Facing a public relations nightmare over the firing of a waitress who posted online a pastor's note complaining about an automatic gratuity, Applebee's released a lengthy statement on Facebook defending its actions on Friday.
"The guests who visit Applebee’s—people like you—expect and deserve to be treated with professionalism and care in everything we do," read the statement. "That is a universal standard in the hospitality business. That includes respecting and protecting the privacy of every guest, which is why our franchisees who own and operate Applebee’s have strict policies to protect personal information—even guest’s names."
The waitress, Chelsea Welch, posted the note from the pastor, Alois Bell, to Reddit.com earlier this week, igniting a firestorm of criticism aimed at the pastor.
Also in its statement, Applebee's relayed the chain of events from its corporate perspective:
- A guest questioned the tip automatically attached to her large party’s bill by writing: "I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?" on the check.
- A different server, who did not even wait on the group, photographed the receipt, posted the photo online and commented about the incident.
- The guest subsequently heard from friends who identified her from the posting, where her name is clearly visible, and the restaurant was notified. There was no further communication with the guest.
- The team member was asked about posting the receipt and admitted she was responsible.
- When she was hired, the team member was provided the franchisee’s employee hand book which includes their social media policy and states:
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. The policy goes on to specify: Employees who violate this policy will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.
"As a result of her admission to violating a clear company policy intended to safeguard guests," the statement continued, "the team member is no longer employed by the franchisee."
It concluded: "Our franchisees are committed to acting in the best interests of guests and team members. This is a regrettable situation and we wish it had never happened. However, the disregard for an important policy left the franchisee no choice but to take the action they did."
In an email to Yahoo News last Thursday, Welch, the waitress, wrote that Bell complained to her manager at the St. Louis-area Applebee's that the firestorm had "ruined" her reputation, and that she was terminated without a written warning.
As for Bell, she had told the Smoking Gun that the note she had written was "a lapse in my character and judgment,” adding she did not expect her easily recognizable signature would be, as her friend informed her, “'all over Yahoo. You went viral!'”
“My heart is really broken,” Bell had added. “I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and ministry.”
Many, though, feel Welch did not deserve to be fired.
A Facebook group demanding her reinstatement, HIRE BACK CHELSEA, has generated more than 5,000 likes since its launch on Thursday. A Change.org petition, Give Chelsea Welch her job back, was launched Friday.