Ethics Lessons of The Peter Chang “Plad Asshole” Affair…And No, One Of Them Isn’t “Always Serve Rice In Individual Bowls”

Peter Chang: Chef, ethical restaurant owner, tough father...

Peter Chang: Chef, ethical restaurant owner, tough father...

In my metaphorical back yard, a kerfuffle over whether Chinese restaurants should serve rice  in individual bowls or family style resulted in bad publicity for a burgeoning restaurant chain, a family rift, some lost jobs, and an internet controversy.

I almost missed the last part. Luckily, my issue scout Fred misses nothing.

It unfolded thusly:

A group of four diners at the Peter Chang restaurant in Arlington, Virginia included a man who had lived in Beijing, and he expressed  surprise when the obligatory steamed rice arrived at their table in one large bowl.  He asked, “‘Oh, you guys don’t serve them in individual rice bowls?'” The server told the group that when rice is served to three or more diners at Peter Chang, it comes in a large bowl.

After the former Beijing resident (later termed “the know-it-all” in the ensuing social media debates) noted that it was an odd choice, considering that personalized bowls  were the norm in China, the server then offered to bring individual rice bowls instead. The group declined.

Oh…for some reason, three of the four men were in plaid jackets. Believe it or not, this detail is relevant.

When the diners received their bill, they saw that it had insulting typed commentary on it as well:  “im a plad asshole” and “i have a small penis”:


When they complained to the manager, he apologized and brought out the two servers responsible for the typed insults on the point-of-sale slip. One of the diners told the Washington Post that the manager and the server appeared embarrassed but not contrite. “It was just a joke” and “You weren’t supposed to see it” described their attitude, he said.

In the end, the four insulted diners received discount coupons for their next outing to the establishment that insulted them. ( I have never understood this response.) The servers’ punishment consisted of having their hours reduced. The Post, however, after it got the story from one of the diners, contacted the restaurant chain’s co-owner, chef Peter Chang.

His reaction was swift and merciless, as described in a posting  on Yelp.

“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…

  • My company has fired Qing 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 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.”

Lydia Zhang is Chang’s daughter.

Ethics Observations:

  • One of the non-ethical reasons that “The Unethical Tree in the Forest” is a rationalization to be avoided is that sometimes that unethical act that you think doesn’t matter because nobody will ever know about is revealed to exactly the worst people to know about. The competent way to avoid hurting others with slurs and insults behind their backs is never to say or write anything about someone that you wouldn’t say or write directly to them.
  • As with the recent issue discussed here involving ugly e-mail jokes between friends, strict liability applies. Yes, we have a right to say or think things in private that would be justly held against us in public, but when those private indiscretions become public by hook or by crook, it doesn’t matter how they were originally intended. We are accountable, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves. Engage in ethics sky-diving if you choose, but when your parachute fails and you end up flat, it was your risk and your choice.
  • Did the servers have to be fired? Absolutely. Insulting a guest is an ethics taboo of long-standing, and no establishment can long survive if every patron feels like he or she is rolling the dice. The issue is trust. If the original result had been allowed to stand, there would be no reason for any diner to trust the staff or management of any restaurant with “Peter Chang” in its name.
  • “It was just a joke” is not even a minimal explanation when a diner has been called an asshole and had his penis size derided. (I hate that.) Nor is “You weren’t supposed to see it.” I would say these verdicts are obvious, but there are an astonishing number of people who reason otherwise, calculate right and wrong according to emotions, and go through life guided by rationalizations. The more of such people they are, the worse it is for the rest of us.
  • Apparently a large lump of internet opiners “sang the praises of the servers for not kowtowing to the know-it-all diner.” These are presumably the same ethically-crippled class of Americans who declared Steven Slater, the tantrum-throwing Jet Blue flight attendant, a hero. Such individuals challenge Bernie Sanders’ (batty) contention that everyone has a right to a job. You don’t have a right to a job if you are untrustworthy, and you are not trustworthy if you fail to comprehend basic principles of duty, role, respect and service.
  • Was it wrong of the whistle-blowing diner to contact the Washington Post and get five people fired as a result? No, it was absolutely correct, responsible, and a Golden Rule application. If he owned a restaurant, he would want to know that his staff was incompetent as soon as possible. If he were considering where to take friend to eat, he would want to know about the establishment that allows its staff to type insults on diners’ bills. He was helping to enforce societal standards of conduct. Good.

1. An apology motivated by the realization that one’s past conduct was unjust, unfair, and wrong, constituting an unequivocal admission of wrongdoing as well as regret, remorse and contrition, as part of a sincere effort to make amends and seek forgiveness.

  • Chang did not go overboard or over-react. He wanted to send the strongest message possible to staff, management and potential customers that the treatment the four diners received would not be tolerated or minimized, and this was the only way to do that.
  • Firing his own daughter was an especially competent and responsible act. Apparently he had hired her despite her lack of management training, against the advice of his partner. That’s nepotism, and Chang learned why it is a bad practice quickly. If he fired the others but not his baby girl, he would have damaged morale and trust within his company, announcing that double standards apply.
  • Chang told the Post, “Business is business.” That sounds like a rationalization (“It is what it is”) but in this context, it is an ethical  statement. He is saying that in business, conflicts of interest like friendships and family ties can’t prevail. Correct.


Pointer: Fred

Facts: Washington Post, WTVR

7 thoughts on “Ethics Lessons of The Peter Chang “Plad Asshole” Affair…And No, One Of Them Isn’t “Always Serve Rice In Individual Bowls”

  1. Back when I was in college, I worked at a fast food restaurant. The only person who had the ability to change the wording on a receipt was a manager. There was a good reason for that. Incidents like this.

    I don’t see any reason why any business would allow employees the ability to adjust the wording on any receipt.

  2. Chang told the Post, “Business is business.” That sounds like a rationalization (“It is what it is”) but in this context, it is an ethical statement.

    There is the rub: rationalizations thrive because they use the language of a sound argument to support a deceptively or recklessly illogical conclusion.

  3. Nothing to do with ethics but… my wife and I enjoy Peter Chang’s Richmond and Williamsburg restaurants. A new Peter Chang’s is planned to be opened on West Broad (Scott’s Addition) in Richmond later this month.

  4. Trust me, the Chinese in every restaurant you eat at , make up nicknames for their customers. They just are not stupid enough to print them on the ticket or say them in English.

  5. I once saw incredible insults of two distinguished European scientists (one German, the other Hungarian) in “mis-translations” of a scientific paper into Chinese.

    I strongly suspect that successful European and American scientists had no idea of the contempt with which they were viewed by equally talented, but less politically powerful individuals in 3rd world nations.

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