Applebee's fired one of its waitresses in St. Louis, MO, last week for posting a photo on Reddit of a receipt with a harsh message from a customer who stiffed her on a tip.
Pastor Alois Bell dined with friends at Applebee's on January 25 and asked to split the bill. Since the group had more than six people, an 18% gratuity was included on Bell's tab, per company policy. Rather than pay the tip, she crossed it out and wrote, “I give God 10%. Why do you Get 18?”
After seeing the note, waitress Chelsea Welch took a photo of it and uploaded the image to Reddit because she thought people would find it entertaining. Bell was not amused and called the restaurant demanding Welch's termination, which subsequently happened.
Applebee's communications manager Dan Smith said in a statement: “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.”
Following the news of Welch's firing, consumers, bloggers, and even some members of the media have criticized Applebee's action on social media. The Huffington Post's comedy section created a petition to convince the restaurant to hire Welch back. Change.org also created a petition to have Welch rehired and to have Bell fired from the Truth in the Word Deliverance ministry.
When I first heard about this incident, I immediately thought the decision to fire Welch was harsh since her post of the receipt was meant in jest. I thought Applebee's could have reprimanded her and had her publicly apologize.
After mulling it over and reading Smith's statement, however, I understand why the restaurant chain let her go — the customer is always right. After all, customers keep Applebee's in business.
Were Bell's actions awful? Yes. Was posting the receipt online funny? Yes again. But in today's “always on” social media world, people must realize that what you post online is available for everyone to see. Maybe Welch should have shared the photo of the receipt with close friends and family, or she could have posted it online after blacking out Bell's signature.
Despite the uproar against Applebee's, and even though I think Bell's actions were terrible, I think the company made the right decision in letting Welch go. It will ensure that other customers know the restaurant values them and will honor their rights to privacy in the future.
On a different note, Bell may want to hire a PR consultant of her own to repair the damage she caused her ministry with her snarky comment.