The Best AppleBees-Related Screen-shot Photo Essay You’ll Read This Week


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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81 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Seriously, people. This is not rocket surgery:

    Do Not (mess) With The People Who Handle Your Food.Report

  2. Avatar greginak says:

    The b in Applebees isn’t capitalized. The Applebees PR and legal departments will be updating their Facebook status with the appropriate response to this infraction presently.Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I’m somewhat sympathetic to the waitress. Servers rely on tips and I can see why she would want to post something like this. This is not the first time I have heard of a member of the clergy (usually Protestant) living a snippy message. I’ve also heard of them leaving tracts instead of tips.

    That being said, I am still surprised that HR in many places has not figured out that it is very bad to act this way on the Internet. Applebee’s already had numerous instances to pick from of companies doing stupid things with their facebook page and tweets. Including for similar if not identical situations.

    Why do you think HR/PR?Marketing types have not mastered the Internet yet and these things?Report

    • Avatar M.A. in reply to NewDealer says:

      From experience, HR/PR/Marketing tend to live in their own little world. Their management remembers the “hits”, the campaigns that went well, while ignoring the “misses”, campaigns that were cut short for failure.

      It’s the ultimate “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” sort of environment.

      The problem is that social media is a different sort of beast, much more like doing power line work. You’re working with live wires, you need people to participate, but the more people that participate, the more people can take a story viral if you really, really, really fish up.

      Applebees would have done far, far better to yank the 18-year-old working their facebook page the moment this story started and get working on their mea-culpa plan, but I’m willing to bet some 40-year-old marketing manager who hasn’t actually met a customer in two decades instead handed him a set of talking points and the sort of PR boilerplate statement they would send to a print journalist, and said something along the lines of “keep repeating these until those undesirables go away.”Report

    • Avatar trumwill mobile in reply to NewDealer says:

      I’m far more sympathetic to the waitress than the pastor. But the firing was nonetheless justified.Report

      • Avatar M.A. in reply to trumwill mobile says:

        Under what grounds?

        Applebees policy for “not posting the bills”? OOPS.

        Applebee’s policy singles out taking pictures of guests, but says nothing about rude notes left on the receipt.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to M.A. says:

          You’re joking, right?

          You don’t see why a business might not want its employees publicly humiliating it’s customers online?Report

        • Avatar trumwill mobile in reply to M.A. says:

          On the grounds that naming and shaming customers is grounds for termination.Report

        • Avatar zic in reply to M.A. says:

          M.A., that receipt is a private transaction between the customer and business. It may well have had credit card number on it, not to mention the customer’s name.

          That’s definitely a firing offense.

          Rude note is not the point. Personally identifying information is; and in many places, might be a violation of state law.Report

          • Avatar Plinko in reply to zic says:

            Restaurant receipts have been printing without credit card numbers on them for as long as I can remember – they print all ‘X’s except the last four digits for you to check what card was run but not allowing anyone to see the full number.
            In this specific case, there was no way to know who the customer was without knowing the story – being a small place it seems it got back to the customer and she made the fuss.

            Applebee’s is free to make whatever they wish a firing offense, that’s why God invented at-will employment, but it doesn’t mean anyone needs to come up with extra reasoning. A company also might have more forethought into firing someone publicly and what sort of backlash might ensue. Well-run companies learn how to manage these sort of things before they become an Internet phenomenon, crappily run ones fire people and then leave their $12/hour social media junior associate man the battlements when the massed hoards arrive.Report

          • Avatar tood, zic, zap, turnip al in reply to zic says:

            You guys are morons from top to bottom. You are the epitome of whats wrong with the American society. The moronic pastor leaves a degrading note and tip to a hard working employee in the service industry, and she gets her little feelings hurt when the “joke” backfires in her face, and you guys support this behavior????? idiots from top to bottom. Personal information my ass. What is going to be gained from seeing a name and the last 4 digits of a credit card number???? The 16 or 17 digit credit card number would have a trillion combinations for someone to figure out. so no “personal” information was given out. the reason the credit card numbers are blocked out in the first place is for confidentiality when you are leaving the reciept on the table when finished. In doing so, anyone could grab the ticket at anytime. What the waitress did was a little over the top, but not an offense the she should have not been fired for. Reprimanded yes, fired no. If corporate America would stick up for its employees, then these personal attacks from the “pastor” would occur less frequent. We don’t allow harassment in the work place from employee to employee, why do we allow it from patron to employee. Oh, forgot…..the almighty dollar rules over whats morally right!!!!!!!! Morons!!!!!!Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to M.A. says:

          Also as much as I don’t like it, America is still at-will. Employers can fire employees for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reasons at all. With some exceptions like violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and others of course. But this could come in the purview of At-Will.Report

        • Avatar Michelle in reply to M.A. says:

          Under what grounds?

          Most states have at will employment, so you can fire someone for no reason or any reason at all. In this case, publicly humiliating the customer, who admittedly was a sanctimonious, condescending douchebag, is certainly grounds. Mock them to your fellow servers, spit in their food if they return, but don’t post their nastiness on the web. I don’t see where the server would have grounds for a lawsuit here.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to trumwill mobile says:

        My post wasn’t meant to be about whether the initial termination was justified or not.

        I was just noting that I could have seen the PR fallout a mile away. Not from the firing but from how they responded to customer’s supporting the waitress.Report

      • Avatar Barry in reply to trumwill mobile says:

        “I’m far more sympathetic to the waitress than the pastor. But the firing was nonetheless justified.”

        And f-ing with Applebees and this not-really-Christian preacher is justified, as well.Report

  4. Avatar zic says:

    During many years of business writing, I was stunned at the inept PR hacks most companies have. This person, literally the voice of the company in a crisis, is hired not for competent emergency management skills, but for his or her ability to function as a cheerleader.

    In one ongoing story, I covered attempts of a union to organize part of a business; and the shop in question had scheduled a vote on it. A vote to determine if they would unionize. And the PR person for corporate told me, honest Abe, that there would be a union. Before the vote, as part of a written statement. I called, and asked if they were sure they wanted to concede to the union before their workers had actually voted on it? Oh, gee, we didn’t realize that’s what we said.

    Lucky for them, the union organizer wasn’t any better; and told me this long detailed process that would take place after the vote to verify that this was what the shop wanted. Only, several calls and internet research to verify that process showed that no such thing existed; the organizer had made it all up to make the workers in the shop feel there was a back door out if they’d changed their minds after the vote. And when I went back to the organizer to push on this, telling him I couldn’t find anything about this in law or union rules or from his own union, could he please explain it, he basically told me I was ignorant and didn’t know where to look, but refused to show me where to look.

    I wrote my story; laying the whole thing out. The shop voted against unionizing, recognizing that the union organizer willing to lie to them was worse then the company ready to concede to a union before they’d voted.

    Good PR requires strong communication skills. Train wrecks abound.Report

    • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to zic says:

      I’m shocked that you don’t know the first thing about modern journalism. You’re supposed to report what both sides say, and if they disagree, you say there’s a controversy. This “research” stuff is just wasting your employer’s money.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to MikeSchilling says:

        1) I freelanced. It was my money.
        2) I quit freelancing because of the world had changed. Used to be ‘verify, verify, verify.’ Then it became, ‘he says, she says.’
        3) This was a funny comment.
        4) It breaks my heart that we have humor like this, and reason for humor like this.Report

    • Avatar Plinko in reply to zic says:

      I’ve noticed that people who do not work in Corporate America™ ascribe a sort of evil genius to everything they do, as if they have deep wells of lawyers and card-carrying Super Geniuses™ to vet every calculated action.
      Once you’ve worked in Corporate America™, you find that it’s often a miracle someone manages to get the doors open each day much less any intelligent decisions get made. Most decisions are either the gut instincts of an MBA acting way outside their field or endlessly tied up in meetings until it’s consensus’d to death.
      The Applebee’s thing sounds exactly like a lot of companies that I’ve seen – a PR and social media arm created because ‘ We have have a FaceBooks Strategy™’ with no strategy beyond paying someone six figures to show up at meetings to give buzzword-laden speeches and pay a few recent college graduates with marketing degrees low salaries to act as social media experts.

      My advice to my fellow corporate lackey readers in this case would be that, once the Internet hordes have massed at your door, you need only three words to ride out the seige: Non-Disclosure Settlement.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Plinko says:

        So it is the Peter Principle in full-effect and everyone being stupid, then?

        • Avatar Plinko in reply to NewDealer says:

          That’s not what the Peter Principle says. It says that if people who are good at their jobs generally get promoted to different jobs – the logical equilibrium state will be one where most people are not all that good at their jobs.

          They’re not stupid, they were good at something other than what they’ve been asked to do.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Plinko says:

        I’ve known a lot of people that work in PR; both as consultants and corporate employees. Not a one of them worked for a corporation as large as, or with a budget bigger than, Applebees.

        Not one of them would have clueless enough to do any of the things Applebees did a week a go.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          There are more places in need of good public relations than there are people who are good at public relations, who pursue public relations for a career.

          Also, it’s very hard to judge if someone is good at public relations unless you’re already good at public relations, so unless you get lucky… if you already have bad public relations, you’re likely to not get better.

          You can sub in “information technology” for “public relations” here, too…Report

      • Avatar Michelle in reply to Plinko says:

        Once you’ve worked in Corporate America™, you find that it’s often a miracle someone manages to get the doors open each day much less any intelligent decisions get made.

        So true. Both the husband and I have worked in corporate environments and have concluded that there’s no limits to corporate stupidity. The larger a corporation gets, the more the opportunities to double down on the stupid.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Plinko says:

        Kinda. Sorta.
        This isn’t half as bad as putting an Enemies List on your website.Report

  5. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Though the Pastor allegedly called in and asked for the entire staff to be fired according to Gakwer.

    She is really the one who behaved poorly and started the whole unfortunate event.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to NewDealer says:

      She says, and we have no reason not to believe her, that she tipped in cash. The note was stupid, her reaction was stupid, but putting her name on the internet was also stupid. This whole thing reminds me why the internet sucks: a bunch of peopl, who probably reacted before they knew what happened, went after Applebees. Applebees’ response seems reasonable to me, but this is the internet, and anything you give the internet outrage machine, it will use against you. So Applebees should have just kept it’s figurative mouth shut, and didn’t, and then kept not keeping it shut over and over and over again in ways that violate the internet protocol that the internet outrage machine holds so dear.Report

      • Avatar Durr Derp in reply to Chris says:

        Have you seen the pic of the receipt? I have. There’s no cc info and the signature is illegible, it looks more like it says “Web Brull” or maybe “Will Boil” than “Elois Bell.”

        The only reason anyone figure out who this disgrace to the name pastor was is that one of her 15 member cult saw the web stories, alerted her, and she started trying to play her side to the local news.

        Anyone trying to peg this as a privacy issue is full of shit.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to Chris says:

        We have no reason to believe her either. Methinks the waitress wouldn’t have been pissed enough to show it to her coworkers if the pastor had left a cash tip instead.Report

  6. Avatar dhex says:

    i’ll stand up for my poor brethren working in the i would assume hilarious field of applebee’s pr.

    imagine you work for applebee’s.

    maybe you killed a kid when you were 17 (accidentally), or had a few years of an exciting but ultimately bad-for-your-resume drug problem, or maybe you double majored in women’s studies and communications in undergrad.

    regardless, you had to dig hard and long to get yourself to just breaking even.

    so your gig is making that which should not be consistently fun enough to get noticed by the general public. your life is a lot cutesy stuff and metrics to back up x% of increased appletizer app store downloads. it’s probably more cutthroat than it should be, but it’s part of a pretty big conglomerate of food-like providers, so you pound a few tequizas on thursday and friday night and hope for the best. and you stick the yung’uns on the internet stuff because they “get it”, and are more in touch with cutesy weird stuff.

    and then something bad happens. not really bad – no one is going to die from this, and no one is really going to see a ton of losses from this – but bad enough compared to cutesy stuff. and thus panic ensues. instead of waiting on whomever they contract out to for crisis communications, some nutbar or perhaps even several nutbars working in tandem do hella stupid stuff for six or eight hours, forgetting that “the internet is forever” and that once again ain’t nobody gonna die because a waitress was stupid and because a pastor was a cheap jerk.

    they’ve got a few thousand stores – what’s this really going to matter? but you’ve got a few upper management suits having all sorts of heart attacks over this kind of thing and visions of going back to prison/rehab/grad school dance in your eyes. so you follow suit and attempt to make them happy instead of earning your pay the hard, hard way. meanwhile management is birthing kittens and demanding outlandish crap like “please make the internet go away”.

    you are boned.

    and like a kid going off to war with glory in his eyes only to get stuck in a loop of the first four minutes of saving private ryan, you hadn’t signed up for this. and instead of avoiding the panicked rush and exuding a calm coolness that will allow you to float through consulting gigs in the years ahead, you ran headlong into it with the pack. did you get everyone to just shut up and take it, knowing the storm would be fierce but brief? did you get them to avoid stupid ideas and then compound those stupid ideas with even stupider ideas? you did not.

    you work for applebee’s. you never meant to kill that kid, smoke that rock, study that greer. but you did. and so you made a few more mistakes, and now the internet is laughing at you.

    those that survive will see this brief, stressful moment in time compressed into a pr 101 case study, scoffed at by a thousand and one backseat drivers.

    and life will go on, even for the dearly departed.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to dhex says:

      [bows humbly to the master]Report

    • Avatar Thomas Andrews in reply to dhex says:

      That was extraordinarily well-said. There are more than two sides to every story.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to dhex says:

      It’s not even fishin food, dammit!Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to dhex says:

      You are imagining someone very different than me behind these posts.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to dhex says:

      Really where did you get that image? I am imaging a true believer type behind all these decisions. Someone like Tracey Flick going increasingly mental because people are just not responding like she wants them to, damn it.Report

      • Avatar Plinko in reply to NewDealer says:

        Now that Tracy Flick comment is on to something, maybe not in this particular case but there is absolutely a very problematic mindset amongst many in the MBA management crowd that struggles to process that people often do not respond they way you think they ought to.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Plinko says:

          The technocrat’s dilemma: “If it wasn’t for these pesky people, everything would be perfect.”Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Plinko says:

          I have a theory that there is an entire class of MBA school devoted to “Rhetorical Leadership” wherein they are taught precisely how to say, over and over again, “Just get it done” or “make it happen” regardless of the logistical impossibility being laid out by the person trying to explain why it cannot, in fact, just be made done.

          Fun fact: There was a time I wrote a work-based comic strip that I passed around to my coworkers. It was mostly to vent certain frustrations. It became a bigger deal than I expected and before long I had a VP on the mailing list.

          (I will tell you, the strips I had to write after massive layoffs was *very* stressful.)Report

          • Avatar M.A. in reply to Will Truman says:

            They talk that way because it gives them an out.

            If it doesn’t happen, they blame the staff for failing.

            If it does happen, well, obviously their managerial leadership was the deciding factor to make it happen.

            In reality, they should be punched in the jaw and fired.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

            I imagine Rhetorical Leadership is just imitating Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard and saying “Make it so” with gravitasReport

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Will Truman says:

            Because it’s not entirely uncommon for someone who has been groomed for leadership (their perception) for their lifetime to believe that they are the next Steve Jobs.

            And Steve Jobs built a Cult of Personality to rival no other… based upon the idea that he could force engineering to do things that weren’t cost effective (or maybe possible with current technology) and he hit it big twice, with the iPhone and the iPod.

            Everybody forgets the Newton. Everybody forgets that Mac was losing market share to Microsoft like a wounded duck when Steve was forced out. Everybody forgets the NeXT. Everybody forgets that in the main, the big difference between Steve Jobs (the Legend) and Steve Jobs (the Actual Entrepreneur) is that the story ended on the up cycle instead of the down. That’s an accident of history, not a destiny.

            The Iron Law of Confirmation Bias: we accept the stories that encourage the Universe to accede to our self-image.

            Note: they actually have several classes that talk about this (Organizational Leadership, Toxic Leadership, just to name a couple) at Drucker.

            Toxic Leadership is a fun bunch of literature. The problem is, nobody sees themselves as a toxic leader.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to NewDealer says:

        i think “true believer” is probably pushing it. panicked overnight trainwreck morphing into a series of really sub-par CYA attempts is entirely believable. and instead of retrenching and waiting for the furor to die down – again, no one died – they played into the internet’s* hands.

        now, contra that linked post above, applebee’s will not lose “a lot of customers” over this. i doubt most of the people commenting even eat there regularly, for it is truly a forsaken land of terrible flavors. they’re a restaurant, and (incorrectly and belligerently) posting updates at 3 am in a non-crisis situation is incredibly out of line with a reasonable response. however, it is the response of a bunch of panicked people who forget that a) the internet is forever and b) they’re a restaurant and no one died.

        i do wonder if a) they got a release (out of courtesy) for the thank you note they posted and why they didn’t obscure their last name. the comparison to the firing is a bit inane, as it’s not like posting a receipt, but still poor practice.

        * a small subset thereof, and an even smaller percentage of their customer baseReport

      • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        If I didn’t know better, I’d smell T.R.O.L.L.

        … I know better.Report

  7. Avatar zic says:

    I’ve never eaten at Applebee’s, something I don’t see need to remedy.

    But I have a question for those with some legal expertise. I presume like most establishments of its ilk, it has a disclaimer on the menu, along the lines of, “An 18% gratuity will be added to bills for parties of eight or more.”

    Would that mean that discounting the gratuity from the bill is theft?Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to zic says:

      I can’t imagine it would be. At most I would think it would be a completely unenforceable breach of contract.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Yup. Those notices are basically attempting to shame you into not putting up a fuss about the gratuity because well, you’ll look like an ass.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Yeah i’m managers are told to waive the 18% if someone even slightly makes a fuss. Its common for restaurants to give free food to customers who aren’t happy, i can’t see why they would fight over tipping the help.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

          This is neither here nor there, but one time some coworkers and I went out to lunch. After it was over, we asked the waiter to split the check three ways. The guy said they don’t do that for parties of six or more. We pointed to the menu which said “parties of more than six.” He said the menu was wrong. We argued about it. There came a point where I wanted to ask “Dude, do you seriously think you’re helping your tip here? Change the menu or don’t, but it says what it says.”

          He got the manager involved, and we got free cake.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        According to the stories I’ve seen linked here and there, the restaurant in fact did attach the 18% gratuity by policy.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to zic says:

      It’s complicated. A tip is not presumed to be something people should need to, but you’re implying when you put that on the menu, that it’s part of the meal. so yeah, it would be theft.

      though, in practice, any bitching about the food would get it waived…Report

  8. Avatar Plinko says:

    Another joy of listening to talk radio on the way home from work, I got to hear a few minutes on how we should be rising up to defend the Dollar General clerk that was arrested and fired for beating the 8-year old child of a customer because he threw a cookie at her.

  9. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    More triumphs in post-facto risk management, from a blog found in the drill-down: this is why we can’t have nice things anymore.Report