Friday, February 1, 2013

Have You Heard the One About the Preacher, the Waitress, and Applebee's?

This mini-crisis has three players. With whom do you sympathize? If you were in Applebee's communications department, how would you respond? Does the First Amendment apply to the individual involved? How would you advise the preacher?

Those are not rhetorical questions.

An Applebee's waitress posted on the internet a receipt with a note from the pastor of Truth in the World Deliverance Ministries Church, St. Louis, complaining about the automatic 18% gratuity. Applebee's policy is to add the gratuity when there are eight or more in the party. The church group had 10 including five children. (The church has no website, but for general information see a directory listing at http://www.stlouischurches.org/Truth-in-the-Word-Deliverance-Ministries-3955.html.) Chelsea Welch got the receipt from the server involved and posted it. Welch was fired on Wednesday after the pastor complained to her manager.

 The note on the receipt read, "I give God 10% why do you get 18" and she scratched out the automatic $6.29 tip and inserted a zero. Welch took a photo of the bill and uploaded it to Reddit. (http://i.imgur.com/WNhIP9C.jpg?1)  Welch defended her right to post the receipt. "I thought the note was insulting, but also comical," she told Consumerist.com. "And I thought other users would find it entertaining.” The pastor, Alois Bell, claimed that the posted receipt caused her reputation to be ruined.

Bell called the restaurant and demanded everyone be fired, not just the server in question. Later, when a social media furor arose, Bell said, “My heart is really broken. I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and ministry.”  (http://bullettmedia.com/article/worse-restaurant-tipper-in-world-pastor-apologizes-to-fired-applebees-waitress/)  Although she called her reaction a “lapse in judgment that has been blown out of proportion,”  (http://scallywagandvagabond.com/2013/01/pastor-alois-bell-apologizes-for-getting-applebees-waitress-fired/) she stopped short of asking that Welch get her job back.

"Welch was surprised that Applebee's fired her, 'especially because there was nothing specific in the employee handbook admonishing this behavior. I had no intention of starting a witch hunt or hurting anyone. I just wanted to share a picture I found interesting,' she said. 'I come home exhausted, sore, burnt, dirty and blistered on a good day. And after all that, I can be fired for ‘embarrassing’ someone who directly insults their server on religious grounds.'”

Applebee's posted an explanation on its website. "Our Guests’ personal information – including their meal check – is private, and neither Applebee’s nor its franchisees have a right to share this information publicly. We value our Guests’ trust above all else. Our franchisee has apologized to the Guest and has taken disciplinary action with the Team Member for violating their Guest’s right to privacy. This individual is no longer employed by the franchisee."  (http://applebees.mwnewsroom.com/Home/Applebee-s-Statement)

Now that you've read the viewpoints of the waitress, the pastor, and the corporation, what do you think? My opinion, just to get this started, is the crisis could be minimized if Applebee's immediately returned Welch to her position. Bell could save face by urging the restaurant to rehire the server and apologize to her face to face. And Welch -- she better be checking the help-wanted ads because I think it's unlikely Applebee's or Bell will back down.

Tell me what you think. To further prime the pump, here are comments from among the nearly 18,000 on Applebee's Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/applebees):

"Looks like to save face with a 'Person' of God that you fire someone. I would like to hear from this person of god on forgiveness and if she thinks the server needed to be fired."

"I will not be back to my local Applebee's in support of Ms. Welch's freedom of speech. You should be supporting your hard working staff. You could have apologized to the pastor and explained it is company policy to add the customary tip to large parties. Instead you have made a mockery of our constitution (i.e. freedom of speech). Shame on you Applebee's."

"You VALUE this guest??? But you have no value for your employee TEAM MEMBER??? This was not a disciplinary action you fired her!!!! FRIENDS AND FAMILY JOIN ME ....BOYCOTT APPLEBEES !!!"

"You will never see me or any of my friends in your places never again. Also, I will make it a purpose diverting anyone I know from having anything to do with you. Your TEAM MEMBER? You have no idea what a team is! Send your regards to the pastor."

"What a terrible decision you made. I've only stepped in an Applebees once, and the food was shocking. Now I know how shocking your work practices are too. Bad PR move if I ever saw one. That Pastor deserved shaming, and now you do."

"Look at all these comments Applebees, when on FB do you ever see everyone agree?? (and all agree the food stinks too?)"

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