Party's over, apparently...
January 22, 2007 3:23 PM   Subscribe

ContractFilter: My friend had a contract for a superbowl party at a bar in Chicago. Nowhere on the contract does it say that the bar can cancel this contract at will.

While there are terms indicating that if my friend doesn't cancel at least 2 weeks prior, he must pay a penalty, and there are terms indicating he must guarantee at least 20 attendees at $28 per person for this party, nowhere does it say the bar can cancel at will.

Of course, since it's in Chicago and the Bears have just made the superbowl today, they called him and said he can no longer have the party. It's worth mentioning the party was booked on December 13th

$28 per person was all inclusive for catered food and open bar for a few hours. Obviously this is because they could make more money if this party isn't held in the back room of the bar he had reserved.

The contract clearly states "Superbowl" on it so no argument can be made that they didn't realize the implications of the party.

In talking to the bar's manager, he admitted it was because the Bears were in the superbowl, and was completely rude about it. My friend even offered to pay more money, and asked "name a realistic price, I understand you could make more money by not having my party", and his return was "$100 a head".

What recourse does my friend have? There's no way on earth he'll be able to book a superbowl party anywhere in the city now that the Bears are definitely in, but he hasn't had to put a deposit down or anything like that, either. He was, however, obligated to pay for a minimum of 20 people regardless of how many showed up, and would have been obligated to pay a cancellation fee if he cancelled less than 2 weeks in advance.

At this point, part of it is principle. We realize the party's guaranteed to be off, but this bar owner (who owns several bars, not just one) deserves at the very least a bad name. He's broken a legally binding contract and we're not sure how to determine "losses" when the loss is being unable to have a party, rather than having paid for the party and not being refunded, etc.
posted by twiggy to Law & Government (36 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Contact a lawyer who can make it more expensive to not have the party.

posted by Ironmouth at 3:30 PM on January 22, 2007

One way to ballpark your damages would be to find out what it would cost to book the party now. Then subtract $560, and the difference is what your friend is getting screwed out of. As Ironmouth says, that's probably worth pursuing lawyer-style.

I can see why your friend might be reluctant to take this to court, but on the other hand imagine how incredibly rocking that party would have been.
posted by Nahum Tate at 3:38 PM on January 22, 2007

IANAL. But I just took an undergraduate Business Law course last semester.

The compensatory damages you claim is generally the difference between the cost of what you get in your original contract and your cost of getting that same thing from a different vendor. So in your case I believe that would be the cost of hosting your Superbowl party at another bar (I'm not sure how the fact that the Bears are now in the Superbowl would factor into this). Not having the party is not the loss here, at least in terms of contract law.

That being said, it is possible to get out of a contract by claiming commercial impracticality, but it doesn't seem like this would apply here. The cost of supplying your party with food and drink would not rise sufficiently, and I may be mistaken, but I don't think the loss of potential revenue from hosting your party would qualify either.

Do not say anything to the effect of "OK we're not going to have the party at your place then," to the bar owner. That's another way he could get out of the contract (mutual agreement).

From what you wrote, I think it's fairly clear that the bar has breached the contract. Just because they stupidly booked a party on Superbowl and didn't foresee the Bears in it is not your friend's fault. Get a lawyer.
posted by roomwithaview at 3:41 PM on January 22, 2007

Call a few places and see what they would charge you for an equivalent party at this point. Then you will have evidence of the cost of the loss of bargain here.
posted by grouse at 4:11 PM on January 22, 2007

You could also tell us Chicagoans the name of the place(s), and we could not go there.

Sucks. Good luck!
posted by asuprenant at 4:19 PM on January 22, 2007

I would think a letter writing, or stopping by of Chicagoans stating that they will no longer be coming to said bar, might be a good way to cheaply resolve this issue.
posted by stormygrey at 4:22 PM on January 22, 2007

Response by poster: Chicagoans: Name of the bar is O'Donovan's, and the owner has several bars including Kinkade's (not sure on the spelling of either of these) and I'm not sure of the other names, I'll have to ask my friend.

Thanks for the advice so far. I really didn't think this would be worth pursuing legally at all, but I'll call some other bars and see what they'd charge, thanks!
posted by twiggy at 4:28 PM on January 22, 2007

Response by poster: Ahh, here we go:

O'donovan's, Kincade's, Kendall's, Kelsey's, Casey Moran's, Twisted Lizard is a list of bars all at the top of O'donovan's website. Screw all of those bars.
posted by twiggy at 4:30 PM on January 22, 2007

Duly noted. Fie, those places...

Before you do anything, you might consider what realistic resolution would make you happy, and how much time/money/effort you want to spend on this.

If you don't want to hire a lawyer but are a betting man, bluff - tell the owner that you have contacted yours (mentioning the necessary legal language found here or through your research), tell him what you want, and see what his response is. The outcome of this approach, though, could be dicey.

You might also draft letters to the Chicago Reader and/or the Better Business Bureau and either use them as leverage with this guy or just send them along to their respective recipients.
posted by asuprenant at 4:45 PM on January 22, 2007

You might also draft letters to the Chicago Reader and/or the Better Business Bureau and either use them as leverage with this guy or just send them along to their respective recipients.

Another great place to post stuff like this is That particular bar owner might not care about the negative publicity, but someone else higher up the chain might. If you can scan and email a copy of the contract to that site, they'll post it pretty quickly.
posted by muddgirl at 4:49 PM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

A call (or threat of ) to your local TV Station's "Consumer Advocate" type reporter might also do the trick and be cheaper than contacting a lawyer. (I'm in SF but I think most areas have one of these guys right?)

This has all the earmarks of the kind of story they'd like to report.
posted by bitdamaged at 4:51 PM on January 22, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips on consumerist and Chicago Reader, which I had forgotten.

Actually already filled out the Contact Us forms (directed to consumer advocate type stories) for NBC5, ABC7, Fox Chicago, and WGN, but thanks also for those suggestions!

Keep 'em coming. Anything we can do within reason, we will.

My friend did mention to the manager something to the effect of "I'm not sure yet what we can ask for, but I'm certainly thinking about talking to a lawyer" - to which he responded with a laugh and said "go ahead and do it. I'll be waiting for the phone call. That's why I love my job - I can do whatever I want."
posted by twiggy at 4:57 PM on January 22, 2007

I would also mention it to the folks at Gaper's Block, particularly me3dia.
posted by jessamyn at 5:01 PM on January 22, 2007

"go ahead and do it. I'll be waiting for the phone call..."

He's bluffing.
posted by rhizome at 5:02 PM on January 22, 2007

Just to clarify a point, is there anything on the contract that indicates that the party is for this Superbowl?
posted by asuprenant at 5:11 PM on January 22, 2007

asuprenant from my read of the thread i think thats the problem -- they booked the contract back on 13th December before there was any indication the Bears would go all the way. Now that the Bears are in, the bar owner is being an asshat.

twiggy, this really sucks for your friend. were it me (i've dealt with a LOT of catering contracts) i'd definitely fire both barrels of consumer advocasy / better business bureau at them as well as lawyering up and being a general huge pain in the ass.

essentially if you make it a bigger, more expensive pain in the ass for this guy NOT to hold it than to hold it, he'll cave.

and yea I agree with rhizome. Call his bluff.
posted by lonefrontranger at 5:16 PM on January 22, 2007

Response by poster: lonefront and asuprenant: Lonefrontranger is correct. The date of Feb 4, 2007 is specified, and under the line titled "Description" it says "Superbowl Party". I put that in there to point out that they can't argue that an employee made a mistake and didn't realize they booked a party on a Superbowl Sunday - not that it would make the contract any less legal if they did make that mistake, but we might have felt sorry for them a little or believed them if they had some policy against booking superbowl parties specifically.

Since it says "Superbowl" on the contract, they definitely do not have such a policy. They only cancelled on my friend because the bears made it all the way. The manager even admitted that. He said flat out that if the Bears hadn't made the superbowl, the party wouldn't have been cancelled.
posted by twiggy at 5:19 PM on January 22, 2007

Is this the contract [PDF] your friend signed? Lawyers or soon-to-be lawyers -- your thoughts on twiggy's friend's situation?
posted by ericb at 5:32 PM on January 22, 2007

This is a pretty textbook small claims court case. For an investment in time and a small filing fee, you should be able to force the bar to compensate you for failing to fulfill the contract.

You can't force him to hold the party, though. Nor would you want to do so. "Pitcher of beer and a loogie, coming right up sir!"
posted by jellicle at 5:35 PM on January 22, 2007

Looks like O'Donovan's has been catering to the Bears crowd all season
"'Bear Down Chicago Bears!'

Join us this season for all the home football games. $9 per person includes round-trip transportation and refreshements on the bus. Buses leave on hour prior to kick-off! First come, first serve."
Out of principle, if nothing else, twiggy -- make sure your friend dogs the bar owner(s) [and corporate parent?] for their actions.
posted by ericb at 5:37 PM on January 22, 2007

Consider actually booking an alternate equivalent party somewhere else, and then taking them to small claims court for the difference between your actual receipt and what it would have been.

I don't think you can agree to their new price, and then sue after, although that initially seemed like an attractive idea to me. Basically, I think it will weaken your contractual position. If you include a clause that says "this should in no way be taken as a settlement", first you don't know if such a clause would actually be binding, but just as important, you will be tipping them off that you plan to get the money back later, which could be bad for your party. If you don't include a clause that says "this is not a settlement", a court will probably take it as a settlement, and you will have no basis for a claim.

Illinois small claims court goes up to $10,000, so you may not need a lawyer at all. Probably worth putting a little money into an initial consult and letter of intent to the offending business, but no need to carry a lawyer for very long (although you should be prepared for the lawyer to try and up-sell you on how important it is that they remain on the case..).
posted by Chuckles at 5:52 PM on January 22, 2007

Great advice so far as to how to pursue the consumer advocate and legal angles.

But have you considered the petty angles yet?

Like hanging banners from the eaves of the offending establishment, cheerily displaying blue and white horseshoes and advertising that the bar is "COLTS FAN FRIENDLY!!"

Or soaping the windows with helpful phrases like "GOOD LUCK PEYTON!! ALL THE WAY!!!"

Sorry, but in my world, any problem related to sports should be handled with as much drunken juvenile mischief as possible, so long as no one gets horribly disfigured in the process.*

* I am not endorsing these behaviors, unless I am, and at any time I reserve the right to change my mind about anything and everything, real or imagined, forever and ever. This fine print may or may not exist.
posted by krippledkonscious at 6:34 PM on January 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

Chuckles is probably right that accepting a modified contract will weaken your position. However, I have some notes that would suggest otherwise that come from a business law class taught by a guy who also serves as general counsel to Lloyd's (of London) America:

Let’s talk about pre-existing obligations better known as the rule against blackmail

Hypothetical: you see an advertisement for car tune-ups (it should have an asterisk for some exceptions – but because its just an ad its not an advertisement, but if it was too exclusive it would probably be fraud). So this is a Firestone garage who will tune your car based on the number of cylinders. You drive a Camero with a V8. You can’t force them to service your car because it was only an advertisement. Let’s say they accept by just doing … Okay part of the tune-up includes changing spark plugs. But the engine in a Camero Z28 is set way back so the car has better handling characteristics. But this means the sparkplugs are almost impossible to get to. / They had a pre-existing obligation to fix my car –they can’t then later charge $50 extra.

When they ask for more money or time you can say “yes” but really mean “no” – like if they guy says it will be $139, you only have to pay $89.95. / We have this rule to prevent people from blackmailing you. / The same would be true if you used bicycles – and you ordered the bicycles and needed them by a certain time, the mfg is not entitled to another 10 days, even if you say "that's fine"

... What happens if we have a new contract and replace the old one with the new one? Isn’t that what happened here? Typically that would be an exception – but that will only work (not be blackmail) if it is the promisee (camero owner) who offers this.

And I agree with the other posters -- you should get quotes for the same event at other venues then go through small claims court to obtain the difference.
posted by fourstar at 6:36 PM on January 22, 2007

Please update us when you have more information or you reach a conclusion. This is a phenomenally shitty thing to do, and I only hope there's serious whirlwind to reap because of it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:38 PM on January 22, 2007

IAAL, but this is not legal advice. I agree, this is the perfect case for small claims court. 20 people; he wants $100 per head instead of $20 (which at least he can't argue isn't a reasonable market value, since it came from him); sue for $1,440. (=20*(100-28).) Small claims court isn't that hard.
posted by raf at 7:21 PM on January 22, 2007

The beauty of small claims court is that asswipes like this guy often blow it off, just fail to show up. Ka-ching. Default judgment. If they show, it is likely by themselves sans lawyer as it will cost them $1,400 just to get a lawyer to show up. See if you can get the $100 per head in writing. Do they email?
posted by caddis at 8:15 PM on January 22, 2007

IAAAL and like raf, this is not legal advice and I'm not admitted in Illinois. I agree with raf's assessment. You might also be able to seek as damages the difference between the $28 a head at this bar and the cost of a comparable agreement with another comparable bar (rather than the $100 price quoted at the same bar).

Interestingly, simply raising the price isn't generally a valid contract modification, even if the other party agrees to pay the price, because there isn't any additional consideration. It may be that even if you were inclined to pay the $100 price, the contract would be invalid and there could be a potential recovery for the difference.
posted by saladpants at 11:45 PM on January 22, 2007

A call (or threat of ) to your local TV Station's "Consumer Advocate" type reporter might also do the trick and be cheaper than contacting a lawyer.

Our lovely tabloid has The Fixer. It's worth an email.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 8:21 AM on January 23, 2007

Response by poster: Sorry, I should have been more clear about one piece: My friend never agreed to pay $100 a head. He basically said "you've got to be kidding me, no way" in response. I left that detail out so it may have seemed implicit that he agreed to $100/head.
posted by twiggy at 8:24 AM on January 23, 2007

In terms of getting the boycott word out, Coudal's site is Chicago-based, well-read, and Bears-friendly. They might take up the cause to boycott the bars.

Honestly, though, I imagine a boycott won't do too much good at Superbowl-time, when roving packs of Bears fans will be filling up any beer-soaked nook and/or cranny they can find.
posted by Alt F4 at 9:51 AM on January 23, 2007

A friend of mine also suggested that you contact the Trib's Jon Yates, AKA "The Problem Guy."
posted by pfafflin at 10:28 AM on January 23, 2007

So I just noticed this posted on Gaper's. I personally don't enjoy any of the bars in that consortium and can totally see something squirrely like this coming out of one of them.

I would be interested to see what response you get back from the local TV stations. For the next two weeks they are going to be searching high and low for sidebar stories to the big game, and this seems about perfect to me.

Please do holler back and let us know how this all gets resolved.

posted by cusack at 10:28 AM on January 23, 2007

Now posted on Gapers Block. Sorry to hear they're being such asshats. I used to know a manager at one of their other properties, but he's moved on.

Beyond taking them to small claims court, you should try to get in touch with senior management with the parent company -- if ever there was a time to take it over someone's head, this would be it.
posted by me3dia at 10:33 AM on January 23, 2007

Disclaimer: Not a lawyer, law student. This is NOT legal advice. This is just my rambling personal opinion. :)

It's not much of a contract, but I think, filled out, it would have enough terms to be enforceable. As many others have mentioned, you probably don't want to hold it there now anyway, but you can ding this jackass for damages...

If you found another bar to host the party, for $100 a head, for 20 people, it'd cost you $2k, so you'd have a damage claim for at least $1440, possibly more if you factor your time in finding a new venue, etc. And you can probably find an attorney who is willing to write a nasty-gram for you for a pretty reasonable rate (a few hundred)--and you can claim legal expenses for enforcing the contract as well.

I know it seems like a lot of trouble, but your friend shouldn't let them get away with this... you gotta fight for your right to party!! :)
posted by dgulbran at 10:53 AM on January 23, 2007

I guess I'm pathetic too, lalex. What happened, twiggy?
posted by AgentRocket at 4:26 PM on February 6, 2007

Response by poster: Sadly, no real update. My friend decided it was too much work to bother with small claims court and hasn't done anything yet.

I'm still trying to encourage him to do so because I hate to see this bar owner jerk get away with this...
posted by twiggy at 6:37 PM on February 7, 2007

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