Harvard Professor’s $4 Chinese Restaurant Lawsuit Brings Attention to Business Fraud


“I’ll sue them so badly they’ll be out of business in no time at all,” “If I were you, I’d sue,” “Did you sue?” These are just a few of the common statements many people in this country make on a regular basis. It’s sad, but it’s true. Too many people are sue-happy, and it’s because many of them feel too entitled. A woman trips on a sidewalk walking up to a business and she sues them for damages even though there was nothing wrong with the sidewalk. A shopper doesn’t find the lactose-free milk products she loves so she sues a store for not catering to her health issues; people are entirely too quick to sue, which is what makes it difficult for those who have a real reason to sue to actually see resolution. People are lazy, entitled and looking for a quick buck. Now, before you get too heated, we are not talking about everyone. Plenty of people have every right to sue. People who are mistreated, whose health and lives are put in danger and people whose entire world is turned upside down thanks to the negligence of someone else have every right to sue (think about a person treated by a doctor who is under the influence and is mistreated and harmed).

But here’s the deal; it’s not always easy to tell who is in the right and who is not when it comes to suing. Let’s take Ben Edelman as an example. Edelman is a Harvard professor, so we can safely assume he’s a hard-working, well-educated individual probably leading a pretty nice lifestyle. However, he sued a Chinese restaurant for over-charging him on a takeout meal. Seems petty, and like he’s going to lose, right? Well, who knows? He’s not suing for millions or anything like that; he’s suing for the $4 he was overcharged for the meal he ordered. Is he in the right or is he in the wrong? Our take is that people will go both ways on this one, and there will be no direct answer, but let’s look at the facts.

Ben Edelman ordered a takeout meal from a local Chinese restaurant and he was charged $4 more than the website menu quoted the price of his meal. When Edelman approached the restaurant about being overcharged, Ran Duan, the Sichuan Garden owner, told Edelman that the prices at the restaurant had gone up several months before; they’d just forgotten to change their website information to reflect their new prices. He did not offer to reimburse the Harvard professor for this mistake, which only made him angrier.

So what we have so far is a man who is mad about $4. Seems like he’s an entitled jerk who is probably pretty cheap, right? Well, not so fast. It seems that Edelman was more concerned at this point about the seriousness of the situation and what he calls fraudulent business practices. All he wanted was to know why the restaurant charged him more and when he found out they’d been doing that for months, even though the website update would take only minutes, he realized that the business was actually ripping people off. For months Sichuan Garden had been overcharging customers who did not notice they were being overcharged for their meals. Had they really changed the menu prices, they would have changed the website to reflect that. However, they did not do that, so it seems that they were just adding whatever they thought they could get away with to their customer’s bills and most did not even notice.

By ignoring the law, Sichuan Garden was stealing from their customers for several months. Ben Edelman was merely trying to make it apparent to the rest of the area that this restaurant was unlawfully stealing from customers, and that their business practices were unfair. So, if you are worried that you’re being taken advantage of when you are dining out or ordering out, how can you ensure that you’re not being taken advantage of in a world where many businesses knowingly and unknowingly engage in business fraud? Well, we don’t have any concrete answers for you, but we do have a few suggestions

Read the Menu

If you’re worried about being overcharged, take a look at the menu both online and in the restaurant. If they don’t match, approach management and ask them to either remedy the situation or honor the lower of the two prices. If any restaurant posts lower prices online to lure customers in and then hit them with higher prices, it’s not entirely ethical.

Check your Receipt

Sure, wait staff at any given restaurant are not perfect. How many times do you dine out with friends and have to ask your server to change your bill because he or she added someone else’s appetizer to your bill? It happens; and it’s fine. But if you’re truly concerned, go ahead and make sure that you are checking that bill so that you can look for any potential mistakes.

Use Coupons

It’s hard to be overcharged for a meal when you’re using coupons to help you pay for it. This is one way to ensure that you will get a lower price than what’s asked. You can find them online, in the paper and even at many restaurants. Just be certain you read the fine print so that you can make sure that the coupons you’re using are valid with what you purchase. Some coupons have some fine print that might make them invalid with your order, and it’s always best to know this ahead of time.

Pay With Cash

It’s sad, but not everyone is honorable. When you go to a restaurant and pay with your card, you run into several issues. One, your server might make it a point to take your personal information off your card (and even get your address from your license if he has to card you for a cocktail) and use it fraudulently. Others might take it upon themselves to add an additional 0 after your tip and give themselves a larger tip, and you probably won’t even notice or be able to fight it since your receipt is probably long gone before you even notice. Trust me; this will never happen to most people, but it does happen on occasion. Pay with cash and this becomes less of an issue.

Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images


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