Chicago teacher, activist, writer, media strategist
At first blush, I was outraged about the story of Benjamin Edelman, a Harvard Business School Professor who threatened legal action against a small local chain restaurant after being overcharged $4 for his dinner. My gut reaction was, “How dare this Ivy League corporate shill strongarm this small business owner over $4.” I looked at it as bourgeoisie entitlement driving Edelman to waste so much time over $4.
Then I thought a little more deeply about it. Edelman may be acting out of entitlement. He may be used to getting his way all the time and this is little more than a tantrum for a time he didn’t.
However, he may also be right. And his actions are actually good for consumers.
The facts are largely indisputable. Edelman ordered food from the Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline, Massachusetts. He received his full order, enjoyed a delicious (his words) meal and was charged $4 over the initial quoted price from the restaurant’s website.
The debate centers around whether he was in the wrong by demanding renumeration of three times the overcharge (a total of $12) and threatening further legal action if he did not receive it. He cited a Massachusetts statute that prescribes tripling the overcharged amount to make whole a consumer who was intentionally overcharged.
The “optics” as they say in public relations is really bad for Edelman. He comes across as the rich guy bullying the small business owner, using the law as a blunt instrument. I’ve seen people describe this as a “David and Goliath” moment with Edelman being Goliath.
However, looking past the optics, what we have here is a consumer fighting for a broken promise by a business.
We have certain rights as consumers, some are obvious and others are so obscure only lawyers and business professors would know them. When we do not exercise our rights, we risk them being taken away. What is good is a right if it cannot be exercised?
In this incident, Edelman could clearly afford to eat his $4 loss and walk away. Not everyone is that fortunate. Edelman did a good deed for consumers by exercising not only his rights, but by being the voice of everyone who has been overcharged by this business.