Law and Regulations

Extra hot sauce: Harvard Biz prof's $4 food fight

Food Collection | Getty Images

And you thought those Winkelvoss twins got mad over losing Facebook to Mark Zuckberg when they were at Harvard?

A Harvard Business School associate professor who saw crimson after getting overcharged $4 on a $53.35 order of Chinese food reportedly launched an email wrestling match with the eatery's owners—and let it be known he had notified "the applicable authorities" of the menu mishap.

"I understand that fines are common for price advertising violations," the prof, Benjamin Edelman, ominously noted to the family-run Sichuan Garden restaurant in Woburn, Massachusetts, according to the Boston Globe in a story published Tuesday on

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Edelman, who teaches in the Negotiation, Organizations & Market unit of the school, was apparently irked to learn that the restaurant's menu on its website hadn't been updated to reflect the prices he was charged for shredded chicken with spicy garlic sauce, stir fried chicken and other dishes.

The professor, whom the Globe notes has a consulting practice that lists Microsoft, the NFL, and The New York Times as clients, quickly deployed his negotiating skills in his email exchange with manager Ran Duan, whose family owns the restaurant.

"I suggest that Sichuan Garden refund me three times the amount of the overcharge," Edelman helpfully wrote Duan, according to the Globe.

 "The tripling reflects the approach provided under the Massachusetts consumer protection statute, MGL 93a, wherein consumers broadly receive triple damages for certain intentional violations," Edelman wrote in one of several lengthy, detailed emails to Duan published by the Globe

"Please refund the $12 to my credit card. Or you could mail a check for $12 to my home."

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Duan was very polite with Edelman as he explained in his own emails that the website hadn't been updated with new prices, and as he offered to refund him the four bucks the professor was overcharged. Duan said he would wait for authorities to determine any penalty and whether he actually owes Edelman treble damages.

Duan told the Globe that the email exchange "just broke my heart."

"I have worked so hard to make my family proud and to elevate our business."

Edelman, who told the Globe the food "was delicious," also said he plans on taking "a few days" to weigh his legal options.

In an email to on Wednesday, Edelman elaborated on his concern about cuisine costs.

"The piece totally misses the benefit that all diligent consumers provide in looking for overcharges and other errors," Edelman wrote. "We all rely on trust in our daily lives -that when sales tax is added, it actually applies and equals the specified amount; that the meter in a taxi shows the correct amount provided by law and correctly measures the actual distance; that when you order takeout, the price you see online matches the amount you pay in the restaurant.  We all take most of this for granted.  It would be a lot of trouble to all have to check these things day in and day out. That's exactly why we should be concerned when folks fall short - because hardly anyone ever checks, so these problems can go unnoticed and can affect ,in aggregate, large amounts. " 

"If you look at my other work, e.g.,, you'll see I've been pretty diligent in holding large companies accountable for their false statements of price and other attempts to overcharge passengers.  Should all small businesses get a free pass?  Some people seem to think so, i wonder if that really makes sense," Edelman wrote.

And, he said, "Notably, though not emphasized in the piece,the restaurant at issue knew the website prices had been "out of date for quite some time."  On Yelp,consumers were complaining about this in 2010. 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. But by all indications there are thousands of customers affected, thousands or more likely tens of thousands of dollars of overcharges."

Read the full, bizarre exchange at