Applebee’s Turns Selfish Customer Into PR Nightmare

Applebees

You can’t make this stuff up. A few days ago an Applebee’s server posted the above receipt to Reddit. A rude and inappropriate response from what I would classify as a very selfish restaurant goer.

Naturally, as a Redditor I saw this and felt terrible for the poor waitress, thought nothing of Applebee’s (I didn’t even realize where this occurred when reading the thread) and moved on. This should have been the end of the story which at that point had basically nothing to do with Applebee’s.

However this isn’t the end of the story. Consumerist has the news that this waitress was shortly after fired from her position. I recommend reading the previous link for full details.

One key bit from the story (emphasis mine):

…the customer who had left the receipt contacted her Applebee’s location, demanding that everyone be fired, from the servers involved to the managers.

As the story noted, Applebee’s did fire the employee. Which then, naturally, triggered a firestorm of national media stories plus responses in the social web:

Applebees-3

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.

Now, was it appropriate of the waitress to post this online in the first place? No. But it is far less appropriate of Applebee’s to fire someone due to the actions of an unbalanced customer who is demanding everyone be fired. It’s not like any sensitive information was shared, the “policy” isn’t even followed by Applebee’s themselves and this customer left a hostile, personal note directed at the server.

If Applebee’s truly valued their team member, as well as valued not being put in the national spotlight for such a polarizing story, there were two easy potential paths that would have ended this crisis then and there:

1. Apologize to the customer, let them know the situation was being handled and offer a free meal (their actions were socially unacceptible and de-humanizing to the Applebee’s staff member, so this would be the extremely generous thing to do).

And

Discuss what happened rationally with this team member and perhaps have them issue an apology. That’s it. Don’t fire an (otherwise) well-performing team member over a mistake in judgement which can happen when emotions are flared.

OR (I’d vote for this one)

2. Do nothing, and effectively fire the customer. Yes, seriously. Harvard Business Review and Business Week share plenty of reasons this is smart such as a boost in morale for your staff, a focus on your higher value customers, etc. Do have a discussion with the team member, but let them know you are on their side. This would keep morale positive for your team and ensure all other customers continue to receive the best possible service.

Either of these decisions would have prevented the self-inflicted crisis before it started.

There is no reason this story had to escalate to the extent it has and cause the immeasurable level of damage to their brand. In a connected society, brands need to realize that their 1970’s-era actions and inhuman, PR / legal-issued statements do nothing to foster warm feelings with the rest of us or their own team members. They only succeed in activating the web’s hive mind.

Society has changed and companies need to change with it and take new, creative approaches to these situations, acting with empathy. They also should consider formalized training for all employees, because everyone is part of the digital ecosystem (not just those in communications).

One final note, how is it that everyone doesn’t yet understand the power of the Reddit community? None of this stuff is new.