The trouble started after a server at Peter Chang in Arlington, Virginia, brought a family-style bowl of rice to a party of four diners Saturday night.
"Oh, you guys don't serve them in individual rice bowls?" one customer asked the server, according to one person in the party, who gave only his first name — Matt — to the Washington Post.
See, the inquisitive diner had lived in Beijing for much of the 2000s and perhaps expected more from the authentic Sichuan restaurant launched by a Chinese embassy chef.
Well, the server replied, when rice is served to three or more diners, it arrives in a large bowl — and then asked if the customers wanted individual bowls instead.
"She said, 'No, no, I can bring it for you,'" Matt told the Post. "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."
That seemed to be the end of that until the group asked the server to split the check four ways — to which the server apparently quipped, "That's totally how they do it in China."
Matt revealed to the Post his friend who'd lived in Beijing "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."
Ah, yes, the receipt.
At the bottom of the itemized food and drink charges were a pair of typed "Customer design" notes. The first read "im a [sic] plad a**hole" — the misspelled word presumably referring to the fact that three of the four diners wore plaid — and the second read "i have a small penis."
Upon getting a gander at their check, the group called for the manager, who in turn called for the server and second server who apparently typed in the offending notes, the Post said.
The manager apologized and said the servers were just joking to each other within the computerized system and meant to delete the comments, the paper continued.
To Matt, the caught-red-handed servers didn't seem all that sorry.
"I would say they seemed slightly embarrassed," he told the Post. "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."
Reached by the Post on Monday, manager Qian Cheng said the servers had been warned about typing such comments into the computerized check system.
"They always do that. I've told them so many times," Cheng told the Post. "And they did it again."
Cheng added to the paper that he's mulling over whether a server or two needs to look for another job but that both culprits at least have reduced hours and no prime weekend shifts.
"I know it's not comfortable," Cheng told the Post. "If somebody had given me the check, I [wouldn't] be comfortable."
To make up for their ordeal, Cheng gave the diners a $20 gift card.