Hell hath no fury like the Internet’s scorn
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 14:02
At Applebee’s headquarters, the Public Relations (PR) team is constantly refreshing the company’s social networking profiles, solemnly shaking their heads. Customers are threatening to boycott the company and continue to post negative comments attacking the establishment. Applebee’s cannot keep up with the thousands of comments, despite censoring and deleting up to 20,000 posts.
It started when waitress Chelsea Welch was upset when Pastor Alois Bell left a rude comment on her co-worker’s receipt.
“I give God 10%,” read the receipt, “why do you get 18 [%].” The tip section was hastily crossed out with a “0” in its place.
After posting a picture of the receipt on forum website Reddit.com with the title “My mistake sir, I’m sure Jesus will pay for my rent and groceries,” it became viral and the signature was quickly traced back to Bell.
During an interview with TheSmokingGun.com, a website that posts legal documents publically, Bell stated, “My heart is really broken. I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and ministry.”
Bell, however, made the humble statement after calling the restaurant and demanded that all the employees, not just Welch, be immediately terminated.
Although Applebee’s did not fire the entire establishment, the company did terminate Welch—not the waitress who waited on the table, but the co-worker who posted the photograph to the Internet.
After firing Welch, numerous Facebook.com groups in her defense were created, including “Boycott Applebee’s” and “Give Chelsea Welch Her Job Back.”
The mistake, however, is not that Applebee’s fired Welch. The mistake is that Applebee’s publically released multiple statements defending the company’s decision on its Facebook page.
“As we know you will agree,” Applebee’s rationalized, “the guests who visit Applebee’s -- people like you -- expect and deserve to be treated with professionalism… That includes respecting and protecting the privacy of every guest.”
The statement, created as a Facebook status, continues by laying out the events that took place from a corporate standpoint, addressing Welch’s violation of company policy of not “posting…photographs, video, or audio of …its customers.”
Applebee’s naively hoped it would end there, yet they unknowingly committed PR suicide. Soon, comments flooded the status, accusing Applebee’s of hypocrisy and abuse towards its workers. After only a few hundred comments, it came to light that the Facebook page contains photographs of receipts with positive connotations, glorifying the company and its food. Not only are the signatures apparent, but also the captions provide the location of the establishment, the waiter, and the patron’s name.
“If a [photograph] of a snarky little note is enough to get someone fired from Applebee’s under the premise of privacy concerns, why is it [acceptable] for them to post photographs,” asked group “Like us if you pledge to take your buisness [sic] to who hires Chelsea Welch.”
Although it appears that Applebee’s violated its own policy, it is construed as positive propaganda for the company. Because Welch placed the demographic in a negative light, Applebee’s decided to terminate her employment. Had they proceeded with the termination and not attempted to rationalize with the “Internet public,” the backlash could have been avoided.