The Applebee's debacle

2013

This past week a server was fired from a branch of Applebee's for violating the company's social media policy. Since then, a firestorm has erupted on the company's social media outlets, with tens of thousands of people saying they won't eat at Applebee's anymore unless the company rehires the server.

Here is what we know:

1. A Pastor named Alois Bell attended an Applebee's with a large group of people. It is Applebee's policy that for groups larger than eight, an automatic 18% gratuity is added to the bill. This is a policy created by Applebee's, not the servers.

2. Upon receiving her bill, the pastor scratched out the automatic 18% gratuity and wrote "I give God 10%, why do you get 18". Then the pastor wrote in the dollar amount that covered the food only, and paid for her food using her credit card

3. In a subsequent TV interview, Pastor Bell claims she did leave the 18% tip on the table in cash. (Unverified, but she claims she did.)

4. An Applebee's server named Chelsea Welch (who was not involved in serving the pastor's group) snapped a photograph of the receipt containing the pastor's comments and posted it on the social media site Reddit. The photograph showed the pastor's name.

5. The photograph went viral, with both the pastor and Applebee's receiving phone calls about it. The pastor telephoned Applebee's, and they subsequently fired the server who posted the photograph, citing the company's social media policy:

"Employees must honor the privacy rights of Applebee's and its employees by seeking permission before writing about or displaying internal Applebee's happenings that might be considered to be a breach of privacy and confidentiality. This shall include, but not be limited to, posting of photographs, video, or audio of Applebee's employees or its customers, suppliers, agents or competitors, without first obtaining written approval from the vice president of operations."

Applebee's policy also states that employees who violate this policy "will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment."

As a Christian, I am tremendously embarrassed at the attitude and action displayed by "Pastor" Bell. Making such a comment - even if she did leave the 18% tip in cash - is reprehensible. But in what might resemble a scene from the Battle of Thermopylae in the movie 300, I am going to side with Applebee's on this one. Here are my reasons:

1. I do not know Welch's perspective on Christianity, but I certainly understand someone pointing out blatant rudeness and disrespect by posting on a social media outlet a photograph showing evidence of the disrespect.

2. That said, Welch's mistake was posting the photograph without cropping out the pastor's signature, which was decipherable. The pastor was not only identified, she was contacted by people who had seen the photograph. Therefore, from a policy perspective, Welch clearly violated company policy.

3. If Applebee's were simply to discipline Welch and let her stay on, it would have set precedent which another employee could point to after violating that same company policy in a similar way. After that, how many customers would have their names or pictures plastered on various social media websites if a server didn't like something about them? From a company perspective, they could lose a lot of customers who would refuse to come into their restaurants out of fear of getting their names and/or faces posted on social media websites by servers who know they'd only get their hand slapped if they did it.

If service had been poor it might have been appropriate to deduct a percentage of the tip and speak to the management, but Bell's written comment does not do that. In the photograph of the bill she is clearly comparing the percentage she gives God to the percentage Applebee's sets for tables of eight or more.

As a fellow human being, I am embarrassed by Pastor Bell's action. As a Christian, I am doubly embarrassed. The New Testament is pretty clear that those claiming to be Christians are called to be servants. Serving a server seems like a pretty good way to do that. Insulting or belittling them does not.

I don't blame Welch for pointing out the rudeness shown her fellow server by someone who boldly proclaims to be a Pastor. Still, she could have saved herself a lot of grief and still been able to point out the rudeness if she had just cropped the photograph or blacked out the customer's name. But she didn't. And for that, she did violate company policy and she deserved to be fired.

And speaking as a Christian, I think Pastor Bell needs to rethink what it means to be a Christian, even if she did leave the 18% on the table as she claims.

  Categories:
more articles

About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.

Older Comments

From a strictly management perspective - yes this was a clear violation of the social media policy. From a marketing/business perspective - this was the entirely wrong decision. The firestorm that the act of disciplining one employee (albeit in the public domain) will cost Applebee's marketshare and will hurt their brand for months to come. Were they right to discipline - absolutely. Did they do it in a manner appropriate - not in my opinion. In a world where everything is public domain, this should have been handled with more tact and their legal department should have been consulted. This is going to be in every new employee relations and social media text book for years to come.

Mara Alexander

Mara --- I wholeheartedly agree. The policy states that violation can be punishable 'up to and including termination.' It doesn't say a violation MUST result in termination. It would have been much better to NOT terminate her ... and as you say, consult with their legal department and other branches of upper managment. Perhaps a suspension (for a period of time) would have communicated the point of the policy with enough weight so as to deter further violations of the policy by other employees. And you're spot-on that this debacle will provide policy discussions for many companies from this point forward!

Dan Bobinski