- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

An associate professor at Harvard Business School who teaches in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets division kicked his arguing skills into overtime after a Chinese restaurant dared to overcharge him for his food — by $4.

Ben Edelman ordered what he thought was $53.35 worth of food from Sichuan Garden’s Brookline Village site, but discovered — when presented with the bill — that the amount was actually $4 more, Boston.com reported. So he sent off a scathing email, detailing the notes he took about his order, and ultimately, threatening and citing the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statute.

In the first email to Ran Duan, the manager of The Baldwin Bar inside the Chinese restaurant founded by his parents, Mr. Edelman wrote: “Hi, I ordered takeout from you this evening. Below are my notes on what I ordered, then the price quoted on your web site … then the price on the receipt. Could you clarify the differences? It seems like an increase of $1 on each and every item.”

Mr. Edelman then lists every item, followed by the expected versus charged amount.

Mr. Duan replied with an apology and an explanation that the website prices were out-of-date. He also offered to email an updated price list.

Mr. Edelman’s reply, Boston.com reported: “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.”

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He then suggested a proper address of his grievance: “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.”

Mr. Edelman then suggested the restaurant could refund the $12 to his credit card or mail a check to his home — their choice, Boston.com reported.

Mr. Duan then emailed a counteroffer: to pay Mr. Edelman $3.

“We are a mom and pop restaurant and we pride ourselves on hard work and authentic Sichuan cuisine,” he wrote. “I will honor the website price and honor you the $3.00. Let me know if that works for you.”

Apparently it did not, because Mr. Edelman reminded that the restaurant overcharged $4, not $3.

He also wrote: “It strikes me that merely providing a refund to a single customer would be an exceptionally light sanction for the violation that has occurred. To wit, your restaurant overcharged all customers who viewed the web site and placed a telephone order — the standard and typical way to order takeout. You did so knowingly, knowing that your web site was out of date and that consumers would see it and rely on it. You allowed the problem to continue, in your own fords, ‘for quite some time.’ “

The email continues for many more lines, alerting that “I have already referred this matter to applicable authorities” and that “I will accept whatever refund you elect to provide, be it $4 or $12, but I accept that refund without prejudice to my rights as provided by law,” Boston.com reported.

That’s hardly the end of the matter.

Mr. Edelman and Mr. Duan traded several more — and lengthy — emails.

Boston.com reported that Mr. Edelman also runs a consulting operation where he provides advice to the likes of Microsoft, the NFL, The New York Times and Universal Music on “preventing and detecting online fraud (especially advertising fraud),” his website states. He also graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College and has a doctorate in economics from Harvard University, as well as a law degree from Harvard Law School.

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