Panda Express took a bite out of my daughter’s birthday

When Panda Express loses Benjamin Alpert’s catering order, the guests at his daughter’s birthday party have to eat cake. Now the company won’t refund part of his undelivered meal. What gives?

Question

My wife and I hosted a birthday party for my three-year-old daughter at a public park. We had about 30 guests and ordered catering through Panda Express’ catering website, to be delivered at noon, at the cost of $169. On the morning of the event, we called the restaurant to confirm the order, and to add to the order items for which we paid an additional $57.

At noon, the delivery did not arrive. I called Panda Express. A representative told me that the delivery has been picked up about 30 minutes earlier and should be on its way.

Time went by, and when the delivery didn’t arrive, I called Panda Express again. After spending much time on the phone, instead of enjoying the party with my guests, they said their delivery service is through GrubHub and they have no way of tracking the delivery. The food never arrived.

By the time it was clear the delivery wasn’t arriving, it was close to 1 p.m., and there was no time left to find an alternative way to provide lunch for my guests.

What was supposed to be a special, joyous event turned into the most embarrassing day of my life. I couldn’t provide my guests lunch as promised. I called Panda Express and wrote a complaint through its website. The company refunded the $169, but not the $57 charge. The only compensation it offered was to repeat the same catering order free of charge. To this day they could not explain what happened to the delivery.

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I am considering contacting an attorney regarding this issue, but thought I would contact an advocacy group first. Thank you for taking the time to read my story, I appreciate your help.
Benjamin Alpert, Sunnyvale, Calif.

Answer

How thoughtful of you to buy lunch for your daughter’s birthday guests. Panda Express is one of my kids’ favorites, too. But when it not only failed to deliver your food but decided to keep your money, the experience left a bad taste in your mouth.

Clearly, the emails you sent to Panda Express’ site were reaching the wrong people. You sent your query through its site, to no avail.

Disputes like your are best handled in real time, and in person. If your food doesn’t show up as promised, you might consider driving to the Panda Express and retrieving it yourself. Ask to speak to a manager if necessary. A supervisor could authorize a refund, compensation or add to your order to make up for the delay. You could have also appealed your case to an executive with a brief, polite email. Panda Express lists all of its executives on its website.

If this had been my daughter’s birthday, I probably would have preferred a short drive to the restaurant to set things straight, rather than waiting — and having to feed my guests cake.

Something tells me your delivery service either got seriously lost or had a free lunch for himself and 30 of his closest friends, at your expense. I contacted Panda Express on your behalf. It refunded the remaining $57. Its offer of a free do-over still stands.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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