It was just a scribble on an Applebee's receipt, but it's spiraled into a public relations catastrophe via Facebook, with outraged comments and online petitions directed against the restaurant chain. Last week, Applebee's waitress Chelsea Welch took a photo of a receipt on which a diner had scratched out the automatic 18 percent gratuity (added to tables of eight or more) and wrote in its place: "I Give God 10 percent Why Do You Get 18." Welch uploaded the image to the online forum Reddit, where it swiftly went viral, and St. Louis pastor Alois Bell was ultimately outed as the diner.
The pastor called up the Applebee's and demanded that everyone involved -- from servers to managers -- be fired. The casual dining chain didn't go that far, but it did fire the snap-happy waitress -- awaking a mob on the Internet, seeking justice.
online petitions demanding that Applebee's restore Welch's job. The Facebook page "HIRE BACK Chelsea" has almost 14,000 "likes" so far, and accuses the pastor of being both cheap and vengeful. Welch allegedly earned $3.50 an hour, and less than $9 an hour with tips. Other Facebook pages are calling for a boycott of Applebee's.
Another Reddit user posted a link to Applebee's Facebook page, where the chain had itself posted a customer's receipt, with that person's name visible, seemingly undermining its argument that Welch violated policy in putting part of Bell's receipt online.
In response, Applebee's made a brief statement on its Facebook page, saying "We value our Guests' trust above all else." It garnered over 20,000 comments, and straying from social media norms, Applebee's responded to the thread -- in the middle of the night -- with a much lengthier statement explaining the chain of events.
It also spelled out the restaurant's social media policy, which requires employees to seek "permission before writing about or displaying internal APPLEBEE'S happenings that might be considered to be a breach of privacy and confidentiality." This statement received over 13,500 comments, with many of the users suggesting that the chain should fire its PR team.
According to the blog of journalist R.L. Stollar, Applebee's deleted the receipt that it had posted on its own Facebook as soon as the controversy whipped to a frenzy.
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