It was supposed to be a night of celebration for Michael C as he and a group seven others gathered at The Old Pro restaurant in Palo Alto for a going away party. Their group, consisting of six Caucasians, a Chinese co-worker and Michael, who is Korean, was waiting to be seated when an unidentified server approached their group and asked one of the Caucasians in the party if the other two Asians were part of their group. When he replied yes, the server said “Oh, those CHING CHONGS are with you?”. This statement was heard by multiple parties in the group including Michael, who was highly offended.
Attempts at a remedy
As Michael fumed over the incident in disbelief during his meal, he consulted with his group who advised him to let it go. Michael let the server know upon her return that her remark was highly offensive and he was insulted by her racist remark. Remarkably, the server was unapologetic. Michael said “she essentially blew me off”.
Several hours later, the check arrived with the customary gratuity added, as is common for large groups in many restaurants. They had already decided not to tip their server based on the remark and failure to apologize. Michael escalated the matter to the manager who removed the gratuity off the bill without addressing the racist comment. Michael questioned the manager saying “Considering your server highly offended us with such a racist remark, that’s how you’re taking care of the situation”? According to Michael, the manager responded by saying “Oh, she didn’t mean it that way”.
The role of social media
Unable to get a satisfactory response from the manager of the restaurant, Michael did what millions of other already do. He went on Yelp.com to recount his story and give the restaurant a 1 star (lowest) rating. In his scathing retelling of the incident, Michael concluded by saying
I mean c’mon, an apology is a start; but to try to support your ignorant/racist server by saying she didn’t mean it in that way – that’s perpetuating racism and is actually even more offensive and disrespectful. I again couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. I wasn’t expecting the manager to take care of the bill, but a genuine apology and more compassion would have gone a long way. Honestly, if I were African-American or Hispanic, I’m sure the manager would have handled the situation a lot differently.
I highly recommend that you stay away from Old Pro if you don’t want to be served by ignorant, racist, unprofessional servers and a management team that doesn’t care whether or not their customers are served with respect. I know that I won’t waste my hard earned money at this establishment again.
His review ignited a firestorm on Yelp with others posting fake reviews to counter Michael’s review and to debate various points. Yelp is not designed to be a discussion forum and there is no mechanism to reply to review unless you are the business owner. The result is a plethora of fake reviews skewing the restaurant’s rating. Yelp said they have removed fake reviews that violate the terms of service but more are popping up in this volatile issue.
In their reply to Michael’s review, Lisa S of The Old Pro posted:
I am saddened and disappointed to hear that our staff treated a customer this way, we have terminated this employee for her actions. As the owner of Old Pro for 20 years and a Asian American, we have and continue to employ a myriad of folks from every race & ethnic background, it is one of the facets that helps to make the Old Pro the success it is.
If there are any other issues or concerns, please respond to me at [email protected] and I will personally respond to every email.
Again, I sincerely and deeply apologize for our employees actions. It is not what I or the Old Pro stand for.
This was later found to be untrue as the server was not, in fact, fired. Lisa was interview by NBC Bay Area where she stated the server had not been fired and the decision is pending further review.
In an updated posted today, Michael said he met with Steve and Lisa, the owners of The Old Pro writing:
I couldn’t be happier with their professionalism, apologetic attitude, and compassion for the events that occurred to me on Thursday. I am glad to say that they stepped up to resolve this issue personally. While I still don’t agree with how their management handled the situation, Steve and Lisa are holding a staff meeting this week to address this specific issue and how to handle them in the future. I applaud Steve and Lisa for taking this situation seriously and making sure that I felt their apology was genuine.
The power of Yelp
While Lisa may have initially underestimated the traction Michael’s review would have, she and The Old Pro finally stepped up to do the right thing once they realized the severity of the incident on their bottom line. Before the days of Yelp and social media, an incident like this would have likely been ignored by the management as there would be little impact to their business. Those days are over.