Sai Woo issues vague apology amid allegations it was withheld money

A popular restaurant in Chinatown issued a public but vague apology last week after allegations surfaced that it was withheld wages from an employee and overcharged a 50-person birthday booking.

Sai Woo took to Instagram Wednesday to address “recent comments and concerns.” Although he didn’t share the specifics of what happened in his statement, he did say he wanted to do better.

“There are always ways we need to and can improve,” the restaurant said. “We would like to actively express our apologies for any shortcomings… please do not hesitate to contact us to clear up any questions.”

The message comes after Vancouver TikToker Shirley Ye made a video last week about a bad experience her friends had booking Sai Woo’s basement for a 50-person joint birthday party.

The two birthday girls paid an $800 deposit to book and agreed to a $3,000 minimum spend, Ye said. They allege the restaurant tried to withhold their deposit afterwards on the argument the group wasn’t out by 10:30 pm — despite the restaurant allegedly failing to deliver appetizers for half the room by 9:45 pm.

In addition, the staff at Sai Woo apparently made each guest pay for their set menu meal at the beginning of the night, before any food came out. When the entrees did come, Ye said they were so salty they were inedible.

When the birthday girls brought up their concerns, the restaurant staff apparently said it was the group’s fault — for bringing too many guests and ordering too late.

“It’s as though my friends didn’t literally check with the kitchen to make sure these dishes were feasible,” Ye said, referring to how the birthday girls modified the menu to make it easier for the restaurant.

“They wanted to pick the items that would be the most bang for their buck since it’s a set price anyways, but the kitchen actually got back to them and said, ‘The one you guys chose, it’s hard to push out in large quantities. ‘ And my friends literally changed that one. They were adapting this menu to make sure it worked with the kitchen.”

What’s more, Ye said the entire group was overcharged — with payment terminals charging $65 per guest. But at the agreed-upon price of $45 before tax and tip, the total amount with a 5% food tax and 18% auto-gratuity should have only been $55.

“One of the birthday girl hosts had to literally take out a calculator and show the events manager why it didn’t make sense. And that’s when the events manager was like, ‘Oops I guess we overcharged everyone $10,’” Ye said.

Her friends were able to get everyone’s $10 and their deposit back eventually, but only after making a “big fuss.”

@shirleyye_ Replying to @tcytng save yourselves the headache for what SHOULD be fun/celebratory times lol #vancouver #storytime #pt2 #restauranthorrorstories #badbusiness #badbusinesspractices ♬ Relaxing Japanese-style piano song inviting nostalgia – Akiko Akiyama

Daily Hive reached out to Ye for an interview, but her manager said Ye would not be commenting further on the matter.

Employees and suppliers say Sai Woo didn’t pay them

The restaurant has apparently also had issues paying its staff and suppliers. An employee of Sai Woo who’s been working at the restaurant for a month reached out to Daily Hive last week to say she hasn’t been paid accurately for the hours she’s worked. The employee alleged she wasn’t paid tips at all, and only got $100 of base pay despite working four to six hours every Saturday and Sunday this month.

The employee said she couldn’t participate in an interview because the restaurant has now paid her — on the condition she doesn’t pursue legal action or speak further to the media.

A Vancouver-based restaurant supplier, who spoke to Daily Hive on condition of anonymity, also said Sai Woo didn’t pay what he owed for months back in 2017. She delivered ingredients to the restaurant but said it actually ghosted her.

The supplier said the shift happened when one of Sai Woo’s chefs left, and the restaurant wouldn’t answer her calls or emails about the couple thousand dollars it owed.

“We were trying to reach out to them on social media, like comments. They left us no choice. We finally had to threaten collections… it was such a long, painful process,” she said. “We haven’t been doing business with them since.”

The supplier said sometimes restaurants forget to pay and need to be reminded, but she rarely sees businesses will completely ignore their obligation to pay.

“I’m a business, I have staff to pay,” she said. “I’m not a bank, I can’t just let you take the ingredients and then take a long time to pay us.”

From 2017 until now, BC’s Employment Standards Branch has received one complaint about Sai Woo Chop Suey Ltd., which is listed as voluntarily resolved. The ESB would not give details about the complaint.

Sai Woo did not reply to Daily Hive’s requests for comment about the allegations.

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