The PLEA: Learning about Law with The Simpsons

The PLEA: Learning about Law with The Simpsons

Case Study: Contract Law and the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet

Do these sound like the actions of a man who had all he could eat?

While most people have been to an all-you-can-eat buffet, not many have been kicked out of one for overeating. Homer Simpson was, in the season four episode “New Kid on the Block.”

The Case Facts:

After seeing a television advertisement for The Frying Dutchman, Captain McAllister’s all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant, Homer put on extra-loose pants and headed there for a gorging.

Homer began his meal by removing an entire steam tray of shrimp from the buffet. Allegedly, Homer ate all of the restaurant’s shrimp and even two plastic lobsters before Captain McAllister finally kicked him out after closing time.

Enraged, Homer sought advice from attorney Lionel Hutz. Hutz described the situation as “the most blatant case of fraudulent advertising since my suit against the film The Never-Ending Story.”

The Court Proceedings:

During the trial, the following exchange took place:

Hutz: Mrs. Simpson, what did you and your husband do after you were ejected from the restaurant?
Marge: We pretty much went straight home…
Hutz: Mrs. Simpson, you are under oath!
Marge: We drove around until 3AM looking for another all-you-an-eat fish restaurant.
Hutz: And when you couldn’t find one?
Marge: We went fishing.
Hutz: Do these sound like the actions of a man who had all he could eat?

The Outcome:

Captain McAllister and Homer came to an out-of-court settlement. An out-of-court settlement is an agreement by both parties to a lawsuit that resolves their legal dispute without asking a court to make a judgment. Generally, out-of-court settlements can be made at any time before a verdict is rendered by a judge or jury.

In Captain McAllister and Homer’s out-of-court settlement, Homer was offered an evening of all-you-can-eat dining. In return, Captain McAllister would promote Homer as “Bottomless Pete - Nature’s Cruelest Mistake” and invite customers to watch him eat. This settlement provided Homer with all the food he could eat while providing Captain McAllister with a stream of customers.

Utah Diners Told "That's All You Can Eat"

In 2004, Utah couple Isabelle Leota and Sui Amaama were booted from an $8.99 buffet at Chuck-A-Rama for eating too much meat.

“We were under the impression Chuck-A-Rama was an all-you-can-eat establishment,” ejected diner Isabelle Leona told the Associated Press. She added “You can just go there and just eat meat.”

Jack Johanson, the restaurant chain’s district manager disagreed. “We’ve never claimed to be an all-you-can-eat establishment,” he countered. “Our understanding is a buffet is just a style of eating.”

Restaurant staff became concerned about having enough meat for other patrons after Amaama went up for his 12th slice of roast beef. They suggested the couple eat other buffet items instead.

The couple became surly and refused to leave without a refund. Police had to be called in to escort them out.

Considering Contract Law and All-You-Can-Eat Restaurants

Homer’s lawsuit against the Frying Dutchman has roots in contract law. A contract is a legally binding agreement between two or more persons or corporations, also called parties. One party promises to do something and the other party promises to do something in return. Some but not all contracts need to be in writing. However, to be enforceable, every contract must consist of three components:

  • offer – a serious proposal which will lead to a contract being formed
  • acceptance – an unconditional acceptance must be given that follows the terms of the offer. This acceptance can be either spoken or clearly indicated by actions
  • consideration – something of value exchanged to fulfill the contract

It appears that Homer has a contractual agreement with The Frying Dutchman. Homer was offered all-you-can-eat seafood by The Frying Dutchman. His acceptance took place when he ordered the all-you-can-eat buffet. The consideration would have been the money exchanged for the food, although it should be noted that this part of the transaction was never shown on the episode.

However, for a contract to be binding, there must be genuine intention. In the eyes of the law, if a false representation of the material facts of a contract is knowingly made, fraud exists. If Captain McAllister offered all-you-can-eat seafood with the intention of not allowing his customers all they could eat, then it could constitute fraud. But it appears that Captain McAllister never imagined “a remoreseless eatin’ machine” such as Homer.

In regards to all-you-can-eat restaurants, a spokesman for the Iowa attorney general’s office told the Des Moines Register that “Businesses are obligated to live up to their offers, but implementation needs to be reasonable.” It would likely not be reasonable to expect a restaurant to provide all-you-can-eat to a patron who may leave other customers without food, or put the financial well-being of the restaurant in jeopardy.

Further, because restaurants are privately owned, they do have the right to exclude people from their premises provided that the exclusion is not based on factors such as discrimination against minorities. Given that Homer continued to eat past closing time, it was reasonable for The Frying Dutchman to eject him.

  1. Do you think the court would have agreed with Hutz’s claim of fraudulent advertising if an out-of-court settlement had not been reached? Explain.
  2. Conceivably, at some point Homer would have had all he could eat. Given this, do you think that Captain McAllister was justified in cutting off Homer from the buffet? Why or why not?