I rarely go inside fast food places, but today I went inside a McDonald’s to get something to drink (and it was really “to go”). As I was leaving, I saw a lot of people with food in bags but they were sitting at the tables eating. Of course, this is nothing new. People say an order it “to go” to avoid paying the eat-in tax.
Have I done it? Well, yes, but I was with someone who decided to eat inside.
I’ve never heard of an employee accosting a customer and saying “Hey! You said that order was “to go”. You owe $.32 cents tax. Pay up.” I’m sure McDonands is used to this, and I guess they just ignore.
Do you consider this stealing? Rude?
I do think it's unfair if the place is crowded and people who have paid tax and are carrying trays are waiting to sit down.
I has never entered my mind that the tax would be different for "to go" vs "eat in" orders. I have always assumed that the question of "to go" versus "eat in" was basically shorthand for "Do you want your food in a bag or on a tray, and do you want your ketchup in packets or in a little paper cup?" If
(and IMO it's a big if) the people are intentionally trying to game the system to avoid paying tax, then I suppose it's tax fraud. However, I suspect in many cases the reason has nothing whatsoever to do with taxes. Maybe they were planning to carry their food out and changed their minds afterwards (I've done this). Maybe they had a "brain fart" and ordered "to go" out of habit even though they wanted to sit down this time (I've done this). Maybe they wanted the bag because they plan to carry out a portion of the food (I've done this). Maybe the employees made a mistake and gave them a bag even though they ordered food to eat in (this has happened to me).
Also, I just looked it up, and here in CA "hot prepared food" (with a few exceptions like hot drinks and baked goods), "meals," and carbonated or alcoholic beverages are taxed regardless. So I suspect there are relatively few McDonalds orders where it makes any difference. Coffee, a salad, or a dessert maybe, but not a burger, fries, soda, or any combo.
RE: the bolded
Why and to whom is it unfair for people with carry out orders to sit at the tables when people with trays are waiting?
The taxes go to the government, and the government doesn't provide the seating, so they're not using infrastructure without paying for it. I don't think McDonalds stops selling "eat in" food when the tables fill up, so it's not like the customers with trays were guaranteed a seat when they ordered--if the people ahead of them had ordered "eat in" and gotten trays, the people with trays would still have been standing. It's unfair perhaps that different customers pay different amounts of tax on the exact same food, but this would be true regardless of where they're eating or how many people are waiting for seats.
BTW, your question has cleared up something that's been puzzling me--why the frozen yogurt place asks whether my yogurt is "to go" and then asks whether I want a lid, instead of just asking if I want a lid. I never knew why they cared if I was going to sit outside or walk down the street with it. Kind of bizarre that I'm expected to pay tax when I plan to use the restaurant's
property and infrastructure while I'm eating, but I'm not expected to pay tax when I plan to eat my yogurt while walking down the street using the government's