Applebee’s and Its PR Nightmare

When larger groups eat at restaurants, there’s often a mandatory tip included in the tab. That’s to protect the servers from getting stiffed.

At an Applebee’s in St. Louis last month, a customer responded to such a fee by writing the words “I give God ten percent, why do you get 18?” on her credit card receipt. Her server showed it to a co-worker. The co-worker (also a server at the location) snapped a pic of the customer’s comment and posted it online at Reddit.com.

Initial negative response was directed at the woman who wrote the note. Later, after Applebee’s fired the co-worker for posting the message online, the negative vibe on the web has been pointed directly at Applebee’s—in a big way.

A few thoughts on the matter:

  1. Diners across America will not eat at Applebee’s today because of this incident (and its resulting actions) at one location. The company needs to take quick action to mitigate the blowback for other franchisees. The Papa John’s Pizza/Lebron James episode of 2008 is instructive.
  2. It is not completely clear whether the Applebee’s server who posted the receipt online did violate company rules. But even if she did, Applebee’s should rehire her. This would cause the firestorm to quiet down. (FYI, here is her version of the story.)
  3. All Facebook admins should read this blog post for guidance about how NOT to deal with angry comments. And, if you delete comments on your Facebook page for whatever reason, don’t deny it.
  4. If, as alleged, Applebee’s posted to Facebook a handwritten receipt note praising their food and service just weeks earlier, they should not have deleted that post. There are good reasons to delete posts on an organization’s Facebook page. But be honest if you do it.
  5. PR reps/teams should monitor all media for stories/posts about your organization. This seemingly minor incident has the potential to do serious damage to a chain that has enjoyed over two decades of relative success. When such an event takes a few days to reach its boiling point, PR folk need to anticipate worse case scenarios and be ready to act.
  6. Communications teams for national and world organizations need to be able to reach franchisees and managers at any time, including weekends and overnight. Maintaining a current list of cell and home phone numbers to supplement workplace numbers is vital.
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2 thoughts on “Applebee’s and Its PR Nightmare

  1. Sounds like some good advice you got here.
    In todays time, nobody is safe from the media.
    Sometimes IMHO, you just need to keep your thoughts to yourself.
    The co-worker should have been reprimanded, not fired.

  2. Carole Christie says:

    Fascinating, David, thanks for posting!

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