Normally, when a customer and a business get in a fight about overcharging, we're 110% on the side of the customer (if it's a fight over tipping, however, we're usually at least 20% over the bill including tax on the side of the server). In the case of Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman, however, there may be such a thing as overkill in the pursuit of economic justice. Edelman recently ordered food online from local Boston-area eatery Sichuan Garden. Unfortunately, since Sichuan Garden had failed to update its website to reflect new prices, Edelman placed an order for $53.35 worth of food, but was charged $4 more than that. Charging different prices than are listed is a major no-no, and Edelman was totally right to get pissed, demand they fix it, and ask for a refund. Or, as it turns out, demand a penalty fixed at three times the overcharge:
Look, Sichuan Garden is in the wrong. They listed the wrong prices. It doesn't sound like they're fleecing anyone at a rate that would make such an obvious ploy worthwhile (what with Edelmans out there, waiting), but it is illegal. That being said, we all know that the companies that actually get away with ripping off entire towns are much bigger than Sichuan Garden. Edelman, however, refuses to treat Sichuan Garden any different than Comcast (if, you know, anyone could actually make Comcast do anything).
Yes, Sichuan Garden has opened up a second location since it was founded by immigrants in the 1990s. Yes, Ran Duan, the son of those immigrants (who moved here with them when he was 3) and the man who is answering these emails now runs an upscale bar that's attached to their second restaurant. Yes, he's been on the cover of GQ as "America's Most Imaginative Bartender" (he won a nationwide competition and represented the US globally in, uh, making drinks). It still seems to me like he's an immigrant kid who runs a small business, and indeed he says that despite the restaurant's growth, they don't have the budget for public relations or full-time website maintenance.
"I personally respond to every complaint and try to handle every situation personally," Duan told Boston.com. "I have worked so hard to make my family proud and to elevate our business. [The emails with Edelman] just broke my heart."
Professor Edelman does usually set out to fry bigger fish than Sichuan Garden. Actually, he usually helps big companies like Microsoft, the NFL, and Universal Music prevent against online theft...which now that I write it out, sounds a lot like he helps them sue people who have infringed on their property. "I mostly look for malfeasance by larger companies," Edelman told Boston, "It certainly seems like a situation that could call for legal redress. But this is a small business in the town where I reside."
A local business for now, anyway. Edelman alerted Brookline town authorities, although they apparently are unlikely to do anything about this. Shocking. He plans to "take a few days" to decide whether or not to take Sichuan Garden to court. Here's hoping those are nice, sunny days that put him in a good mood. Oh, wait...it's Boston.
(by Johnny McNulty)