Harvard business professor threatens Chinese restaurant via email over $4 online overcharge
An associate professor at Harvard Business School suggested that he could sue a local Chinese restaurant for overcharging him by $4 on a recent order, Boston.com reported.
“I have already referred this matter to applicable authorities in order to attempt to compel your restaurant to identify all consumers affected and to provide refunds to all of them,” Ben Edelman said in an email after learning that he paid too much for his takeout order from Sichuan Garden in Brookline, a suburb of Boston.
Edelman contacted Ran Duan, whose parents founded the restaurant’s other location in Woburn, on Friday, arguing that he paid $1 more per item compared to the prices listed on the restaurant’s online menu. When Duan explained that the restaurant had not updated its menu, Edelman then demanded that he get a $12 refund.
“The tripling reflects the approach provided under the Massachusetts consumer protection statute, MGL93a, wherein consumers broadly receive triple damages for certain intentional violations,” Edelman wrote, contending that the restaurant knowingly overcharged customers.
Duan told Edelman that the Brookline restaurant operated under different management and different pricing, while the menu Edelman saw online was from the Woburn location.
“Our website states that ‘price subject to change based on location’ highlighted in a [red] box,” Duan wrote on Saturday, adding, “The Brookline location has its own website sichuangardenbrookline.com granted it has been down for quite some time. I do not manage or control that location or its policy’s.”
The restaurant’s website currently states, “we are updating our menu, please check back soon for updated selections and prices.” It also contains the box Duan mentioned. The site for the Brookline location was down, as Duan stated, as of Tuesday night.
However, Edelman replied saying that the price disclaimer was not on the site when he visited it, and that it would not cover cases where the site was not updated properly.
“Increasing the price of each and every item, and not updating the site for a long period — that just won’t fly,” Edelman wrote on Sunday. “I count myself fortunate to live in a state that deems that practice unlawful.”
The Harvard Business School website states that Edelman has worked as a consultant on online fraud issues for the New York Times, National Football League, and American Civil Liberties Union, among other clients. Edelman told Boston.com that he plans to “take a few days” before deciding whether to pursue legal action against the restaurant.
“I personally respond to every complaint and try to handle every situation personally,” Duan said regarding the exchange with Edelman. “I have worked so hard to make my family proud and to elevate our business. It just broke my heart.”
Duan’s business, the Baldwin Bar, is located inside Sichuan Garden’s Woburn branch. He was described as “America’s Most Imaginative Bartender” in a profile in GQ magazine last month.