Last Friday, Ben Edelman, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, ordered what he expected would add up to $53.35 of takeout from a place called Sichuan Garden, a Boston establishment owned by the family of Ran Duan, who coincidentally was named GQ’s “most imaginative bartender” for 2014. Little did anyone realize how long of a weekend it would be for the Duan family: The prices on Sichuan Garden’s outdated website for his four entreés were a dollar short “on each and every item,” Edelman noted in an email, and thus he had been overcharged a total of four dollars. In the ensuing exchange, the academic cited Chapter 93A of the Massachusetts General Law, the state’s consumer protection statute, and suggested Sichuan Garden refund “three times the amount of the overcharge.” Things just went downhill from there.
Nine more messages were to come, it turned out, leaving Duan to parse the professor’s too freaky brand of freakonomics and phrases like this: “Nor do you recognize 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.”
Spoiler: It got messy and there was a dispute over legal disclaimers. Duan managed to stay polite, and Edelman got a 50 percent discount. He maintains his fight was over the principle, so he should no doubt be pleased with the Sichuan Garden website’s current disclaimer: “We are currently updating our menu.”