Applebee’s: Uneven Application of Employee Corporate Social Media Policy

I give God 10% - why should you get 18%

In case you’ve missed Applebee’s latest PR fiasco, here it is in a nutshell: A pastor (Pastor Alois Bell) visited a St. Louis Applebee’s location with 19 of her closest friends and when the restaurant’s computers charged an automatic 18% gratuity for large parties (mentioned on the menus the party ordered from before their meal), the pastor became outraged and left a nastygram on the receipt for the server. The server showed the nastygram to a coworker who promptly uploaded a picture of the receipt to Reddit where it went viral. From there, the pastor saw the online viral fury against her, called the restaurant, and demanded that everyone at the restaurant that saw or handled the receipt (including managers) be fired. From there the server who uploaded the photo was terminated based on corporate policy concerning privacy and social media. You can go back and read all four stories here:  (#1) (#2) (#3) (#4)

After the termination story went national, Applebee’s had a full blown PR scandal on their hands and went into damage control mode (once again). Not having learned much from the way they handled the Obamacare fiasco (where a franchise threatened to fire employees and reduce hours to avoid the law), they forged ahead and stood behind their customer 100% in saying her privacy trumped the employee’s frustration, and cited a clause in their policies and procedures that allowed them to terminate her (even though the phrasing actually said “up to and including termination,” meaning that they could have merely disciplined her and avoided the entire PR fiasco to begin with).
Alois Bell
It’s that clause and the uneven enforcement thereof that now has Applebee’s under a national spotlight. Instead of owning up to their mistake in terminating the server for venting her frustrations over a childish and petty customer, they’ve opened themselves up to potential legal ramifications as they do not evenly apply this social media policy across the board. Several people throughout the day yesterday (post-corporate PR statement) took to Twitter and Facebook to inquire why other receipts and hand-written customer notes were allowed online, but not this one. One Facebooker even found a Facebook posting from the same Applebee’s restaurant in St. Louis featuring a written and signed customer note that they featured and tagged extensively. Several other examples were posted to Applebee’s social media accounts, including this (also from the same location the server was fired from):

(click picture for larger)
This is aside from the fact that Applebee’s rarely if ever terminates employees based on nasty notes left on receipts that land on Reddit. Here’s another example – did the server get fired? I doubt it since we all probably would have immediately heard about it. When pressed about the inconsistency in their social media policies, this is what Applebee’s has said thus far:

It seems that when placed in a bind on how to answer, their customer service representatives have been instructed to tell angry twitizens that franchisees can basically do whatever they want. In fact, here was their response to another question concerning Obamacare compliance:

It seems that Applebee’s still doesn’t have their story straight. They claim they were merely abiding by their policies and procedures – yet this specific location had never abided by those procedures in any of the instances where they posted signed customer receipts to their Facebook page. If Applebee’s Corporate really believes it’s up to the franchisee to make the ultimate ruling, they may have some problems on their hands if Welch decides to sue for uneven application of corporate social media policy – especially in light of all the evidence just from the St. Louis location showcasing other customer receipts online (on their location’s Facebook page). Time will tell if they revise their statement or bite the bullet and attempt to ride out the online fury and boycotts. 

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.


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