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Background: This story describes how a waitress told a patron a bottle of wine was "thirty seven fifty" and turned out to be $3,750. It's not mentioned but for the sake of the question assume the price is not listed on the menu and we must go by their word.

Question: Does this constitute a verbal agreement and is there specific verbiage the law requires when stating dollar amounts? Like "three thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars" vs "thirty seven fifty"?

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See What is a contract and what is required for them to be valid?

The parties, having decided they wish to be legally bound, have to agree on what they will be bound to.

Now, "thirty-seven fifty" may mean $37.50 or $3,750 but, just because it has two possible meanings doesn't mean that it is an ambiguous statement. What the waitress said was said in the context of a very, very upscale restaurant and an impartial observer would probably assume the waitress meant the latter value rather than the former.

Consumer protection law would probably not help the patron either. Most such laws make "misleading and deceptive" conduct unlawful but the test is if a reasonable person in the circumstances would be misled or deceived and the answer is: probably not.

Legally, the patron is probably bound to the contract for $3750. Whether enforcing the contract is good business is not a legal question.

To clarify: there is no doubt that a binding contract exists - the restaurant offered a bottle of wine as consideration and required the patron to pay: this offer was accepted. What can be disputed is the amount the patron is bound to pay - the fact that the restaurant believed one thing and the patron another is not sufficient to make the contract void due to lack of genuine consent.

  • Why does it matter what an impartial observer would assume? What matters is what these two particular people agreed to, not what someone else might have agreed to in a similar situation. No? – David Schwartz Dec 11 '16 at 6:53
  • Okay, so they actually don't have to agree on what they will be bound to. Also, they don't dispute what was agreed to, they dispute whether there was an agreement or not. Assuming they're both telling the truth, which seems the most likely possibility, there actually was no agreement since the offer was ambiguous and the acceptance was not of the offer actually made. (Though I disagree it was ambiguous. I can't imagine anyone describing $3,750 as anything but "three thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars", to be honest.) – David Schwartz Dec 11 '16 at 19:17
  • @DavidSchwartz there was clearly a contract - the wine was offered, accepted and consumed by someone who had an expectation they would pay for it. Ambiguity in the terms of a contract does not render it void. – Dale M Dec 11 '16 at 20:05
  • @DavidSchwartz Also, figures in the thousands are often in my experience spoken as two two digit numbers. For a different perspective: if we are discussing the sale of a house and I name a price of "three hundred and fifty", do you think I mean $350 or $350,000? – Dale M Dec 11 '16 at 20:08
  • @DaleM I would say back "three hundred and fifty thosuand?" because normally the "thousand" is not omitted and $350 seems unreasonably cheap for a house. (Unless I had personally established a routine of omitting the word "thousand" when discussing house prices with that person.) $37.50 does not sound unreasonably cheap for a bottle of wine -- there are in fact bottles that cheap. I might be an atypical person, I guess, but I eat at restaurants like that and I would never expect a server to state a price ambiguously like that. – David Schwartz Dec 12 '16 at 17:31
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It would depend on whether the buyer could reasonably think that the price was $37.50 and not $3,750. If he could, then they didn't have an agreement, they had a misunderstanding, and the seller cannot expect the buyer to pay the amount that the seller had in mind. In this instance, I have a hard time constructing a reasonable scenario where the customer really thought the price was $37.50, but with somewhat different circumstances (Ma and Pa Kettle go to the big city and eat in a restaurant for the first time), it could happen. The party making an offer has to be clear about the offer and cannot use an ambiguous abbreviation of a term to their advantage, knowing that the natural interpretation of the term would induce acceptance where the unnatural interpretation (the un-abbreviated "thirty seven (hundred) fifty dollars") would not.

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    I've eaten at similar restaurants and, honestly, I would not expect them to recommend a bottle of wine that costs over $3k without making it clear that the price is that high. If I heard "thirty seven fifty", I'd think they were recommending a cheap wine. Also, I don't know anyone would would say "$3,750" as anything but "Three thousand, seven hundred, and fifty dollars". I can't imagine anyone saying "thirty seven fifty" in that context. – David Schwartz Dec 11 '16 at 6:55

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