Chinese Restaurant Ben Edelman – Video: Harvard B-school prof wages war against Chinese restaurant

Chinese Restaurant Ben Edelman - Video: Harvard B-school prof wages war against Chinese restaurant

A Chinese restaurant charged Ben Edelman $4 too much? Don’t cross Harvard Business School professors, especially when it comes to Chinese takeout.

Boston.com originally posted the email exchange between HBS associate professor Ben Edelman and Ran Duan, who manages The Baldwin Bar in his parents’ restaurant Sichuan Garden. The Chinese restaurant has two locations in the Boston suburbs, Woburn and Brookline Village.

According to the emails, Ben Edelman ordered $US53.35 worth of takeout from Sichuan Garden for dinner last week but was charged $US4 more than he expected to be. He reached out to the restaurant, which told him its website was out-of-date but that it would be updated as soon as possible.

Via Boston.com, here’s how Ben Edelman responded:

Thanks for the reply and for explaining what went wrong. We enjoyed the food, but we don’t need to trouble you for an updated menu.

Under Massachusetts law it turns out to be a serious violation to advertise one price and charge a different price. I urge you to cease this practice immediately. If you don’t know how to update your web site, you could remove the web site altogether until you are able to correct the error.

In the interim, I suggest that Sichuan Garden refund me three times the amount of the overcharge. The tripling reflects the approach provided under the Massachusetts consumer protection statute, MGL 93a, wherein consumers broadly receive triple damages for certain intentional violations.

Duan offered to refund Ben Edelman $US3 and “honour the website price,” he wrote. Ben Edelman replied that he had “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, or in any event to assure that an appropriate sanction is applied as provided by law.”

The pair exchanged several more emails about the overcharge and the potential actions of the local authorities.

“I was 100% compliant with him, and I’m not really sure what he wants,” Duan told Business Insider. The restaurateur and bartender stressed that he’s in the hospitality business, so that even with a hard-to-handle costumer, “you still have to be professional.”

Ben Edelman sent Business Insider the following statement:

I think the Boston.com piece totally misses the benefit that all diligent consumers provide in looking for overcharges and other errors. We all rely on trust in our daily lives — that when sales tax is added, it actually applies and equals the specified amount; that the meter in a taxi shows the correct amount provided by law and correctly measures the actual distance; that when you order takeout, the price you see online matches the amount you pay in the restaurant. We all take most of this for granted. It would be a lot of trouble to all have to check these things day in and day out. That’s exactly why we should be concerned when folks fall short — because hardly anyone ever checks, so these problems can go unnoticed and can affect, in aggregate, large amounts.

If you look at my other work, e.g. http://www.benedelman.org/airfare-advertising/, you’ll see I’ve been pretty diligent in holding large companies accountable for their false statements of price and other attempts to overcharge passengers. Should all small businesses get a free pass? Some people seem to think so, I wonder if that really makes sense.

Notably, though not emphasised in the Boston.com piece, the restaurant at issue knew the website prices had been “out of date for quite some time.” At what point should they do something about it? I’m pleased to have at least gotten the problem fixed for the benefit of others.

  • Highlux Toyota

    What a sniveling petty thing to get involved in. Just go somewhere else. Or cook at home. Going to cause this hard working guy a nightmare over $4. You sir…are a bitch.

  • This guy should work for 5 minutes in the restaurant…and then he might understand. They might even pay him $4 for his efforts. He gives new meaning to the term elitist.

  • Krimson

    Ben will never be able to eat at that restaurant, or any other Chinese rest. in the Boston area… Hope it was worth $4…

  • InformedTexan

    @Highlux – Except when you’re the one who’s being bitched. I had this happen on a six-pack of beer in a convenience store. The cashier said it was more than what was marked. I politely explained that the law requires he charge only what was marked. I selected this particular six-pack because I had limited cash. He adjusted the price appropriately, and didn’t lose my sale. I thanked him, paid, and was on my way. Simple solution. The restaurant manager could have avoided this “nightmare,” had he chosen to just charge the man properly and then remove the website, in accordance with the law. Why should other hard-working people pay for one hard-working man’s lack-of-diligence?

    • Sure…but we don’t know how this went down. In your case you were in a store and selected a priced product (sounds like the beer you bought had been on the shelf before the markup.) No problem. But what if Dr Einstein here just looked at the menu on line and then the product was priced when fulfilled. Is that the same…and by what law. I doubt if the web site qualifies under the law as a “marked price.” Had he checked out on the web he would have been charged the displayed price. Guess he didn’t.

      • InformedTexan

        I don’t know the laws, if there are any, regarding online pricing, but the fact is the restaurant manager knew his website prices were outdated, so, in good faith, he should honor the requested price, then remove/update the website. The positive customer experience (and lack of negative PR) would easily make up for the lost $4.

        • I agree and from what I read he did offer to do that. Einstein asked for treble damages….

          • InformedTexan

            No, the manager said he would refund $3. Why $3?

          • Probably because he made a mistake…doubt if he was trying to keep the $1 if illegally gotten gain. Have you ever been overcharged…I have never been denied a correction.

          • InformedTexan

            C’mon, Scott. His second mistake of the day? Like I said, all of this could have been avoided had the manager handled the situation more appropriately. $4, or $3, or $1 is not worth losing local clientele. Just make the customer happy, fix the website, and move on. Its the price he paid for his delay in updating his own very important business / PR tool: his website.

          • No actually, when you read the emails, after Einstein pointed out that the overcharge was $4, the restaurant agreed to refund $4! He continued on with treble damages.

          • InformedTexan

            I do think that requesting triple the damages is excessive, unless adjudicated by court. But according to the article above, the manager only offered $3 saying he would “honour the website price.”

            Honestly, I would have taken the $3 and just emphasized to the manager that he should update or remove the incorrect pricing on the website.

            This whole situation could have been handled better by BOTH parties.

  • Benny Tanner

    Sounds very ethnic.