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Chinese Restaurant Owner Forgives Harvard Business School Professor for Threatening Legal Action Over $4 Worth of Chinese Food

( [email protected] ) Dec 10, 2014 05:12 PM EST
The owner of a Chinese restaurant has said he bears "no ill will" toward a Harvard Business School professor who berated him for allegedly overcharging $4 on a takeout order.
Ben Edelman (left) and Ran Duan (right) (Photo: Boston.com)

Update: Harvard Business School Professor Ben Edelman Apologizes: 'I Was Very Much Out of Line' 

The owner of a mom-and-pop Chinese restaurant has said he wishes "no ill-will" on a Harvard Business School professor who threatened to sue the establishment for allegedly overcharging him $4 for his takeout dinner.

Boston.com reports that Ben Edelman, who teaches in the Negotiation, Organization and Markets Division of Harvard Business School, ordered what he believed was $53.35 worth of food from Sichuan Garden's Brookline Village site, but was outraged to discover, when presented with the bill, that he had been charged an extra $4.

The professor immediately sent off a harsh email to Ran Duan, the manager of The Baldwin Bar inside the restaurant founded by his parents. In the letter, Edelman detailed the notes he took about his order, listing every item, followed by the expected versus the charged amount.

In a response letter, Mr. Duan apologized for the incident and explained that the website prices were not accurate. He also offered to send Edelman an updated menu list.

While Edelman thanked Duan for the explanation, he went on to threat legal action for the incident, citing the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statute.

"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."

He continued to suggest a solution to the issue.

"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 Massachusets consumer protection statute, MGL 93a, wherein consumers broadly receive triple damages for certain intentional violations."

Mr. Duan responded that he would honor the website price and compensate Edelman the 3$, but noted that his establishment is a "mom and pop restaurant" that prides itself on "hard work and authentic Sichuan cuisine."

However, the compromise apparently did not work for Edelman, who proceeded to accuse the resturant of "knowingly" overcharging 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 continued.

Edelman added that he had "already referred this matter to applicable authorities" and would "accept whatever refund you elect to provide...but I accept that refund without prejudice to my rights as provided by law."

He added, "[But] the more you try to claim your restaurant was not at fault, the more determined I am to seek a greater sanction against you."

Business Insider reports that the two men shared several more emails regarding the overcharge and the threat of legal action.

"I was 100% compliant with him, and I'm not really sure what he wants," Duan said, adding that in the hospitality business, "you still have to be professional" even with a difficult customer.

"I did my best to rectify the situation, but he seemed very vindictive and wanted more."

According to online reviews of the restaurant, Duan and the rest of the staff at Sichuan Garden "do a wonderful job and are classy to the end."

"Hands off to Ran Duan for his diplomatic and thoughtful (and patient!) handling of the attack from the Harvard Business School professor over the alleged $4 attack," wrote one user, giving the restaurant a 5 star rating.

But despite the harsh manner in which Edelman treated him, Duan says he wishes the professor no ill-will.

"At least he said the food was delicious," he told The Guardian. "I wish no harm on this guy."