An associate professor at Harvard Business School is on the warpath against a Boston-area Chinese restaurant over a misleading online menu he claims led to him being improperly charged $4 extra.
Ben Edelman, who teaches in the school’s Negotiations, Organizations, and Markets unit, is also a national expert on Internet fraud. Ordinarily, Edelman focuses his expertise on the concerns of major corporations, consulting with firms like Microsoft and the National Football League while being a sharp critic of some companies, such as Google.
Last Friday, however, after enjoying a takeout meal from Sichuan Garden, he turned his fraud-detecting expertise in a different direction, threatening legal action after discovering the restaurant’s online menu differed from its current prices.
Ran Duan, who manages The Baldwin Bar at one of Sichuan’s two locations, told the professor he had not been overcharged, but rather the online menu had been out of date for some time. Edelman in turn replied that such a disparity was a major violation of Massachusetts consumer protection laws, and went on to request first a $12 refund (reflecting the triple damages he says he could recover by law) and then, later, a 50 percent refund on his nearly $60 order.
Edelman then escalated the matter further, seeking justice for the restaurant’s other customers. “It strikes me that merely providing a refund to a single customer would be an exceptionally light sanction for the violation that has occurred,” he wrote. He hoped the government would “compel your restaurant to identify all consumers affected and to provide refunds to all of them.”
The full saga was first reported by the Boston Globe, which published the lengthy email exchange between Edelman and Duan.
According to the Boston Globe, Edelman has reported the restaurant to authorities in Brookline, Mass., but hasn’t yet decided whether he will take any further action himself.
Edelman has also sent a statement to Business Insider, defending his actions by arguing that his diligence helps protects others from being cheated by underhanded business practices.
“The restaurant at issue knew the website prices had been ‘out of date for quite some time.’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,” said Edelman.
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