It’s dinnertime on a Saturday and you crave soup. You smile at the thought of sitting down in front of a steaming cup of crab bisque, chicken noodle, or split pea soup. You want it more than Elaine wanted Mulligatawny from the Soup Nazi.
You arrive at one of your favorite local restaurants. You order the Saturday Special because it comes with two sides and a cup of soup. You unroll the tightly wrapped silverware from its cloth cocoon and grasp the spoon as though you’re heading into battle. Your mouth waters at the thought of warm vegetables and flavorful broth touching your lips.
You look over your shoulder and see your waitress walking toward your table. As she turns, you recognize that her hands are conspicuously empty. “Where is my soup?” you think to yourself.
“I’m sorry but we’re all out of soup,” she says. “Would you like salad instead?”
You’re incredulous. You don’t want limp lettuce masquerading as a meal. You want fresh, piping hot soup. You’re so angry that you could scream. The words “No soup for you!” begin playing on an endless loop in your head.
What do you do?
The well-mannered among us would get a grip of themselves, brush off their disappointment, and move on. They would recognize that there are a lot worse things in this world than not getting soup. That, however, is not what Dwain Downing did when the service staff of Our Place Restaurant in Mansfield, Texas told him they had run out of soup.
Instead, Downing did what any lawyer who loses complete grasp of reality would do. He wrote a letter to the restaurant claiming breach of contract, demanding damages in the amount of $2.25 plus $250 for lawyer’s fees. If Mr. Downing’s legal advice for such a claim comes at a price of $250 — which naturally comes under question given his judgement to write a scathing letter requesting reparations for a restaurant running out of a menu item — then I think it’s time that he reevaluates his rates.
Instead of cowering in response to the formal letter printed on Mr. Downing’s personalized stationary — including an image of the scales of justice — the restaurant’s owner posted the ridiculous claim to Our Place Restaurant’s Facebook page. That’s when things got really interesting and Mr. Downing received a countersuit in the form of angry public opinion.
While I would rarely recommend that a restaurant operator post an angry customer letter on Facebook, I think that Benji Arslanovksi, the owner of Our Place Restaurant, did the right thing in publishing Downing’s letter. The claim was so crazy and frivolous that the owner saw it for what it was. Mr. Downing was acting like a petulant child. It would have been more fitting if the letter had been written in crayon.
I applaud Benji Arslanovski for flipping the narrative and turning the letter into a marketing coup for his restaurant. His commentary, which accompanied Downing’s letter on Facebook, reads like an advertisement:
Wow! This is a first! I received a demand letter from an attorney in Arlington for $2.25 cup of soup because we ran out? We don't charge for soup, it comes free with your meal and clearly states "while supplies last.” I knew we had good soup but never thought we would get sued for it!!
After more than 1,500 comments on the Facebook post, Mr. Downing has since withdrawn his lawsuit. He has claimed that he did so as a result of cyberbullying he received after the restaurant’s post went viral, and a reconsideration of his emotional reaction to the incident. I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say that Mr. Downing is going to find it much harder to get new legal clients from this point forward.
In a final stroke of irony and creative marketing, Our Place Restaurant is using the incident to bring more soup through its doors (of which zero will be served to customers). The restaurant is collecting canned soup donations for a local food back in exchange for 10% off customers’ bills.