picked a doozy one and failed to supervise him. The company should pay for their mistake, not the tourist or NYC’s reputation as a terrible place to visit.

  19. Unfortunately this is more ‘free market’ thinking. I am sure that the correct price of the hot dogs was not posted, plus, street vendors probably have allowed pricing from the street. Blaming tourists for getting ripped of is like blaming any other victim of a crime… This is proof of the need of regulation.

  20. I have no problem with charging people $30 for a hot dog or any exorbitant price. I have a problem with the way this was disclosed. People would take a bite and hand over a couple bucks and then he would demand 15x

  21. Hahaha! Gary must be laughing at us on this. How in the H are tourists supposed to know what things “ought” to cost in NYC? Just watch Price is Right sometime and you will see most Americans (much less tourists) don’t know what things ought to cost. The tourists who paid between $2 and $30 for a hot dog probably just assumed the price was the normal ridiculously expensive prices being charged for all kinds of stuff in NYC which have no relation to what they ought to cost in America.

  22. @joelfreak – Actually, I don’t side with the vendor, he was cheating the cart owner even and yet regulation fines the cart owner not the guy who in fact did this! But anyone paying $30 for a street hot dog, I don’t have that much sympathy.

  23. @Gary if you are a tourist here, and you have your dog in hand and are told “$30″…maybe you are with your SO, or family…whats your choice? Fight? Especially with stories of how police are here in the US (general feeling worldwide…not trying to get political). No, you just chalk it up that you got ripped off. This is the same thing with getting ripped of by taxis in other countries, and any other scams. As hosts, its our job to try to make things fair for our guests. By rooting this guy out, we are acting as good hosts. Blaming the victim is irresponsible, and IMHO disgusting.

  24. You run an amazing blog. Please just drop this “The victim is to blame” stuff. Otherwise, many victims are to blame, and that’s just not right.

  25. I agree with Gary, if you are scammed or robbed in an unfamiliar environment it’s your own fault.

    Same as when a woman gets raped, if she is unable to physically stop her attacker it’s her own fault. Glad Gary and me are both in agreement on this.

  26. Another tourist being ripped off by a conman.

    Glad to see him fired.

    The problem is, with so many American police and residents willing to shoot anyone who argues, the tourist probably thought their life was worth more than $30!!

  27. Yeah, have to feel the “its alright to rip people off just because you can” argument is pretty much indicative of someone (or more than one person in this case) lacking a moral compass.

    Guess we now know a bit more about Gary, next well find him support him supporting those ripping off the elderly, because they are after all “old enough to know better”.

  28. There’s no reason to suggest victims are always to blame because one shouldn’t willingly pay $30 for a hot dog on the street. That’s just absurd.

  29. Gary why did my credit card get charged $30 after I clicked on this post? 🙂

    I’m kinda with Gary though on this one – $30 seems so far out that I can’t believe even a foreign tourist thought it was reasonable. If it were overcharging at say $6 or $7 that might be within the realm where someone wouldn’t be certain. Nor am I convinced any tourist thought they would be “in trouble” or in fear for their life for not handing over the cash for it.

    But I don’t know why it’s surprising the owners have to pay the fines, they are the owners after all. They can, and should, then sue the employee to recover their costs for paying the fines.

  30. The story says the vendor was charging “as much as $30” for a hot dog. Probably one or two paid that much not the majority of them. The rest were scammed for less. So is it still the tourists fault if they paid $15, $10, $5 or $2.75 for a dog? Clearly the fault lies with the vendor no matter how much was paid. Negligence or ignorance of the victim is no defense to fraud. If it was Bernie Madoff would be a free man.

  31. ordering something without knowing the price first in not a good plan no matter what country.

    there is a seafood restaurant in bkk that is famous for this kind of scam.

  32. Using Oslo and Copenhagen as examples of places that might charge too much for someone who doesn’t speak English is a bit lame. Everyone there speaks English.

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