Beware belly-aching

February 1, 2002

Several New York restaurants are suing Columbia University after a professor sent them letters falsely complaining of food poisoning to study how businesses respond to complaints.

Francis Flynn, an assistant business professor, sent 240 letters to city restaurants on university stationery saying he had suffered "extended nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps" after a meal with his wife on their wedding anniversary.

Staff at the restaurants threw themselves into a flurry of activity. Kitchen staff were drilled in the correct handling of food, while others investigated possible reservations, table numbers, orders and food suppliers. Professor Flynn had not stated when or what he had eaten.

Suspecting a hoax, the restaurants then complained to the university. Business school dean Meyer Feldberg sent a hand-delivered letter of apology to all 240 restaurant owners once the incident came to light.

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