If you haven’t yet heard about the saga of the Applebees waitress and the tip-skipping pastor, you’re in for a real treat. In a nutshell, waitress Chelsea Welch was fired from Applebees for snapping a picture of a customer’s receipt with a note that read “I give God 10% why do you get 18?” The automatic 18% gratuity Applebees adds to parties of 6 more had been scratched out. On the additional gratuity line, there was a big fat zero. It was clear this was one customer who really didn’t want to leave a tip.
It was Welch’s co-worker that actually received the note, but Welch is the one who snapped the photo and posted it to Reddit. The internet then promptly exploded to a degree unseen since Steven Slater made his hasty exit down an airplane escape hatch.
When the paster, Alois Bell, found out her nasty tome had gone viral, she called Applebees and demanded everyone who works there be fired immediately. Perhaps Applebees thought that suggestion just slightly excessive, but they threw the pastor a bone by firing Welch, fanning the flames of the already blazing inferno of social media admonishment.
Most folks are on the side of Welch, and have taken to Applebees Facebook page and Twitter to express their well-placed outrage. In fact, Applebees has almost 20,000 comments (most calling for a boycott of the restaurant) under their excuse, which reads:
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 problem is, Applebees themselves posted a receipt with a customer’s signature visible on Facebook just a little while ago, so it seems it’s just fine to post a customer’s name when it’s in Applebee’s best interest. And, in the case of Chelsea Welch, the note was addressed directly to a server. Would that not make the note the server’s to do with as she pleases?
Furthermore, servers rely on tips to make a living, and when we dine in a restaurant, we’re forming an implied contract with the restaurant and the server. According to wisegeek.com:
Sometimes… a term or the entire contract itself is implied. For example, when a customer orders food at a restaurant, he or she enters into an implied, oral contract. The customer and the server do not explicitly state the offer and acceptance for the meal and its prices, taxes and other conditions, but that agreement is implied.
Businessdictionary.com explains it this way:
…a contract is implied when a party knowingly accepts a benefit from another party in circumstances where the benefit cannot be considered a gift. Therefore, the party accepting the benefit is under a legal obligation to give fair value for the benefit received.
The “other conditions” in the wisegeek.com definition could imply the socially set custom of tipping the server if there was no problem with the service, while the “fair value for the benefit received” in the businessdictionary.com should certainly include the tip.
Furthermore, servers are obligated to the IRS to pay a baseline amount on tips received, whether or not the server actually received them. So, it would be possible for a server to lose money at their profession if everyone acted like Alois Bell. Since Applebees pays servers as low as $2 per hour, well under minimum wage, it is incumbent upon the customer to pay fair value for the service received under the terms of the implied contract we have with the restaurant and the server when we sit down. As waitress Chelsea Welch points out in her article in the UK paper The Guardian, "tips are not optional. They are how waiters get paid in America."
It is baffling why Applebee’s would side with one angry, stingy pastor rather than listen to the voice of the community as a whole. In fact, not only are they not listening, they actually appear to have removed the ability for people to make comments directly to their Facebook page entirely when previously that ability was available. Since I first wrote this article, the thread with the 19,000 + negative comments has also disappeared. Luckily, folks are not that easy to censor. Every time Applebees tries to explain themselves, thousands more negative comments pour in. A new "Boycott Applebees" Facebook page has also been set up.
Unfortunately for them, the internet cannot and will not be silenced. I refer the corporate suits at Applebees to the case of Chik Fil A. According to the Examiner:
Market analysts foresee a decline in revenue when reports come out later this year, due to the summer mayhem caused by the controversy. With protests, loss of revenue and counter-protests, the company ultimately saw more of a benefit in attempting to restore a more positive image of Chick-Fil-A restaurants.
This statement comes after a similarly widespread brouhaha online after Chik Fil A founder S. Truett Cathy made some unsavory comments about gay marriage. You see, sometimes the internet is a democracy, and as a democrary, the people vote with their voices and their wallets.
If Applebees thinks they’re “too big to fail,” they’re most likely sorely mistaken. It would behoove them to re-hire Chelsea Welch and issue an apology for their socially unacceptable behavior, or they may find themselves facing a lot of lost revenue at the end of the year. After all, isn’t the bottom line what matters most? It surely isn’t their employees, it seems, so they should listen to the money instead, and the money (aka 20,000 + outraged customers) is telling them to right this wrong.