What happens when you overcharge a Harvard Business School professor for Chinese food? Ran Duan, manager of the Baldwin Bar inside the Sichuan Garden, a mom and pop Chinese restaurant, recently discovered the unpleasant answer.
Ben Edelman, an associate professor at Harvard, ordered from the local restaurant. But upon delivery, he found that the prices of items on the website were all about one dollar less than what he had paid. The total overcharge by his reckoning was $4. He immediately contacted the owners, pointing out the issue.
Duan answered with an apology, stating that the website’s prices had been out of date for ‘quite some time’, and promised to update the menu. A simple misunderstanding, no?
In an email, Edelman responded:
“I suggest that Sichuan Garden refund me three times the amount of 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.”
The Harvard professor goes on to request instead of the $12 refund, that Duan simply cut his take-out bill (of more than $50) in half. He explains that this is more than fair for bringing the pricing issue to the restaurant’s attention. Duan goes on to offer a refund for the confusion. But Edelman insists on more.
Judging by the emails, this does not seem to be an ‘intentional violation’ as Edelman suggests. Instead, insists one commentator, David Jacobson, founder of Trivworks, it is just a case of someone bullying a small business owner.
“Read the Email exchange again, and look how he seeks to confuse and intimidate the restaurant manager with legalese, threats to alert authorities and other actions. He’s not doing this because he’s fighting the good fight against bad business practices and false advertising – he’s doing it because it works.”
However, Duan keeps a cool head, repeatedly apologizing and explaining how he intends to handle the situation, saying in an email:
“I have told you exactly how I am going to resolve this situation, and have already acted…by honoring our website prices, unfortunately that wasn’t good enough and you notified the authorities so this is out of my hands now.”
Although it is clear that the restaurant’s website was out of date, the way that the situation was handled has brought Edleman a fair amount of criticism in the media.
Duan posted the emails online. And soon after, Edelman had news outlets calling him out for his ‘bully-ish’ behavior, including criticism from NPR, Boston.com, and Fox. Some people even took the time to drive to the restaurant to show their support. Eventually, Edelman posted this message on his Twitter account and website:
“Having reflected on my interaction with Ran, including what I said and how I said it, it’s clear that I was very much out of line. I aspire to act with great respect and humility in dealing with others, no matter what the situation. Clearly I failed to do so. I am sorry, and I intend to do better in the future.”
He goes on to state that he has reached out to Duan and intends to apologize to him personally as well.
Sichuan Photo via Shutterstock