UPDATE: Peter Chang has issued a statement regarding the incident, which is included below.
Four diners, three of them wearing plaid, were ready to enjoy a meal Saturday night at Peter Chang in Arlington, the authentic Sichuan outpost opened by the Chinese embassy chef turned serial restaurateur. But the dinner took a left turn when the server brought out a family-style bowl of rice.
One of the diners, who had lived in Beijing for much of the 2000s, was surprised by the rice presentation and made a comment to the server, saying "'Oh, you guys don't serve them in individual rice bowls?'," related another diner in the party, who asked to go by his first name, Matt.
The server told the group that when rice is served to three or more diners at Peter Chang, it comes in a large bowl. The former Beijing resident thought that was odd, considering the family-sized portion ran counter to the personalized bowls he encountered in China. The server then asked if the foursome would like individual rice bowls instead. They declined.
"She said, 'No, no, I can bring it for you,'" Matt related. "He said, 'No, no, don't worry about it. It's fine. Just wanted to let you know that's the way it's done in China. It's not a big deal.' . . . It just got really awkward."
The diners thought that was the end of the episode until it came time to pay. The group asked to split the check four ways, to which the server apparently said, "That's totally how they do it in China."
"I obviously had no idea what that meant, because I'm just a white guy from Arlington," Matt said. "But my friend from China, he told us after she left, 'In China, one person pays for it. That's not at all the way things are done in China, so she's being sarcastic.' Then we saw the receipt."
At the bottom of check were two comments, each obviously typed into the system from the restaurant's point-of-sale, or POS, system. The first: "im a plad a------." The other: "i have a small penis."
The former comment, despite misspelling "plaid," was clearly a shot at the diner's attire. The second, a cheap shot, period. The diners were not amused and immediately summoned a manager. The manager, in turn, summoned the server and another server who had apparently typed the comments into the system. The manager apologized and explained the servers were just joking with one another via the POS system. They meant to delete the comments before presenting the check.
The servers didn't strike the offended diners as contrite. "I would say they seemed slightly embarrassed," Matt said. "It wasn't like, 'We're so sorry. This is unprofessional. We mean to treat our customers better.' It was more like, sorry-this-is-embarrassing-it-was-a-joke sorry."
If manager Qian Cheng wasn't deeply apologetic on Saturday, he was on Monday morning when reached for comment. He said that the servers had previously been warned about leaving offensive comments in the system.
"They always do that. I've told them so many times," Cheng said. "And they did it again."
He's weighing whether someone needs to be fired over the incident, but in the meantime, Cheng said he has cut back the servers' hours. They will not work prime weekend shifts in the near future.
"I know it's not comfortable," Cheng said about the incident. "If somebody had given me the check, I [wouldn't] be comfortable." He gave the diners a $20 gift card for their troubles.
Update: Peter Chang issued a statement on Tuesday, May 10, regarding the incident:
I sincerely apologize to the guests who were offended on 05/07/2016 when they dined at my Arlington restaurant. I am deeply disturbed by the incident. I am sorry, my respected guests. I also apologize to all my friends who have had trust in Peter Chang. We made a mistake and let you down.
We made a mistake and we must correct it. The following is what we are doing to correct and improve:
- My company has fired Qian Cheng, the manager on duty on 05/07, and the waiter and waitress on duty. Manager Lydia Zhang will also be fired after the investigation is completed.
- My company is contacting a professional management company and will have it as our consultant in improving the management of all the restaurants in my company. My goal is to enforce discipline, supervision of all employees and to better the training of services [sic] so as to build a managing team that is professional and effective, so that the quality of services will be guaranteed.
- My company will make greater effort in improving the food quality monitoring system so my insistence on offering fresh and healthy food with Chinese characteristics will not only be upheld but improved and perfected.
- We accept guests’ complaints and/or criticism wholeheartedly. Please call Gen Lee, who is one of the founders of my company, by dialing (434) 227-0006 if you are unsatisfied with any aspect of my restaurants. He will contact you quickly.
Dear guests and friends, I found dignity in being a chef due to your support and encouragement. I need more of your help in supervising my employees, so my restaurants will be nicer places for you to enjoy fine food in the future, and I will have a stage to continue to present my culinary skills.