The horrifying realization that he had been overcharged

An elegant young Harvard Business School associate professor ordered some Chinese food the other day. has the story.

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 from Sichuan Garden’s Brookline Village location.

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

If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a Harvard Business School professor thinks a family-run Chinese restaurant screwed him out of $4, you’re about to find out.

(Hint: It involves invocation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statute and multiple threats of legal action.)

The correspondence follows. Edelman ordered from a menu on the website of Sichuan Garden, and each item (of four) was charged $1 over the price on the menu. Edelman pointed this out, Duan apologized for the fact that the website hadn’t been updated recently. Edelman demanded a triple refund.

And then it got worse, and then worse, and then worse again. Check it out, because it’s quite a display of patrician bullying and cruelty.

Updating to add: the Guardian also reports.

Duan responded an hour or so later, telling Edelman that his is a “mom and pop restaurant” and plaintively offers to honour the website price. But it was too late for hearts and minds with Edelman.

“It strikes me that merely providing a refund to a single customer would be an extremely light sanction for the violation that has occurred,” he replied. “To wit, your restaurant overcharged all customers who viewed the website and placed a telephone order – the standard and typical way to order takeout. You did so knowingly, knowing that your website was out of date.”

“You don’t seem to recognise that this is a legal matter and calls for a more thoughtful and far-reaching resolution. Nor do you recognise the principle, well established in applicable laws, that when a business intentionally overcharges a customer, the business should suffer a penalty larger than the amount of the overcharge.”

The exchange went on in the same vein. Duan offered to refund the difference, and the $12 which Edelman demanded, to no avail.

A rich guy has been overcharged $4! This must not stand!

Another useful lesson in what not to be.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    Did he call in the Endangered White Males of Privilege squad? Sorry, I just can’t look…

  2. says

    Wow. Just wow.

    It’s good to post these kinds of stories; thank you, Ophelia. Sometimes I get so caught up in what I perceive to be the Big Battles that I forget to step back and take a breath, and to take in the small injustices that happen all around me.

  3. says

    Ya. Apparently he’s good at doing this to corporations; he did it to Facebook for saying they weren’t giving our info to advertisers when they were; good stuff. But a family-run Chinese restaurant is not that!

    Just mean. Blegh.

  4. peterh says

    Back in the ’50’s, Heinlein, Dick, Blish or one of those who used science fiction as a vehicle for cutting satire wrote of a person who assiduously clipped “money back if not guaranteed,” “double your money if not satisfied,” and similar coupons and managed to make a living thereby. At his death there was not a corpse but a wispy, disfigured, empty husk. The story seems to anticipate Edleman by about 2½-3 generations.

  5. kage says

    Something similar happened to me a few nights ago. I ordered food for delivery on an app. The restaurant called me to advise the delivery charge had increased, but the app hadn’t been updated. Of course, I threatened legal action and bad mouthed them all over social media. (Actually I paid the extra to the driver, a small business making an honest mistake shouldn’t be conflated with big business fuckery.)

  6. Thersites says

    Nor do you recognise the principle, well established in applicable laws, that when a business intentionally overcharges a customer, the business should suffer a penalty larger than the amount of the overcharge

    The assumption that it is an intentional overcharge is Professor Edelman’s as is his assumption that he is entitled to pocket the penalty imposed. If he were an obsessional but honest cheapskate he would have demanded a donation to charity. As it is, he’s a chiseller.
    I emphasise “the principle” because it is one of the most dangerous terms in the English language. If anyone ever says “It’s a matter of principle” you can be sure they have lost all sense of proportion and all sense of humour. They are going to be pettifogging and obsessional until they get what they want and their demands will increase inexorably. All you can do is give in or get out of their way, though even then they may not stop..
    Or give them brain surgery with a large piece of wood with a nail through the end.
    Unfortunately that’s illegal.

  7. Dunc says

    I would strongly advise Ben Edelman not to eat out in future, unless he likes his food contaminated with various bodily fluids.

    In fact, if I were also named Ben Edelman, I’d go to great lengths to assure any catering, waiting, or delivery staff that I’m not that Ben Edelman.

    I bet he’s a lousy tipper as well.

  8. freemage says

    Dunc: My circle of people has one individual who is… not particularly adept at dealing with service individuals. As a simple example: He would go into fast-food restaurants, and order fries with no salt. In order to comply with this request, the workers have to completely empty and wipe down the fries bin so no salt residue gets on the fries; they then have to cook a batch fresh. Upon receiving his food, he would then ask for salt packets. He did this, not because of the salt, but because he wanted his fries fresh and knew they would have to cook them right then and there.

    We have, in casual gossip, speculated about the amount of human spittle he has unknowingly consumed on a regular basis.

  9. Kevin Kehres says

    Well, look at the bright side. At least Ben Edelman’s students, peers, and neighbors now know what a colossal asshole he is…if there was ever a doubt.

  10. Kevin Kehres says

    In fact, I think “colossal asshole” should be the first thing that pops up on any Google search for Ben Edelman.

    You can do your part, by making sure you use the term “colossal asshole” at each and every mention of Ben Edelman.

    As in: Ben Edelman, colossal asshole.

  11. screechymonkey says

    But Kevin, he hasn’t been convicted of being a colossal asshole! We have to wait for the trial before we can say that Ben Edelman is a colossal asshole!

  12. says

    Definitely! Do you know how prevalent false accusations of being a colossal asshole are? Lives are ruined this way! Why does nobody ever talk about the rights of assholes?

  13. qwints says

    The problem with consumer protection is that each individual consumer is usually not harmed enough to justify doing anything about it, and the people who care enough to try and get businesses to fix their mistakes look petty. The guy is only asking the business to fix their website and pay him $8 in damages. That’s not an abusive request.

  14. screechymonkey says

    qwints @15,

    Oh, bullshit. The reason this particular guy “looks petty” is because he is being petty.

    This isn’t a case where a business was getting away with misconduct on a broad scale. They owned up to the problem when it was pointed out to them and offered to fix it. But whatever they offered, this douche wanted to up the stakes. Add to that the pompous, pretentious and unnecessary lawyer-ese in his emails, and his yes-I’m-a-very-important-person attitude, and it’s a clear instance of using a bazooka to kill an ant.

    Not to mention, by the end he’s not even offering to settle any consumer protection claims — he’s saying “give me the $12, and I reserve my right to go after you for whatever else I feel like,” which is not good faith negotiation.

    And I loved the way his claim that he reported the restaurant to the authorities backfired on him. I think he expected them to quake in fear and cave to his demands in the hopes that he would withdraw the complaint, but instead they made the quite sensible response of “well, it’s in the authorities’ hands now, so let’s wait for them.”

    I have a strong suspicion that he actually never reported them in the first place — I hope someone does a public records request to check. You see, if you tell someone “give me $12 or I’m reporting you to the authorities,” that gets you into extortion territory and possible disciplinary action for an attorney. So it’s quite possible that this guy tried to have his cake and eat it too by claiming to have done so already, with the implication being that the restaurant can still make this all go away by meeting his demands. Note how unhappy he gets when his bluff gets called!

  15. screechymonkey says

    Oh, and by the way, it looks like Colossal Asshole Ben Edelman also misrepresented the law

    The Massachusetts statute at issue doesn’t allow for punitive damages where the business made a reasonable offer of settlement.

  16. iiii says

    He seems to have re-thought his position:

    Many people have seen my emails with Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline.

    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.

    I have reached out to Ran and will apologize to him personally as well.

  17. Trebuchet says

    I’ve a feeling Mr. Edelman may soon be learning the meaning of the phrase “Streisand Effect”.

  18. screechymonkey says

    I’ve gotten so used to mealy-mouthed “notpologies” that I’m pleasantly surprised to see this.

  19. Funny Diva says

    Things must be different in Mass-of-Juices than they are where I live…
    whenever I phone-order for pick-up or (more usually) delivery, they _always_ tell me the total before we finish the transaction. “That will be $17.56, will you be paying the driver cash or would you like to use a card?”
    Surely, that’s the time to actually notice (especially if you’re a friggin’ Hahvahd B-School prof!) that your mental arithmetic (from whatever menu you’re looking at) doesn’t match the total…

    Though the apology quoted above @20 looks quite good.
    As somebody who tends to be hot-headed and regret their outbursts later, I, too, try to be really _really_ good at sincere and humble genuine apologies!

  20. Blanche Quizno says

    @10 freemage: “He would go into fast-food restaurants, and order fries with no salt.”

    I swear, I just saw a little Yahoo not-article about just that, only it was saying that that was the simple, no-brainer, brilliant “hack” way to get perfectly fresh, hot fries – every time! “Just sprinkle the salt on them yourself!” I never thought they’d have to wipe down the fry station first – wow. Imagine that in the middle of a rush. I can certainly imagine how much the fast-food workers would *hate* and resent this “simple request”. Ugh. I wish people recommending stuff would look into it a bit first. Just a bit. That’s all I’m asking.

  21. lorn says

    What do you want to bet that he doesn’t look at the charges made by his stock broker or account manager so very closely. Odds are, if his are like most, they are systematically boning him out of thousands of dollars. Then again he can brow beat and legally strong arm a small businessman, try that with his broker and he will find out exactly where professors reside in the pecking order; waaaay behind the guys who run the brokerage.

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