Throwing the Staff Under the Bus – Par for the Course at Applebee’s

Over the last day or two, I’ve been following this story on Yahoo:

If you don’t want to read the whole story, here’s the basic gist: A waitress (Chelsea Welch) from a St. Louis-area Applebee’s posted a picture on Reddit of a receipt from another server’s table where the customer (Alois Bell) scratched out the automatic 18% gratuity added by the computer (there were more than 8 people in the party, which triggers the autotip function on the computer) and wrote “I give God 10%, why do you get 18?” She then wrote “pastor” above her name, and in the place for “additional tip,” she wrote “0.” After the picture of the receipt went viral, the pastor called the restaurant and complained, and Applebee’s fired the waitress who posted the picture.

There is so much wrong with this story, I don’t even know where to begin. First, as a Christian, I am embarrassed by Pastor Bell’s actions. People will use this event to justify saying untrue things like “Religion is the problem, not the solution,” or “Just another hypocritical Christian – they’re all alike.” Indeed, if you look at the comment section under the story on Yahoo and other news sites and blogs that have posted about this story, they are already filled with statements like those above. As Christians, we are called to live Christ-like lives. We all fall short, but we’re supposed to try. We’re supposed to be loving and generous, not snarky and stingy. Additionally, I don’t think this pastor had a very clear concept of how percentages work. God is supposed to get 10% of EVERYTHING YOU EARN. The waitstaff was supposed to get 18% of ONE MEAL. That’s quite a big difference. Just because 18 is the higher number, doesn’t mean the amount received by the waitress is bigger than the amount received by God.

After the photo went viral, a friend of the pastor’s brought it to her attention that her special note was making its way around the internet. The pastor was (rightfully) embarrassed, but rather than owning up to her childish act, she demanded that Ms. Welch be fired. Her remorse was not over her treatment of the wait staff; it was over getting called out for bad behavior. I have seen it reported on a number of blogs that the pastor actually demanded that the whole staff be fired, including management, but I don’t know if that is true or not. Regardless, her initial action and her reaction to the fallout are both appalling.

Perhaps the waitress was wrong to post the receipt online, but I can relate to where she’s coming from. The food service industry is extremely stressful. You are constantly rushing around to get everyone’s food to them in a timely manner. You get hot and sweaty, and go home smelling like fry grease and other unpleasant things. You get burnt (sometimes severely), you slip, run into other people, get hit by doors, yelled at, cursed at, and called names. I have never waited tables, but I work in fast food, and I know how ungrateful people are and how funny they are about food. I worked at the jewelry department in a big box store for awhile and sometimes people would bring back jewelery that they had purchased because it broke. They were usually very nice about it, asking for a refund or to send it off and have it fixed. I’ve also worked in fast food, and people get more upset about a lack of cheese on their sandwich that they paid $5 for than they do over the broken necklace they paid $120 for. It’s a stressful environment, and at the end of the night, you just want to vent to someone about how rude the customers were to you. That’s what Ms. Welch was doing here. She was just venting. No personal information, save for the pastor’s name, was shared on the receipt.

I think Applebee’s overreacted by firing the waitress. IF there is a policy in their handbook about this kind of thing (which the server claims there is not), then a less severe punishment should have been administered. A written warning, maybe, or retraining. But to fire a server because a customer who was in the wrong threw a fit seems like an extreme measure. It also indicates an unhappy, decaying corporate culture that does not value or stand by its employees, who are the face of the company. I am not a big fan of Applebee’s food to begin with and I usually only go there if someone else I’m with picks the restaurant. But I will definitely not be eating there anymore AT ALL after this fiasco.