A Harvard Business School professor is enraged that a local Chinese restaurant reportedly overcharged him $US4 for his takeout dinner and is now threatening legal action against the self-described “mum and pop” business.
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, 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 He reached out to the restaurant, which told him its website was out-of-date but that it would be updated as soon as possible.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 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 Edelman $US3 and “honour the website price,” he wrote. 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.”
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.
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