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Harvard Business School Professor Freaks Out Over $4 Mistake On Bill From Chinese Restaurant

harvard-penants

A Professor at Harvard Business School had a rather bizarre reaction to a $4 error on a bill from a Brookline, Mass. Chinese restaurant:

Ben Edelman is an associate professor at Harvard Business School, where he teaches in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets unit.

Ran Duan manages The Baldwin Bar, located inside the Woburn location of Sichuan Garden, a Chinese restaurant founded by his parents.

Last week, Edelman ordered what he thought was $53.35 worth of Chinese food fromSichuan Garden’s Brookline Village location.

Edelman soon came to the horrifying realization that he had been overcharged. By a total of $4.

At the link you’ll find an email exchange between Edelman and Duan regarding an apparent $4 error in Edelman’s bill that apparently involved a discrepancy between the price quoted for item(s) that Edelman ordered for delivery on the restaurant’s website and the price on the receipt he was provided with. There doesn’t appear to have been any actual deception involved on the restaurant’s part, instead at worst it may have been an apparent misunderstanding or a failure to keep the website up to date, which perhaps isn’t entirely surprising for a family run restaurant. The email exchange, though, went on for nearly two days, with Edelman threatening to report the restaurant to local authorities for consumer fraud while Duan seems to be honestly interested resolving the matter. Regardless of who you think was in the wrong though, it’s worth keeping in context that this is all over four dollars

Despite the restaurant’s successful expansion, Duan admittted that Sichuan does not have the budget for teams devoted to public relations or a website that is updated as regularly as it should be.

“I personally respond to every complaint and try to handle every situation personally,” said Duan, who was profiled by Boston Magazine in June and featured in GQ Magazine last month as “America’s Most Imaginative Bartender.”

The exchange with Edelman stood out to Duan. “I have worked so hard to make my family proud and to elevate our business. It just broke my heart.”

Edelman told Boston.com that investigating pricing discrepancies by neighborhood restaurants isn’t something he does every day.

“I mostly look for malfeasance by larger companies,” he said. “It certainly seems like a situation that could call for legal redress. But this is a small business in the town where I reside.”

As for the troves of angry customers likely looking for recourse? Edelman pointed Boston.com to Massachusetts General Law, Section XV, Chapter 93A, Section 9. (Translation: If you didn’t pass the Massachusetts bar, but still feel as though you must do SOMETHING, then just gather all the receipts you’ve saved, along with all screenshots you took and saved of the website menu in case that dinner order ever ended up in court, find a lawyer whose fees aren’t likely to exceed the few dollars you’re seeking, and … voila?)

As for Edelman, he alerted town officials in Brookline about the matter, but told Boston.com he doesn’t expect them to take action. He plans to “take a few days” before deciding whether to pursue any further legal action against the restaurant.

Oh and the food? Edelman admitted: “It was delicious.”

Notwithstanding the mantra that “the customer is always right,” something tells me that Edelman may have had just a little too much free time on his hands this past weekend.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tyrell says:

    Just another justification to require lawyers to get rabies vaccinations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  2. DC Loser says:

    Just come out and say it. Edelman is an asshole.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 1

  3. CSK says:

    This kind of over-the-top behavior is not uncommon among Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School folk. You have to witness it in person to get the full effect.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  4. @Tyrell:

    Edelman is not a lawyer and does not appear to have J.D.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  5. Franklin says:

    I don’t know if Edelman works as a lawyer, but according to the link he has a law degree: “He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College. He has a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University, and a law degree from Harvard Law School.”

    Furthermore, in one of his e-mails, he says he is an attorney and can only talk with the restaurant’s attorney if they are represented by one. Or am I missing some crucial difference between an attorney and a lawyer?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  6. Franklin says:

    All that said, he is a certifiable douche.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1

  7. James says:

    Well, if you worked minimum wage, those four measly dollars would represent just over a half hour worth of work.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  8. JKB says:

    @Franklin:

    You skipped the part where when he identifies himself as an attorney, he brings up ethics. That was a howler.

    But from the list of schools he attended, we can see where is assholery comes from.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  9. JKB says:

    @James:

    And the restaurant offered to refund the $4. The Harvard Business professor wanted treble damages, or $12.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  10. argon says:

    In any post that starts with ”business school professor’, reporting any subsequent bizarre behavior is going to be a ‘dog bites man’ story. ‘Harvard’ makes it dotingly so.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  11. JWJ says:

    A business had an advertised price. They did not honor that price and effectively overcharged the customer by over 7%. I’m with the professor on this one.

    It doesn’t appear that malice was involved by the business, but we don’t know that for sure. How many customers were overcharged by the misleading prices before this particular customer noticed? Dozens, Hundreds?

    For those mocking the professor, at what amount would the pricing ripoff annoy you on a $53 bill? $5, $8, $12, $20?
    I know that the couple of times the spring rolls for the family were not included, I went back to the restaurant and got them.

    Also, wasn’t the business’s response to a $4 mistake an offer of a refund of $3? That alone would irk me enough to make a “federal case” out of it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 14

  12. Barry says:

    @James:

    “Well, if you worked minimum wage, those four measly dollars would represent just over a half hour worth of work.”

    And as a Harvard lawyer, economist and B-School professor, he has undoubtedly helped rich clients f*ck over poor workers for at least that for every day of labor.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  13. James says:

    @Barry: What is your point? Doug said four dollars isn’t anything to complain about and I imagine it’s not when you can bill hourly in the hundred plus dollar range. Not everyone in this country has such a luxury. That was the entirety of my statement. Anything else you want to try to attach to it is yours.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. Franklin says:

    @JWJ:

    Also, wasn’t the business’s response to a $4 mistake an offer of a refund of $3? That alone would irk me enough to make a “federal case” out of it.

    Oh, calm the f*** down. He offered to honor the website price; the 3 was just a typo or something (maybe thinking the number 3 because of Mr. Douchebag’s treble damages request?).

    Plus, the good professor appears to have got the law wrong anyway:
    http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/12/10/harvard_professor_rages_at_chinese_restaurant_he_may_have_even_gotten_the.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  15. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    @Franklin:

    Honestly, to me it sounds like two people getting into a pissing contest due to bad communication.

    Mail 1: You overcharged me. Here’s the proof.
    Reply: Yeah. We know. Sorry about that. We will fix it eventually.

    Mail 2: Dude, this is against the law. I now want 3x my loss due to [law] (probably wrong about this)
    Reply2: I will pay you the loss but nothing extra.

    Mail 3: You don’t seem to get that this is a real problem according to the law. I have now informed the authorities. [Some assholery]
    Reply3: [Some good stuff]. We also have a disclaimer that basically says “this law does not apply to us”.

    Mail 4: This is not how law works
    Reply 4: Also our website does not apply to orders for this restaurant location despite the fact that the actual website for this location is inactive and the one you found is the only one available.

    After that he gets rather unreasonable, but I would have been pissed by reply 1, reply 3 at the latest. Having a complaint about a (perceived) serious matter and being basically ignored is not good CRM. This does not excuse the prissy follow-up, but there was good reason to be pissed off IMHO.

    Probably the lawyer in me speaking :D.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  16. James Pearce says:

    I want my 4 dollars!!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  17. Guarneri says:

    Let’s hope the professor orders again and gets some very special sauce…………….if you know what I mean.

    Proving once again, there are no assholes like Harvard and Princeton assholes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  18. JWJ says:

    @Franklin:

    “Oh, calm the f*** down.”

    That is your response when you disagree with someone. What a petulant child.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  19. al-Ameda says:

    What a depressing little man – $53 and he goes nuclear over a $4 mistake?

    I’d be willing to bet $20 (make that $16) that Edelman is the type of high-maintenance customer that gives restaurant staff no end of difficulty from the time he walks in until the time he leaves. He probably questions every item on the menu, wants to change items and/or have items prepared differently than what is indicated on the menu, then, as we’ve seen above, he likely questions certain charges, and wraps up by under-tipping on the way out the door.

    I believe in Karma and now I hope more than ever that my belief is not misplaced.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  20. Franklin says:

    @JWJ: And you respond by name calling. Boy, I’m really reeling here, ouchy. Got any actual arguments?

    The owner offered to honor the price. Only a petulant child would continue with threats after this point.

    By the way, the professor has realized his mistake and apologized. Are you ready to do so?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  21. JWJ says:

    Franklin:

    Don’t see why somebody who cursed at me would deserve an apology. Wasn’t attempting to cause you to reel, just making an opinionated observation on your behavior.

    Truly curious, at what dollar amount would you feel annoyed at being overcharged on a $53 bill?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Yolo Contendere says:

    @Franklin: I for one will not accept his singular apology. I believe I am due treble apologies for this slight.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  23. Yolo Contendere says:

    My favorite part is by the end where he wants half his bill compensated. No mention if that is the web-price bill or restaurant-price bill. Apparently he teaches in Harvard Business School’s “Negotiation, Organizations & Markets unit” .Wonder if this is what he teaches there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1