The Arlington outlet of the growing Peter Chang restaurant empire was supposed to be a family affair. The Chinese master chef would be the majority owner, and his daughter, Lydia Zhang, would oversee the operation as general manager despite a lack of management experience.


Peter Chang is cleaning house at his Arlington restaurant after a weekend incident in which four diners were given a check with insulting comments on it. (Jay Westcott/For The Washington Post)

The Changs' experiment in learn-as-you-go management is officially over. Two wait staffers, a manager and Zhang have been, or will be, fired following a weekend confrontation between four diners and their server, an incident that left Peter Chang and his business partner, Gen Lee, wondering who exactly was in charge of the Arlington restaurant.

[Servers trash customers in private note on check — then forget to delete it]

The four diners, three dressed in plaid, publicly complained on Monday that their check included two insulting comments at the bottom: "im a plad a------" and "i have a small penis." The diners apparently had some awkward, if not tense, moments with their server when one of the customers insisted that rice is served in individual bowls in China, not in the family-style bowl that Peter Chang uses for guests of three or more.

The manager on duty, Qian Cheng, told The Washington Post that he was debating whether to fire the two servers involved, but in the meantime, he had cut back their hours to non-weekend work. Predictably, the incident cranked up the Internet buzzsaw. Readers quickly picked sides: Many sang the praises of the servers for not kowtowing to the know-it-all diner. Others insisted that the servers should have been fired on the spot. Some saw both sides of the argument.

Chang and Lee clearly laid the blame on their staff, firing everyone involved in the "plad-gate" incident, including the chef's daughter. "Business is business," Lee responded via email when asked if Chang had really planned to fire his own daughter.

Over the phone, Lee said the Arlington restaurant was the only one that he didn't personally manage. He will now. The next general manager in Arlington will report to Lee. Chang's longtime business partner said he tried to warn the chef that hiring inexperienced managers would lead to trouble.

"He realizes it now," Lee says. "Unfortunately it's too late — but I hope not too late."

Peter Chang’s Statement                                   

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Peter Chang

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• Servers trash customers in private note on check — then forget to delete it

Jonathan Crayne is the senior head captain at Marcel's in Foggy Bottom. The veteran waiter recounts a time when a mother lied about her daughters' food allergies so they could become part of an elite clique at school. (Jayne W. Orenstein, Randolph Smith and Cameron Blake/The Washington Post)