This story originally ran on PR Daily in February 2013. Applebee’s is in the middle of a PR nightmare after a receipt from one of its St. Louis area locations went viral. Since Thursday, the restaurant chain has taken a beating on social media because of the incident. Here’s the scoop: Last Friday, the pastor of St. Louis-based church Truth in the World Deliverance Ministries took her congregation to an Applebee’s after an evening service. The receipt for the meal added an 18 percent gratuity, which is restaurant policy for parties of eight or more. However, Pastor Alois Bell crossed out the 18 percent and left the server a note that said: “I give God 10% why do you get 18.” An employee at the Applebee’s took a picture of the receipt and this week posted it to Reddit, where it went viral. The woman who shared the picture is not the same person who served Bell and her party, according to a statement issued Friday from Applebee’s CEO Mike Archer. Although the image shown above has been cropped, the picture originally posted to Reddit showed the pastor’s signature. Afterwards, Bell demanded the restaurant fire the server who waited on her, as well as the person who posted the picture and the manager on duty at the time of her visit, according to ABC News. On Wednesday, Applebee’s reportedly fired the employee who posted the picture of the receipt. Commenters online reacted swiftly, slamming Bell and Applebee’s. In the interview with The Smoking Gun, Bell apologized, calling the incident a “lapse in character.” She also said she left a $6 tip in cash. “My heart is really broken,” she told The Smoking Gun. “I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and ministry.” The incident also brought a wave of criticism upon Applebee’s. On Thursday, the company posted the following statement to its Facebook page:
“We wish this situation hadn’t happened. 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.”
The statement unleashed thousands of angry comments. Among them:
“That pastor shouldn’t be able to get away with her actions. I can’t believe you would allow a customer to bully you after she mistreated one of your hard working servers. Good thing we stopped eating there ages ago so no need to boycott.”
“You REALLY messed up Applebee’s I’d like you to know I’m never going to your restaraunt [sic] again and will share this story with everyone I know. You dun goofed.”
“I will not eat at Applebees ever again.”
Similarly angry comments piled up on Twitter, Reddit, and blog comment sections. According to reports, the server who was fired asked Reddit users to stop sharing the personal information of the pastor. She also told The Consumerist:
“I didn’t break any specific guidelines in the company handbook—I checked. Because this person got embarrassed that their selfishness was made public, Applebee’s has made it clear that they would rather lose a dedicated employee than lose an angry customer. That’s a policy I can’t understand.”
Not true, says the Applebee’s CEO. In his statement, Archer shared a portion of the Applebee’s social media policy, which forbids employees from sharing “internal Applebee’s happenings” without permission from an executive. He added:
“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.
“I recognize that you may still disagree with the decision, but I hope this may have provided some additional insight. Many commenters are demanding Applebee’s rehire the server.”
Expect even more from Archer and the Applebee’s PR team over the weekend.