Chelsea Welch, Fired Applebee's Waitress, Talks Unemployment; Applebee's PR Melts Down

Categories: Blowback

It's going to be tough to do a better job than R.L. Stollar, who compiled the entire PR fiasco with screengrabs here, but here's a quick rundown.

This was Applebee's initial statement. They probably should've just cut it off here:

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.

Instead they began responding to everything via Facebook. Reportedly this post appeared at 3 a.m., then disappeared, then reappeared through Facebook magic. It said, in part:

Here is what happened in St. Louis: - 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 team member is no longer employed by the franchisee.

That post racked up 20,000 comments, including some claiming that previous comments had been deleted.

"Do you think deleting people's comments is going to make this go away?" wrote one interlocutor. "Only making it worse."

Next, someone at Applebee's dove in and commenced reacting to individual comments, cutting and pasting the same statement over and over until one user gave the sage advice, "Applebee's, just shut up."

No such luck. Instead someone at the company posted this statement:

As a company that relies on literally hundreds of thousands of incredibly hard working Team Members, we can assure you that we and our franchisees value and support them and their efforts. However this unfortunate situation has nothing to do with work. The Team Member involved did not wait on the guest or party. Regrettably, and without the restaurant's knowledge, she took it upon herself to take a Guest's receipt, with the name clearly visible, and posted it online with her own commentary. That is a clear violation of our Guest's privacy and against the franchisee's company policy that the Team Member was provided when hired. We simply cannot accept behavior that compromises the safety and privacy our Guests have every right to expect and deserve. Please note that we are also not excusing the Guest's behavior in this matter and the unacceptable comment she wrote on the receipt, which is offensive to us and all our hard working team members. To be clear, the 18% gratuity added to large party tickets was paid by the Guest's party. This is a regrettable situation, and we wish it had never happened. we hope this provides you with some additional insight. Thanks again for the chance to explain.

Many online commenters are promising an Applebee's boycott over this incident. It should be interesting to see if this affects the Kansas City-based chain in a substantive way -- many claimed over the weekend to have seen a lot of empty Applebee's parking lots. Stay tuned.

Follow Jessica Lussenhop on Twitter at @Lussenpop. E-mail the author at Jessica.Lussenhop@RiverfrontTimes.com.



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