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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Applebee's and the Stiffed Waiter

If you have been on the internet at all in the past week, you have doubtless heard of the now infamous waiter who got stiffed by a pastor while working at Applebee's.  There has been a lot of misinformation, but I have taken particular interest in this matter because 1) I am a Christian, 2) I have waited tables for nearly a decade, and 3) I hate being misrepresented.  So, allow me to put in my two cents.  First, however, the facts as I have discovered them.

A waiter was working at Applebee's a week ago when a regular church group came in.  This church group consisted of 15-20 people, including the Pastor, a woman named Alois Bell.  They ran up a bill in excess of $200.  Now, most people know that restaurants generally include an 18% gratuity when working with table of 8 or more.  The waiter theorizes that in order to get around this, the pastor split the bill into many smaller tabs and picked them all up herself.  If you've worked in the restaurant business, you'll know that this does not work.  In order to do this, you would all have needed to be at different tables.  When he waiter got the receipt back, the 18% gratuity had been scribbled out, there was a "0" under "additional tips" and a note was scrawled over it saying, "I give God 10%, why do you get 18?".  The pastor then signed her name and it seems went back to add the word "Pastor" above her name, as if to point out her own humble religious background (note the sarcasm).

The waiter showed this to a colleague of his, one Chelsea Welch, who then went to Reddit and posted it on an atheist forum as a reason she is an atheist.  From here, it exploded, and since Chelsea neglected to block out the easily legible signature, Alois Bell was inundated with negative comments, emails, etc. Her friend found out about it, showed Alois what was going on online, and in the spirit of Christianity (again, sarcasm; I use it frequently) called the Applebee's up and demanded that they fire the waiter, the colleague, and the entire managing staff.  Applebee's responded by firing Ms Welch.  They claim that she violated their customer's right to privacy by posting that picture online without blocking out the signature.  After that happened, there was another huge backlash against Pastor Alois Bell.  She later "apologized" by saying that she was not acting like she normally would have.

Then came the PR Nightmare for Applebee's.  Apparently, they had violated other customers' information themselves on their own website, and hastily removed these pictures in the wake of this disaster.  They then shot themselves in the foot by belittling their customers (although I have a feeling their PR staff had no idea that they were doing this) and not listening to what was being said.  There is now a campaign to get Chelsea hired again.

Now for my two cents.

I'll start with Atheism.  I have no problem with it.  I live in a country where we have a freedom to believe whatever we want, even if that means not believing in God.  One of my best friends is an atheist (or agnostic, he's not sure which), who regularly gets into intelligent debates with me over religion.  Neither of us has ever gained ground on the other, and for a simple reason.  You will never prove, nor disprove, the existence of God.  I said it.  It comes down to faith and faith alone.  Sure, you may disagree with various religious institutions, or specific religions or religious practices, but you can never disprove nor prove the actual existence of God (though, I must say, I've heard much stronger cases for the existence of God than against it.  Then again, I might be a bit biased).  So, it irks me to no end when I see someone who claims to be a pastor, a shepherd of God, an example of the faith, blatantly straying from the principals of that faith.  And it is even worse when that bad example is used as an argument against the entire religion or against God himself.  It is patently ridiculous.  I can guarantee you that I am far more upset about this pastor (and have every right to be) than any atheist, because that pastor is a travesty to everything I believe in.  If I voted for Candidate A and he wins, I feel I have more reason to be upset if Candidate A does something stupid than if I had voted for Candidate B.  The same thing works here.
What is worse is the ignorance.  It is rampant and I fear it is intended.  People WANT to be ignorant so they can continue in their own beliefs, however misinformed they are.  This is not what Jesus taught or how He wants us to behave.  Matthew 7:15 puts it quite clearly.  "Watch out for false prophets.  They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves."  It is our call as Christians to defend our faith against those who would lead us astray, and far too often Christians do not even try to do so.  If you are a Christian (or really of any faith, including atheism), you need to seriously consider what your personal beliefs truly are, then inform yourself about what your religion actually believes and what your pastor/priest/etc. is saying.  It may very well be that you don't agree.  And you should read the Bible, and then study it, so that you know what it really says and what it really means.  If you are going to try to attack the faith, any faith, first you should learn what the faith really is about, then you should see how it has been attacked before and where these attacks have failed.  Chances are you have nothing new to add to the thousands of years of intelligent nay-sayers.

Now that I have that over and done with, on to the main course.  First, I would like to point out that the pastor did indeed pay the 18% gratuity.  Although she scribbled it out, if you know anything about waiting ables, you'll know that said gratuity was included in the total.  Applebee's was actually being a bit underhanded by listing what the gratuity was after posting the total on the receipt (and not the bill), because most people will just add that in not thinking, thus giving the waiter a 26% tip.  Dick move there, Applebee's.  So, although she intended to pay a 0% tip, she still ended up paying the 18% that was included.  I also feel I should inform you, my readers (all... 20 or so of you), of how tipping works in America.

When you are served in a restaurant in America, you are expected to tip.  The waiter makes between $2.13 and $2.15 an hour, which is just barely enough to cover taxes.  Usually waiters don't even see this money, because by law they are required to declare their tips so they can be taxed.  In practice, they declare 10%-15% of their sales, and they still won't see more than a buck or two out of their "paycheck."  I have known waiters who did not even bother picking up their checks - it wouldn't have been worth the gas to take them to the bank.  Now don't get me wrong, waiters can make a lot of money, depending on where they work, if they are good, and which shifts they take.  The standard tip in America is 15%.  People say this changes, but it is a lie.  It is a percentage, so it does not need to change.  Learn math, people.  A good tip is 20%.  Anything higher is indicative of exemplary service.  10% is an insulting tip, an indicator that you did not do your job well.  Anything lower is just a slap in the face.  If you tend to tip low, or not at all, remember that servers (as well as pizza delivery boys, but I won't go into that fiasco) remember and talk.  Don't be surprised if your food takes a lot longer to get to your table the next time you go out.

Waiters work HARD.  It takes about 6 months of working every day to really get into the swing of things.  I remember when it happened to me.  I was the only waiter and we only had the head cook.  Some local event ended and what was supposed to be a slow night became about 10 tables in the course of 15 minutes.  After handling that, I could do anything.  It takes multi-tasking, memorizing ingredients in food, memorizing the menu, being quick on your feet for hours, having good customer service skills, being observant, and doing it all with a smile.  You may have to clean, bus tables, serve customers, expo, make desserts (almost all desserts are made by your waiter), handle problem customers, and make sure the kitchen staff gets the order right.  So if you think your waiter is lazy and looking for a quick buck, think again.

A word to Pastor Alois Bell.  You are called to act as God's representative here on Earth.  Calling to complain and demanding that people are fired is not the right course of action for someone of God.  You may be perfectly within your rights as an American citizen to do so, but you aren't just a citizen, you are a pastor and an example to your community.  Pettiness should be below you.  Jesus taught us to forgive, to turn the other cheek.  Instead of demanding her resignation, you had a chance to make a real impact against that girl and the atheist community that read her post.  If you had instead apologized and given her a huge tip, she just may have thought twice about what she said about theists.  And much more importantly, it would have shone in Christ's eyes as a wonderful act of contrition.  But do not think that it is too late.  Please, Pastor Bell, you can still do the right thing.  Give the girl money to help pay for her bills.  Find her a job.  Don't be sorry because you got caught (and your apology screams of such guilt).  If you are truly sorry, back it up with actions and not just hollow words.

And now a word to Applebee's.  First of all, there have been a lot of people attacking Applebee's for firing Chelsea.  Frankly, they did not have a choice.  It was the right thing to do.  She did indeed violate the terms of her employment and was caught doing so.  I do not fault Applebee's at all for firing Chelsea.  Sure, they could have ignored it as I'm sure businesses do frequently, but once it went viral online, ignoring it would have been a message to other employees that they could post their customers' information without fear of penalty.  And after getting a call from Pastor Bell, their feet were to the fire and they simply had to act.
The problem is not the fact that they fired Chelsea or why they fired her.  It is their attempt at Public Relations afterwards.  Several times on their facebook page, they claimed that people "do not have all the information."  Now, I'm sure that many people didn't, but Applebee's should not assume this and use it as a defense.  Besides, this is the internet.  Find or MAKE a site that HAS all the information and guide people to it.  If only there was a way to link to another site...  They did a poor job at damage control, to say the least.  There shouldn't even have been any damage control to do!  Here is how they Applebee's should have handled it.
There should have been a special page on their website, one that looks like company letterhead.  It should state something similar to this:

We here at Applebee's take our customers' rights very seriously.  After learning that a customer's signature was posted online freely for the world to see, we were forced to take action and terminate the employee responsible.  We are very sorry to see Ms Welch go, but we cannot allow such blatant violation of our employment agreement to go unpunished.  It has also come to our attention that we have erred in the past, and we apologize for it.  Never again will we allow a customer's information to be shared without that customer's express written permission first.  We have always strived to be a part of your community, and hope to serve our communities for many years to come.

This should then have been signed by Julia Stewart, CEO of DineEquity Inc (their parent company) and Mike Archer, the President of the company.  When it comes to social media, they should not get into semantic fights with people posting comments.  They should not belittle the intelligence of their customers.  They SHOULD have put up a similar apology, or a link to the apology, possibly included a printable coupon (a good one, not just some appetizer with purchase of meal... make it a free appetizer just for coming in!) as their way of showing that they care about their community, and then let it go.  Haters will hate, fans will be fans.  Keep the response simple, professional, and official at all times.  Do not delete or move posts or comments, do not comment at 4 in the morning (anywhere here in America, keep it during business hours), and do not comment on anyone else's comments!  I would not be at all surprised if Applebee's sees a huge hit in their profits this quarter.

All in all, this simple little act, something that happens hundreds of times every day (yes, we waiters get stiffed all-too-frequently), got blown out of proportions because of several bad mistakes by many people.  The waiter should not have allowed the receipt to be photographed, Chelsea should not have posted it online, Paster Bell should not have called to get her fired (or made such inflammatory comments in the first place), and Applebee's should have acted more professionally than it did.  Frankly, I hope some aspiring, intelligent professor sees this entire fiasco and uses it as a life lesson in how to live in the modern world.  And I hope you all do, too.