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Ed Driscoll

Applebee’s Overnight Social Media Meltdown

February 2nd, 2013 - 7:51 pm

R.L. Stollar writes, “Hell hath no fury like a Facebook scorned:”

In today’s digital age, most of us assume everyone understands this fact. But everyone now and again, people surprise us. An ever-increasing element of this reality is that the hounds of Reddit, the Twitter armies, and Facebook vigilantes are more than willing to remind people that we live in a publicized world. You can’t hide behind privacy statements or legal jargon or appeals to company policy to pacify an Internet mob. Once you cross the line of Internet etiquette, the people of the World Wide Web will hunt you down and do their best to ruin you forever.

Applebee’s apparently never took note of this. You’ve most likely heard about their most recent encounter with virality. But in case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s a brief summary:

A waitress at a St. Louis Applebee’s lost her job for posting online the receipt upon which a pastor had declined to leave a tip, with a snarky note saying she gave God 10 percent.

After her dinner on Jan. 25, Pastor Alois Bell crossed out the automatic 18 percent tip charged for parties of more than eight. “I give God 10% why do you get 18,” she wrote above her signature.

Employee Chelsea Welch — a colleague of the stiffed server — took a picture of the receipt and uploaded it to the online site Reddit. She subsequently lost her job, an Applebee’s spokesman confirmed to TheSmokingGun.com, for violating a customer’s privacy.

Yesterday on Fox 2 Now, the pastor issued a (sort of?) apology.

All this information, of course, is so yesterday. “Pastor gets waitress fired” was Chapter One in this strangely entrancing saga, on par with a slow-motion train wreck from which you cannot tear away your eyes. Chapter Two is where Applebee’s apparently wants to commit suicide in front of our digital eyes.

Applebee’s fired the waitress in question, named Chelsea Welch. This created a fury of rage on the Internet, with social media users taking to their weapons of choice and lambasting away, thousands at a time, against the restaurant’s decisions. Numerous “Boycott Applebee’s” groups sprung up on Facebook, along with “Rehire Chelsea Welch” and other similar groups. Applebee’s website has a “What’s the Buzz” widget, that shows what people are saying on Twitter about the company. It’s been non-stop attacks, all publicly displayed on Applebee’s own page:

You can check out the train wreck on Stollar’s Website, but so far, I can’t say I’m very sympathetic to Welch’s predicament — though in these days of “Start From Zero,” “The Great Relearning” and what Florence King calls “the Invasion of the Duh People,” perhaps she should have been given a warning rather than a firing. But Applebee’s initial response is correct, insomuch as they state that “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.”

Also, according to the St. Louis Fox affiliate, the waitress wasn’t completely stiffed, as some versions of the story claim:

Bell says despite her snarky comment, she did pay her share of the automatic tip for dining with a large party.

“What they didn’t show is the money that I left and that we all left on the table,”  said Bell.  She says she left $6.29 on the table and her credit card was also charged the tip amount. Everyone else at the table also left tips in cash.

As it turns out, the receipt was not posted by the waitress who served the minister`s table. It was placed on Reddit by user gateflan, by Chelsea Welch, another waitress at Applebee`s who saw the receipt and was angered.

“I took a picture of the note because I thought it was comically immature,” Welch said. “I thought it was humorously silly, the fact that someone would not only refuse to tip, not only make themselves out to kind of be a jerk but also play the religion card as an excuse.”

When Bell alerted Applebee`s to the internet posting, Welch was fired.

If Welch had gone to an Internet message and posted that an anonymous customer had under-tipped a fellow waitress, that’s one thing, but photographing the check with the pastor’s name visible and uploading that image to the Internet is simply unacceptable behavior from a waitress.

If I’m following the story on Stollar’s blog correctly, apparently, Applebee’s own corporate Website recently photographed another customer’s signed receipt along with his signature above a handwritten note on how wonderfully he was treated by his local Applebees. It’s such an over-the-top endorsement of a run of the mill restaurant chain that surely the customer knew it might be reproduced elsewhere. Applebee’s should have gotten the customer’s permission for using that in their marketing (and perhaps they did), but again, that doesn’t excuse Welch’s freelance smearing of her employer’s customer.

Also, isn’t this all a bit of a tempest in a Diet Coke can? If you dine at your local Applebee’s, is this really sufficient to make you stop going forever? And how many millions nationally who dine there have no idea about this story?

On the other hand, Applebee’s is far from the only company getting clobbered by social media, as a recent post by blogger Liberty Check at Breitbart.com’s new Conversation group blog highlights: “Live Tweeting a Layoff: ‘How do I shut down Twitter?’”

Unfortunately, in today’s economy, layoffs aren’t an uncommon corporate reality.  HMV, a UK based company that delivers entertainment products, announced 190 job cuts in total on Thursday, after struggling with financial difficulties and entering into administration with restructuring specialists.

Layoff announcements of 60 HMV employees at some retail locations triggered a very public Twitter meltdown Thursday from one employee – community manager Poppy Rose – who decided to live-tweet the whole drama as it went down. The problem: that employee had access to and tweeted it from the company’s Twitter account, which has more than 73,000 followers.

One tweet read, “Just overheard our Marketing Director (he’s staying, folks) ask ‘How do I shut down Twitter?’”

As Liberty Chick writes, “Moral of this story:  Disable your social media account holders’ access before you fire them.”

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