December 9, 2014

"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."

IN THE COMMENTS: Meade writes: "I agree with the professor. He did the right thing. Most people wouldn't bother. He was doing the business owner a big favor and the owner blew it." And in person, he says: "You fell for click bait."

ALSO IN THE COMMENTS:  Robert Cook said:
I think the professor was right to question the price difference, and he should have accepted the offer of a $4.00 refund. That he insisted on a "3x" refund--$12.00--and kept escalating a minor matter in this way just shows him up as an entitled shit.
I responded:
If a business systematically overcharges everyone but give a refund and only a refund to any customer who: 1. Notices and 2. Confronts, there's no disincentive. This is why class actions were invented. You can make a lot of money taking small amounts from a lot of people. The remedy needs to be more than the small amount that gives back what you took from only one person.

I think this reality is hard to see because a Harvard professor is such a ripe target, and his tenaciousness in making his point is so unusual and so displayable on line.
The most interesting sentence in the correspondence between the professor and the restauranteur is: "The more you try to claim your restaurant was not at fault, the more determined I am to seek a greater sanction against you." 

ADDED: Even where the customer noticed and confronted, this restaurateur's first move was to say only that the website was "out of date for quite some time" and he'd "make sure to update it." I think many customers would simply back off and say something like "Thanks, I'm glad I could help you, and by the way, I really do love your restaurant." The professor teaches the law here, and there is a Massachusetts law that makes it "a serious violation to advertise one price and charge a different price." Do we believe in this kind of law or don't we? If we don't and we think the professor is a prick for being a stickler about it, then get rid of the law and stop burdening business owners with the appearance that there are rules that must be followed.

134 comments:

SmartAssets said...

What an asshole.

Original Mike said...

From the comments: "He is in need of rectal hydration."

Garage? Is that you?

Meade said...

i agree with the professor. He did the right thing. Most people wouldn't bother. He was doing the business owner a big favor and the owner blew it.

Lyle said...

Smarts and character don't always go hand in hand.

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

I would have not only refunded the money but the entire cost of the meal.

When I was a restaurant manager, I never, ever, gave even the appearance of screwing customers on price. That's a great way to lose business.

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

As customers go, this one was an easy fix. Owner blew it.

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

Don't explain why the mistake happened. Customer doesn't care. Find out what they want and fix it. And then some. Stay ahead.

Deep State Reformer said...

If I believed in a God that ordained justice in the afterlife, then I would have to also believe that the deity would have some kind of special ring of hell specifically for sorts like the professor. Then Dr. Niggardly could spend eternity swapping stories with such soul mates as "Chainsaw Al" Dunlop, and the GM Engineers that valued pennies vs. lives and limbs.

William said...

I think the restaurant will get a few extra customers, and the professor's consulting business will suffer. The professor does not have much business wisdom. When his consulting business folds, he'll probably have to go into government work.

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

Don't dump on the professor. Say it was a guy making minimum wage who decided to eat out as a treat. He just lost 30 minutes of work by being overcharged. Is that OK? Should he complain?

The restaurant was wrong. The professor has the skills and clout to fix the problem. Good.

Meade said...

No business should ever overcharge customers. It amounts to theft. Did this restaurant also add sales tax to the overcharge amount? I'll bet they did and if so, that is even more outrageous.

William, you have it exactly wrong. The demand will only increase for the consulting services of this professor who smartly practices random acts of business management consulting.

Lydia said...

Prof. Edelman's a programming geek at heart. Maybe some Asperger stuff going on here.

Dr.D said...

The professor is a bit of a bully and the restaurant owner is not too bright. There is plenty of blame to go around.

Yes, the restaurant was in the wrong and should fix it.
do
Yes, the professor was wrong to take such a heavy handed approach. Just because he can does not mean that he should do so, threatening legal action, no less.

Turkeys, both of them.

traditionalguy said...

Small claims court is not small enough Micro Claims court would do if a midget lawyer would do the work work for half of the egg roll they recover.

William said...

The dogs that don't bark. What is the likelihood of the good professor doing such a rigorous analysis of the discrepancies in the promised and delivered price of Obamacare coverage?

Meade said...

He didn't "[threaten] legal action" and he didn't bully. He offered a simple and reasonable remedy and he gave the business owner valuable advice regarding Mass. statutory law and false advertising.

Rumpletweezer said...

The business should refund the full amount of the meal and refuse any future orders from the professor.

Anonymous said...

Wow.

I don't agree with the professor, who is an ass. Painful to read more than a few. This guy should not be teaching negotiations and I would find an avenue to critique him, if possible.

Fuck that guy.

Meade said...

This guy is untrustworthy and should not be managing a restaurant. How can customers be sure the tableware is sanitary and the food is not tainted?

Greg Hlatky said...

I sense some tongue in cheek from Meade here.

It's good that one of society's outcasts is standing up to heartless exploiting plutocrats.

Patrick said...

A guy running a restaurant made a mistake. Of course we should go running to the government. That's what we do now, isn't it?

Bringing the mistake to the restaurant's attention was fine. The guy was a jerk about it, unnecessarily.

I think if this is your standard for not eating at a place, you might want to stop going out to eat. Mistakes on a website almost always lead to food poisoning.

Bob Boyd said...

The lawyer is technically correct,
but its a total dick move to call the cops on the guy. A rat weasel move. Petty, vindictive, mean.
How's this lawyer going to feel when half the Chinese in Boston are outside his house throwing rocks and bottles after a pack of over eager Online Chinese Takeout Compliance Specialists wearing shorts went down there to bust this rogue restaurateur and wound up killing him with an unauthorized choke hold?

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...

"This guy is untrustworthy and should not be managing a restaurant. How can customers be sure the tableware is sanitary and the food is not tainted?"

It's a Chinese restaraunt. They can't and it is. But you eat there anyway because where else are you going to get a $5 Mongolian Beef and Sweet and Sour Pork lunch special?

Limited Perspective said...

This is way you deal with a chain restaurant, not a family place. Sorry, Meade, but there is a difference.

My Chinese place two blocks away is family owned. I know the family, and the place in China where they are from. I've learned a few Chinese words from them, and they know we don't ear meat during Lent (which I think is as mysterious to them as some of their ways are to me). Mrs. Duffy and I eat there regularly and if there is a problem I address them by their name, tell them the problem, and we have a resolution. The next time we go in I get extra portions.

Guys like this screw up humanity, but probably help keep corporations honest. The jerk doesn't know the difference.

Tari said...

What an awful man. He had the opportunity to handle this with kindness, and instead he chose asshole. Should he have pointed out to the restaurant that what they were doing was a (likely inadvertent) violation of the law? Sure, why not. But he could have done so in a "hey, just want to make you aware of this so no one gets you into trouble in the future" kind of way. I guess I've lived in Texas too long (and out of the NE, mercifully), where people generally handle things with more tact and politeness than this.

Michael K said...

"This is way you deal with a chain restaurant, not a family place. Sorry, Meade, but there is a difference. "

Yup. I wish the Chinese restaurant that I like was this sensitive. There is this cultural thing. I have been going to that place for 25 years and they don't speak better English than they did then. But their sweet and sour pork is great !

"No soup for you !"

Steven said...

and the GM Engineers that valued pennies vs. lives and limbs.

KK Kraska, you're an ignorant ass. All engineering is tradeoffs. It's not just GM that makes the tradeoffs, it's every single auto company ever. Cars are immensely complicated things, so there literally tens of thousands of opportunities in any auto design to make it marginally safer for a very marginal cost. There are two problems with this:

1) If you do thousands of things, the car winds up costing thousands of dollars more, and people go buy the almost-identical car where they didn't run up the price.

2) The car design after all those improvements? That's still a case of "any auto design". There are going to be tens of thousands of cases where you can make it slightly safer for a very marginal cost.

And then self-righteous pricks like you, who wouldn't dream of paying $1.5 million for the compact two-door your approach would iterate the price to, go around condemning the engineers for not doing the impossible.

I only wish hell was real, so I could take some satisfaction in knowing that someone could run you over and send you there.

Alex said...

It stinks of elitism. I'm shocked that Meade thinks it's ok, but then again he's married to an elitist.

Alex said...

Tari - yeah this Harvard PhD took the "I'm going to school this illiterate peasant" route.

Is it any wonder why Americans hate the Ivy Leaguers?

David said...

Ben is guilty of deceptive advertising. His photo on the Twitter feed is of a youthful man with a boyish face and some curly hair. His (apparently current) photo on the HBS web site is of a much older man, with a hint of jowl, and no scent of youth.

From HBS web site: Ben holds a Ph.D. from the Department of Economics at Harvard University, a J.D. from the Harvard Law School, an A.M. in Statistics from the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and an A.B. in Economics from Harvard College (summa cum laude). He is a member of the Massachusetts Bar. StatCounter - Free Web Tracker and Counter

Do you suppose he has a philosophy of abortion? End of life care?

Jeff said...

The restaurant was advertising one set of prices but actually charging much more. Not just on one menu item, but on many, perhaps all of them. They were overcharging everyone who read their web site and subsequently ate at the restaurant. The professor noticed and raised a bit of a stink. And most of you think he was wrong to do so?

Virgil Hilts said...

I think Meade is trolling (either that or my man crush is over). Ben Edelman is an asshole (google his name in quotes next to the word asshole if you don't believe me). I love it when the internet goes after guys like this. It reminds me of Korean dog poop girl.

JAORE said...

He was not wrong to raise the issue. He was wrong by being such a pretentious dick about it.

Compounded by his lather-rinse-repeat process.

Brando said...

This professor is exactly why so many people hate lawyers--9 out of 10 people who noticed they were overcharged by a restaurant would inform the management, get a refund, and leave it at that. Website menus can often be out of date, and restaurants have an obligation to either keep them updated or have a conspicuous disclaimer making clear that the menu prices may not apply, so notifying them of this is appropriate. But what this professor did went well beyond the "hey you overcharged me, fix it, and take down your web menu" and crossed into the "let me shake down and screw with this restaurant peasant". It's what some lawyers do when they want to scare non-lawyers, and it's thuggish behavior.

Brando said...

"Compounded by his lather-rinse-repeat process."

Exactly--had he sent a single e-mail, notifying the manager and getting his money back, that would be fine. The repeated e-mails suggested he was having fun screwing with a well-meaning restauranteur, trying to make the poor guy sweat. That's a bully and a thug right there.

sean said...

God, I hate professors. They are all insufferable, every one.

FleetUSA said...

I agree with Meade, but the guy comes across in the email exchange as a pompous elite. Rather than being helpful he seems to go nuclear.

Vet66 said...

The professor gave up his game when he admitted the food was "delicious" which is probably why he patronized that particular business. Raising hell with the owner was little more than picking up a free toothpick or breath mind as he left the restaurant. Pro bono assistance would have been more neighborly and appropriate. I think the professor is a racist or a fan of Gruber who enjoys being glib and thoughtless.

SeanF said...

Meade: He didn't "[threaten] legal action"...

You're right that he didn't "threaten." He actually did report the restaurant to the legal authorities, without first threatening to do so.

The first e-mail was on Friday afternoon. He had submitted a website comment the evening of the meal, which I presume was Thursday but that is not clear from the link.

The first time he even asked for a refund was at 3:18pm on Friday, and by 9:33am on Saturday he had "already referred this matter to applicable authorities."

Titus said...

Anyone notice the guns on the owner?

Robert Cook said...

I think the professor was right to question the price difference, and he should have accepted the offer of a $4.00 refund. That he insisted on a "3x" refund--$12.00--and kept escalating a minor matter in this way just shows him up as an entitled shit.

(I don't necessarily agree with John Lynch's suggestion that the restaurant should have refunded his entire payment for the meal, but it might have been a gesture of good faith to offer him a complimentary future dinner for two; however, given that the restaurant did offer to refund the actual difference in price--$4.00--the professor was just being a dick to insist on anything more.)

Robert Cook said...

"The business should refund the full amount of the meal and refuse any future orders from the professor."

After the hullabaloo the professor has made of this, I agree with this. Give him back his money and refuse his business in future, (as in the SEINFELD episode where Elaine was banned from ordering from a particular Chinese restaurant).

Unfortunately, in real life, this would give the professor leeway to threaten suit for being discriminated against.

Bob Boyd said...

Titus said...
Anyone notice the guns on the owner?

Yup.
He looks like he could make the lawyer cry mano a mano.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

You have to be from Boston to understand why Brooklime should have to pay a $1 more per dish than Woburn.

Bob Boyd said...

"$4.00--the professor was just being a dick to insist on anything more.)"

Exactly.
The lawyer wasn't out anything.
If the posted price had been $4 higher would that have been a deal breaker for him? No. And the food was good.

Now he's essentially bragging about how he was able to push somebody around for no reason other than he felt like it. There's nothing like spreading sunshine, eh? He should be embarrassed.

Ann Althouse said...

"I think the professor was right to question the price difference, and he should have accepted the offer of a $4.00 refund. That he insisted on a "3x" refund--$12.00--and kept escalating a minor matter in this way just shows him up as an entitled shit."

If a business systematically overcharges everyone but give a refund and only a refund to any customer who: 1. Notices and 2. Confronts, there's no disincentive. This is why class actions were invented. You can make a lot of money taking small amounts from a lot of people. The remedy needs to be more than the small amount that gives back what you took from only one person.

I think this reality is hard to see because a Harvard professor is such a ripe target, and his tenaciousness in making his point is so unusual and so displayable on line.

Big Mike said...

$4 ? That's nothing next to what happened to people who thought Obamacare would lower their healthcare premiums.

Meade said...

This comment at the Boston Globe article is right on target:

Noonan72 DECEMBER 09, 2014 — 04:13 PM
Per usual, this probably isn't the entire story. By the wy it is written, it simply sounds like a restaurant overcharged some "rich guy" and now that big mean jerk is crying about $4. What the story could very easily be though... is that the restaurant advertises several things on their menu at a given price and then rings them up at a different price for every person they ring up that ordered that food... which is illegal.... and the guy complained. Of course that got spun into "rich Harvard jerk is picking on poor Chinese restaurant-owning immigrants"... because of course that is a much bigger draw of clicks. For all we know, this resturant could be screwing customers out of a couple hundred bucks a night. Not actually saying they are. All I'm saying is that the journalistic integrity of the BDC is a joke and this is another example of how a story probably got 100% spun for maximum clicks.

Curious George said...

College professors sure seem to have a lot of time to just dick around...

Martha said...

Edelman is actually a big deal. From business week.com article calling Edelman Web Sheriff:

"On Jan. 28, Edelman published a blog post on his website saying that Internet video and ad company Blinkx (BLNX:LN) was sneaking software onto people’s computers, which generated pop-up ads and inflated its traffic. The company’s stock price quickly fell by more than a third, the most in its 10-year history, and has continued to slump. In a statement, Blinkx said it “strongly refutes” Edelman’s assertions."

He is the nephew of civil rights and education advocate and founder of the Children's Defense Fund of Marion Wright Edelman and Peter Benjamen Edelman, Georgetown Law Professor and former member of the Clinton administration --he resigned to protest Clinton's signing the welfare reform legislation

Meade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meade said...

Curious George said...
"College professors sure seem to have a lot of time to just dick around..."

...yeah, we should round them all up and stick them in re-education camps.

Fernandinande said...

just shows him up as an entitled shit.

Entitled to honest pricing. Something wrong with that?

The lawyer was right (I hated writing that), and Duan is a rippoff artist, full of bullshit excuses.

Edleman should take it to small claims, if not something fancier, and charge for his time = what, a few thousand dollars?

Then Duan will get his wish of the "proper authorities" telling him what to do because he's too sleazy to do it himself.

Shanna said...

What the story could very easily be though... is that the restaurant advertises several things on their menu at a given price and then rings them up at a different price for every person they ring up that ordered that food.

Doubtful. It's probably that, as mentioned above, the menu has not been updated online which happens All The Time with small, local chains. It's not a big conspiracy, it's an oversite. It is not a big deal and this guy was a jerk to report him without giving him time to update things.

Alexander said...

And this is where we prove you be a professor at Harvard and not have a lick of common sense.

Does the menu take your money from you? No, it does not.

If you order food from an online menu and then call the restaurant, then you get a price total before you give your credit card information or elect to pay in cash.

If you order through an online form, you also get a total before you submit your order.

If you don't get one of these two things, then you're an idiot for handing over your payment information.

So if someone says, "That chicken and port will be X" and after hearing that elect to pay, it doesn't really matter if on the menu has a discrepancy: or if it does, you agreed to the new terms and are an idiot if you later decide you don't like them.

Does that excuse the store - no. Price switching is bullshit and I have no problem with there being legal ramifications for such actions. I think this professor is in the moral and legal right. I just also think this professor is an idiot.

wildswan said...

I looked up "Chinese restaurants overcharging" on Google in case this was some kind of trend the professor was aware of but that doesn't seem to be the case. However, Whole Foods just got a huge fine in California for similar small rip-offs of many customers. So perhaps going after these small rip-offs of many people is the next big thing in law. But still it feels wrong to escalate to the government in 24 hours when it is just a small restaurant and so perhaps not aware of the changing trends in law - restaurant chasing being a new speciality.

Robert Cook said...

"He is the nephew of civil rights and education advocate and founder of the Children's Defense Fund of Marion Wright Edelman and Peter Benjamen Edelman, Georgetown Law Professor and former member of the Clinton administration --he resigned to protest Clinton's signing the welfare reform legislation."

Oh, now there's an action I admire.

Anonymous said...

This is kind of like gang tackling and choke-holding a guy for selling "loosies."

Meade said...

"Oh, now there's an action I admire."

LOL.

Fernandinande said...

Steven said...
...
Cars are immensely complicated things, so there literally tens of thousands of opportunities in any auto design to make it marginally safer for a very marginal cost. There are two problems with this:


You forgot the federal CAFE standards, which cost a few thousand lives each year by mandating fuel economy over safety.

Bob Ellison said...

I don't understand. This seems like common practice. When I buy a candy bar at the grocery listed at 99 cents, the checkout clerk charges me $1.07.

Meade said...

Fernandinande @ 8:09 AM

Well-said.

John A said...

A lot here, on both sides. Doesn't matter that it was a "small" restaurant business, when the prices on the printed menu change (not "today only" special) if there is a website it should be altered at the same time, not two tears later - hire a highschooler for a couple of hours or learn how to do it yourself.

OTOH, either send mention to law enforcement (cc to business) or don't. Do not engage in what appears to be repeated moving of the goalposts (extortion or blackmail?) as to the actions that would be agreeable and THEN report it.
---
If this was a deliberate scam, it was a very stupid one - easily shown if a promise had been made in the past couple of years to update the website without it being done.

But yes, even a smaller amount repeated often enough can reach high numbers. Some decades ago, a programmer for a bank moved the "rounding" amounts of under a penny to a personal account, even accepting round-down as well as round-up amounts, for many thousands of dollars.

Fernandinande said...

Brando said...
The repeated e-mails suggested he was having fun screwing with a well-meaning restauranteur,


Duan wasn't well-meaning at all. His first response was "yeah, we had fake prices up - want a list of non-fake prices?" No mention of honoring the fake prices.

Bob Ellison said...

John A, that banking scam was a major plot point in both Superman III and Office Space.

n.n said...

It sounds like a political marketing scheme. Perhaps Obama is making the rounds.

Peter said...

"If a business systematically overcharges everyone but give a refund and only a refund to any customer who: 1. Notices and 2. Confronts, there's no disincentive."

The disincentive is that most customers who realize they are overcharged will not return to the restaurant. In a business that relies on repeat business, that's a powerful disincentive indeed.

With this type of business, raising the posted price by $4. (or more) is a far better way to increase revenue than overcharging. The basic model is to charge enough so you can afford to provide the customer with a good experience. Customers may remember that the price was a bit high but they'll remember poor quality, poor service, or stingy portions a whole lot longer.

In any case, some customers are just not worth the bother; they cost far more than their business is worth. If Ben Edelman ever orders from them again, perhaps they should do something to discourage his business: a misplaced super-hot pepper kernel, perhaps, or at least some super-stingy portions. Then leave him on hold when he calls to complain.

Skipper said...

Harvard advertises that it provides a superior education. Illegal?

iowan2 said...

I find it fascinating that those that defend the Prof, after all it is the law, want to lynch the NY cops for taking down a guy that.....was refusing to obey orders.
So can the law be enforced or not?
BTW, nobody mentioned that the Prof is racist.

Anonymous said...

Turns out Red Robert is extremely careful spending his own money, but is happy to have over and under educated idiots spending your money at the force of a gun.

Thanks Ref Robert!

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

No use asking what the pretended victim tips. He never tips since tips are not law.

The Court of Equity/Chancery was created to balance the equities when applying a law was harsh.

Harshness in Civil Law usually is in the damages calculations. Triple Damages and Punitive Damages are intentionally harsh to satisfy a revenge motive that comes from the oldest Criminal Writs.

Tim said...

Actually Ann, I don't really believe in this kind of law, since it leads to the situation we recently had in New York, where a man was killed by police who were just doing their job and trying to enforce a law very much like this.
As for the Harvard grad, he comes across as a real asshat. There are a lot of small businesses trying to use the web who have problems keeping information updated and correct, and I would prefer to cut them some slack. If they are egregious enough, it will cost them enough business that the marketplace will sort it out. But laissez faire seems to be out of vogue in this country lately.

Goody said...

Have to disagree with you on this. As a litigator, I read the exchange as an example of why people hate lawyers. Demanding treble damages just goes beyond the pale.

Gahrie said...

If I was the restaurant owner, I would have said:

"Wow, you really are an asshole, aren't you? Here, take $20 and I hope you never make an honest mistake where some asshole lawyer can threaten to fuck up your life. Have a nice day and never come back to my restaurant you miserable prick."

mccullough said...

According to the professors email he phoned in the order after looking at the website. So much he restaurant would almost certainly have told him the actual price over the phone. So he wasn't deceived. What are the odds of that most of the customers look at the website or if they do look at the prices as opposed to the items? Most of their business would be regulars. This "class" would be almost impossible to identify. Looks like a one man class.

This is stuff actual lawyers think about. And who picks on small businesses like this?

I notice this asshole never mentions whether he was told what the price would be when he phoned in the order.

Another foolish as whole from Harvard Law like Obama and Cruz. He probably had Liz Warren as a teacher.

MadisonMan said...

When I read that, I felt like Duan was one of my students offering excuses for why his homework was late.

Sometimes, lawyers are right. This is the broken clocks are right twice daily affect.

James Graham said...

The law professor is a bully.

I don't care how many others (mainly lawyers?) agree with him.

Web sites are full of minor errors. Try linking to their list of "blogs they like" and if one is out-of-date sue them for the time you wasted.

Congrats to Boston Globe for publishing the bully's emails and the responses.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...If we don't and we think the professor is a prick for being a stickler about it, then get rid of the law and stop burdening business owners with the appearance that there are rules that must be followed.

Surely there'd be some notion of that terrific "prosecutorial discretion" we've heard so much about recently, though, right? You're not suggesting that unless every violation of any law is prosecuted to the fullest we're not taking the law seriously and it should be abolished, are you? I mean, from a small government libertarian point of view that certainly could work, but that's not a worldview I remember you arguing for (usually).

Do law profs aruge that breaking a butterfly upon a wheel is necessary to uphold the integrity of the Law?

Birkel said...

If the website says "Prices subject to change. Please see the in-store price list for current rates." then all of this is bull shit.

A disclaimer as to price in a proper font is an out, right, professor? Right, Althouse?

President-Mom-Jeans said...

Hopefully this douchebag gets the "Farva from Super Troopers" treatment every time he orders food in the greater Boston area.

Restaurant Staff, take note of his name and face.

Birkel said...

Or, variously, perhaps we should send the cops to arrest both of these guys. Surely online bullying laws apply to Harvard professors and trump the First Amendment, right?

furious_a said...

The business should refund the full amount...

Speaking from personal experience, have you ever tried to get your security deposit back from a Chinese landlord?

Of course we should go running to the government.

The Brookline PD could have pulled a Garner by smothering the owner over a false advertising claim.

Shanna said...

Whole Foods just got a huge fine in California for similar small rip-offs of many customers

If he had gone after a grocery store, I might have been with him. Cause this kind of stuff happens all the time with sales and advertised prices.

Charlie Currie said...

1. If it's the law, the penalty is for the courts to decide, not the professor's. He should have either taken the $4 refund and said thank you, or taken them to court if that was not acceptable.

2. The restaurant was not making a little extra money from a lot (some) of their customers, they were making the same amount from all their customers - dine in and take out.

Matt Sablan said...

You can be right AND be a dick.

Known Unknown said...

I was overcharged at a gas station/convenience store for a soda. By about 30 cents. I attempted to get them to not overcharge me. The manager eventually called me an asshole.

I boycotted the place as long as that manager worked there, despite it being the most convenient place for me to get gas or a water or whatever on my way to work.

Nine years.

MadisonMan said...

You can be right AND be a dick.

Exactly right. And proven so often in real life.

Matt Sablan said...

Though, honestly, the "Please advise" in the first email made me think this was a hoax. It's just... too perfect. Has it been confirmed real?

Bill said...

AA: "If a business systematically overcharges everyone but give a refund and only a refund to any customer who: 1. Notices and 2. Confronts, there's no disincentive."

It depends what you think is going on here. IF the business is systematically overcharging, then yeah. But if it raised its prices a buck an item a while back and was sloppy about updating its online advertisement, a less confrontational approach is called for. Since the professor's receipt listed the prices he was charged item by item, the latter case seems more likely.

JAORE said...

This comment at the Boston Globe article is right on target:

.... What the story could very easily be though...

Hell yes the story could easily be something else. ANY story could actually be other than presented. But assuming an alternate narrative gets us where? (I'm not saying (assuming this were more than an amusing little tale) that there could not be follow up information to be found. But, if we are allowed to fantasize it "could be" the lawyers hobby is to note prices on the menus of all the restaurants he patronizes, then checks the on-line prices. When he finds a discrepancy he orders from there. All this because the only way he can get an erection is by on-line bullying some little guy. Bonus points for folks less than proficient in English.

Brando said...

To all who are annoyed by restaurants posting outdated prices on their website menus, I agree it's annoying to be misled by this when ordering on the phone. However, it's a pretty common and simple mistake--and restauranteurs should be careful to include disclaimers.

But consider the reaction of a normal, non-douche--you see the discrepency on your receipt, you call to complain and either ask them to make it up to you or at least tell them they're advertising the wrong prices so they correct their mistake. You get an apologetic response, and maybe a refund, and that's it--done nice and easy. It's how non-douches operate.

This Edelman thug decides he's going to use his legal training to put the screws to some restaurant guy, and keep pushing, and invoke some treble damages in the law (which he likely couldn't recover, as there's no indication that the restaurant intentionally rather than negligently misled customers here). And further threatens to go to the authorities.

This is a douche. It's not that he had a complaint and wanted some satisfaction, it's that he clearly got a kick out of messing with some non-lawyer.

Brando said...

"It depends what you think is going on here. IF the business is systematically overcharging, then yeah. But if it raised its prices a buck an item a while back and was sloppy about updating its online advertisement, a less confrontational approach is called for. Since the professor's receipt listed the prices he was charged item by item, the latter case seems more likely."

Exactly. Restaurants are often way behind in updating their websites. The idea that this is some deceptive trick to get customers to order from them and then jack up the price, as though the bad reputation and word of mouth wouldn't greatly outweight the few extra dollars from their scam, is ludicrous. And Edelman is an entitled douchebag who deserves to have his uppance come one day.

Bob Ellison said...

I encourage everyone to discover that this is how all "journalism" is produced. Not just local, not just fluff pieces. All of it.

SeanF said...

mccullough: According to the professors email he phoned in the order after looking at the website. So much he restaurant would almost certainly have told him the actual price over the phone.

They almost certainly would not. They would have given him a total (including tax) but they would not have given him the pricing of each individual item. And it's perfectly feasible that he hadn't added up everything himself before calling.

JAORE said...

Sean, is the price per item the measure of the worth of the meal, or the total? I'd submit the total.

As noted above, I agree the professor is technically right and procedurally a dick).

JustOneMinute said...

Re: "Do we believe in this kind of law or don't we? "

Hmm - do we ticket everyone driving 60 in a 55MPH zone?

Or in the current case, are many people comparison shopping on Chinese take-out? I would be stricter about the law on big-ticket scams, like appliances or televisions.

And some laws even have a de minimis exception. No idea whether the MA law does, but I doubt the Harvard guy would volunteer that (good "Gotcha" opportunity, however.)

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

And under MA law the douche is only eligible for treble damages if the business does NOT offer a refund first. By the 2nd email Duan was offering Der Professor a refund. But that wasn't good enough for douchenozzle. He wanted to punish the guy. Order him to take down his site, etc. Millions of small businesses acquired Web sites and then are not equipped to handle updates. Yes it's sloppy and slow, but did the dickwad even LOOK at the prices posted IN THE STORE when he paid? He obviously didn't read the "prices in some locations may differ" disclaimer.

Deep State Reformer said...

To the haters and my death wisher: greed and indifference causing injury and death and deserving hell fit the bill here in my estimation, so no fucks given to your bleats. To all else, here it is best summarized.

"GM fielded reports about trouble with the ignition switch for years before taking action to address the problem. Early on, engineers proposed a fix, but it was rejected, apparently for cost reasons. 'None of the solutions presents an acceptable business case,' according to a GM memo given to congressional investigators."

Bob Ellison said...

You need another trick, pony.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

In terms of the Massachusetts law, I think the restaurant is right.

Treble damages ($12) is the penalty if the restaurant won't settle and the professor has to go to court.

If the restaurant offers to pay the $4 actual damages, and the professor rejects the offer, as happened here, $4 is the limit on the professor's recovery in a subsequent legal action.

"Any person receiving such a demand for relief who, within thirty days of the mailing or delivery of the demand for relief, makes a written tender of settlement which is rejected by the claimant may, in any subsequent action, file the written tender and an affidavit concerning its rejection and thereby limit any recovery to the relief tendered if the court finds that the relief tendered was reasonable in relation to the injury actually suffered by the petitioner."

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Also, do you notice that the professor says at one point in the email exchange that he is ethically bound from that point forward to talk only to the restaurant's lawyer, but continues to email the restaurant owner?

Bob Ellison said...

Left Bank of the Charles, I noticed that. It's odd because he showed hypocrisy and also because:

Edelman expected his declaration of "ethics" to bind his opponent-correspondent.

Why should this guy, Duan, give a crap about Edelman's Massachusetts-lawyerly ethics garbage?

That'd be like me asking the deer that poop on my lawn to observe my no-pooping rules.

mccullough said...

SeanF,

Why would this professor not have totaled the items before placing the order? You think he figured it out later on? Bullshit. This is hobby. He knew the price was off and paid anyway. He's got no claim.

Bill said...

mccullough said "Why would this professor not have totaled the items before placing the order? You think he figured it out later on?"

Unless he calculated the sales tax too, I can see him placing the order before thinking, "sixty bucks seems way too high", and checking his receipt.

khesanh0802 said...

The Prof could have settled this easily, taken his 4 bucks and walked away. He was being an unmitigated asshole; a feat not limited to Harvard men, but seemingly perfected by them.

Meade;

Did you read all the crap the prof wrote? At $500 per hour ( probably a low rate for B school consultants ) he cost himself at least a couple of thousand bucks of time. Maybe that makes me feel less embarrassed to be associated with him.

Titus said...

Who is Bob Edelmen?

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/2014/12/10/who-ben-edelman-sheriff-the-chinese-food-internet/kaHyTBoMJjGkITQDV5uxaN/story.html?p1=Must_Reads_hp

in other words fab

khesanh0802 said...

Prof. Ben Edelman's apology.
Do you think someone at the B -school had the good sense to pull this young idiot up short? I sure hope so, because his behavior is an embarrassment to the school and the University.

Chubfuddler said...

Harvard professor apologizes over Chinese-food fight

The first four of the top 10 trending stories at the Globe right now are about this.

Bob Ellison said...

Ann Althouse wrote, "Do we believe in this kind of law or don't we? If we don't and we think the professor is a prick for being a stickler about it, then get rid of the law and stop burdening business owners with the appearance that there are rules that must be followed."

Alas, most of us live in the real world, where "get rid of the law" is not an option, and "the professor is a prick" is a likelihood.

We go along to get along.

Bob Boyd said...

Lots of free publicity for Sichuan Garden. One of the takeaways: even the A-hole Haavad Loya says their food is excellent.
And at only four dollars more than advertised, its a steal.

khesanh0802 said...

@ Meade I am sending you to the front page of the Boston Globe so that you can immerse your self in the coverage of this professor you so admire.

I told you only a Harvard man can reach such asshole perfection.

FedkaTheConvict said...

Does Althouse still insist on defending this clown?

Ben Edelman Appears to Have Sent Racist Email to Chinese Restaurant Owner. Today.

"“You may have won the battle, Duan, but at least we can agree your menu is a little less slanty-eyed."

Bob Boyd said...

"I was intending to make light of the situation to a small group of students..."

So now he has cufked over his students too. The members of his "small group" are now living in terror that the world will find out who they are and label them as Ben's racist, elitist clique of teacher's pets.
Holy Smoke this dude is having a bad day! You can bet the Online Cinese Takeout Menu Compliance Dept. just shit-canned his complaint form.
Maybe this would be a good time for Ben to take that vacation and go fight Ebola somewhere. I think the virus would go easier on him than the Harvard population will at this point.

bobby said...

The associate prof is a tenure-track prick.

Misinforminimalism said...

There's no "n" in restaurateur.

Meade said...

FedkaTheConvict said...
Does Althouse still insist on defending this clown?
Ben Edelman Appears to Have Sent Racist Email to Chinese Restaurant Owner. Today.
"“You may have won the battle, Duan, but at least we can agree your menu is a little less slangy-eyed."


At the link to the Boston Globe FedkaTheConvict provides:

"Editor’s Note

Earlier tonight, Boston.com published a piece suggesting Harvard Business School Professor Ben Edelman sent an email with racist overtones to Sichuan Garden. We cannot verify that Edelman, in fact, sent the email. We have taken the story down."

Has Professor Edelman been defamed by the Boston Globe? Hmm.

Meade said...

Those of you who are into the smear campaign against Professor Edleman are in good company. Congratulations.

SeanF said...

JAORE: Sean, is the price per item the measure of the worth of the meal, or the total? I'd submit the total.

(As noted above, I agree the professor is technically right and procedurally a dick).


First, I agree with your assessment of the professor. :) The prices are listed per item, it is the per item price that the customer is using to decide what to get and what not to get, so the price per item is the measure of worth for each item.

mccullough: SeanF,

Why would this professor not have totaled the items before placing the order? You think he figured it out later on? Bullshit. This is hobby. He knew the price was off and paid anyway. He's got no claim.


If you're asking about this guy in particular, I don't know him well enough to say. From reading the article, it seems more likely than average that he'd be that detailed, but I can't say for sure. As for people in general, however, I would think it's very common not to total the items before-hand.

But it doesn't matter. We're talking about an $8 "profit," so he's not doing this for the money. What if he had noticed the discrepancy before paying, and he said something about it to the cashier? No matter what happend - the cashier reduced his bill by $4, the cashier refused and he refused to pay or take the food, or the cashier refused and he relented and paid the charged amount - he would still be able to contact the owner and throw his weight around. Pretending to not notice until after he got home would be completely unnecessary.

Unknown said...

My favorite Chinese restaurant has a similar issue: the online menu is simply a scanned copy of a printed menu from many years ago. It is obviously a dated website that no one has touched since it was created. Anyone who expects that the website prices are current is a fool.

The law at issue here is to protect people from being taken advantage of. Do we really think that the mom-and-pop take-out restaurants of the world are trying to take advantage of people, by luring them in the door with one price, and then gouging them at the register? Maybe in some cases, but I doubt that is the norm.

If anything, the professor is taking advantage of the take-out place, by utilizing his status and knowledge as an attorney, to threaten and punish a business for what was likely an honest mistake. They offered to correct the mistake, and in polite society, that would be the end of it. Regardless of whether the professor was technically in the right, he crossed the line into rude and bullying--hence, the strong reaction by the public.

Meade said...

"Do we really think that the mom-and-pop take-out restaurants of the world are trying to take advantage of people, by luring them in the door with one price, and then gouging them at the register?"

Gouging? No. Incremental, insidious theft? Yes.

Thousands of customers, year after year. Do the arithmetic: $4 here, $4 there... pretty soon, you're talking real money.

It appears to me that the self-governing people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts created that statute to protect their property from the dishonesty and thievery of business owners just like Duan. I approve.

Bob Boyd said...

We read a story in a major news outlet and commented about it on your blog. I think its a little unfair to say that makes us part of a smear campaign.

What about the smear against the restaurant owner? He is accused of deliberately misleading his customers about pricing. Where is the verification that he is a calculating criminal rather than just a hard working guy who can't find enough hours in the day?

Meade said...

"deliberately misleading his customers"

It doesn't need to be deliberate. It can be simple neglect.

Similar to a hard working restaurant manager who doesn't find enough hours in the day to remove clutter and old rags that accumulate in his building. If the place burns up, the fire wasn't necessarily deliberate.

Or a hard working but poorly trained restaurant employee who cuts corners on cleanliness and sanitation, say, repeatedly sticks his finger in his ear during food preparation or serving. He didn't deliberately infect his customer with E. coli. But he could have prevented the infection.

Bob Boyd said...

In previous comments you called the guy "untrustworthy" and you called a comment "right on target" that implied he was running some kind of deliberate scam on his own customers, "screwing" them. Maybe he was. But it is not an established fact.
The lawyer's racist comment was in the news, attributed to him by a trustworthy professional news organization. If my commenting on that story, which I learned about because it was linked here in the comments, is a smear then how is your choice of strong words to characterize the restaurant owner not a smear also?
I'm not arguing the restaurant owner shouldn't have updated his website. But there are so many laws about everything it is probably impossible for any of us to get through the day without breaking one or more. Surely we can be better neighbors and cut each other a little slack now and then. The lawyer lost his perspective. He has admitted as much. He tried to make a mountain out of a mole hill and wound up being badly mauled by angry moles.

Meade said...

Oh no, Bob, please don't tell me you now choose to be a part of the smear campaign against moles.

Moles are good. Moles are our friends. Mole lives matter.

Moles have an important and valuable role to play in Mother Earth's biodiversity and ecological balance. And yet they have historically been and continue to be burdened by the unfounded fears, prejudices, and bigoted speciesism of cruel and ignorant humans.

How long must moles suffer, Bob? How long?

Ann Althouse said...

"He tried to make a mountain out of a mole hill and wound up being badly mauled by angry moles."

Why would moles get angry if you expressed the view that their hill was actually a mountain? I would think that they'd either feel chuffed or they'd feel neutral and simply agree that it's a mountain as far as they are concerned. What is a mountain to a mole? I say their molehill feels like a mountain and that which we call a mountain lies outside of the perception of a mole.

Alex said...

Typical dick move by an entitled Ivy Leaguer.

Bob Boyd said...

I love moles, Meade. I am a mole lover.
Dogs are great, but I wish there were more pictures of happy, frolicking moles on this blog. Happy frolicking moles with the bones of the arrogant clenched in their teeth.

Meade said...

Ah. Thanks gawd, Bob.

Please forgive me for even slightly impugning your earthy goodness.

Bob Boyd said...

"Why would moles get angry..."

Moles can be touchy. And proud. Better to reign on a mole hill than serve on a mountain I guess.

the jackal said...

Obviously making a mountain out of a molehill would peeve the moles. Think of how much more they'd be paying in real estate taxes alone. And have you ever tried to wire a whole mountain for cable internet?

khesanh0802 said...

Aw c'mon, Meade, admit that in this case you bet on the wrong jerk.

Bob Boyd said...

"Please forgive me for even slightly impugning your earthy goodness."

Thanks Meade. Done.

And you're very perceptive regarding my "earthy goodness". I've been told on more than one occasion that I'd likely be the first one eaten if I ever went down in the Andes with a planeload of vegans.

Sydney said...

This Edelman character <a href="http://www.boston.com/food-dining/restaurants/2014/12/10/there-more-edelman-did-this-before-and-worse/00mTW39jcyXb3VNHZoXEYN/story.html?p1=trending_article_page_2>has done this before</a>. Sounds like he does this to get discounts on stuff. Shame. Legal bully.