Should an Applebees server who posted a customer receipt online be fired?

A recent story from my area of the country brings up an important question that will inevitably come up many more times. What should a restaurant owner do if an employee posts a customer’s receipt online? Does it make any difference that the receipt has something rude written on it?

Here is a link to the original story I’m referencing on the Consumerist. In short, the media is reporting that a church pastor stiffed a waitress because they didn’t like the 18% auto-gratuity on their check, the waitress posted the receipt online and then was fired by Applebees. One media outlet, the Huffington Post, is circulating a petition to get the server her job back.

Here is the USA Today version:

There are some major mistakes in most, if not all the news stories I’ve seen about this situation other than the original. Since the Consumerist’s original story had the facts right, it begs the question of intent of the other media outlets in misstating them. Here are the important facts being left out:

  • The waitress who posted the receipt online was not the waitress who waited on the pastor. She was not the one purportedly “stiffed”.
  • While the pastor crossed out the auto-gratuity and added up the tab without the tip, she did leave the server a $6 cash tip on a $34.93 tab, equating to a 17% tip. The server was not “stiffed” at all.
  • Applebees, where the incident took place, charged the 18% auto-gratuity to the pastor anyways, because it is their policy to charge 18% automatically on tables of 8 or more. This is standard in many full service restaurants. The waitress actually made a 35% tip on the table, though that certainly wasn’t the intent of the pastor.

I’m not posting this information to defend the pastor in any way. The pastor wrote “I give God 10%, why do you get 18%?” on the check. Even if she intended it for the restaurant and not the waitress, this sort of activity by a customer is inexcusable. The restaurant should “fire” the pastor as a customer for leaving such a comment on the tab in my opinion, or at a minimum give them a warning, and the church should fire the pastor for disgracing the church as its primary representative in the public. Using God as an excuse to make a negative statement about tipping an individual person is never okay, even if she did leave the server a 17% cash tip.

The real question being raised here is, “Should the server who posted the receipt be fired?”

My opinion is that yes, the employee was rightfully fired by the Applebees where she worked. Customer receipts are private property of both the customer and the business, not the server. As such, the server has no right to post that information online, regardless of what was written on it. Had the server only shared what was written on the receipt, without posting a picture of the receipt, I might have a different opinion. It’s possible there might even be some sort of criminal law broken by the server. The server’s defense is that there is nothing in the employee manual forbidding her from copying and posting receipts online.

I’d like to get the input of restaurant owners and managers out there that could face the same situation in the future. What do you think is the right thing to do as a restaurant owner?

One piece of advice I do have to offer restaurant owners on this type of incident is that you should have a policy in your manual forbidding employees from posting pictures of guests, their personal property, or the property of the restaurant online. I also believe it would be good to expressly allow the posting of food and drink pictures online for the purpose of promoting the restaurant.

Brandon O’Dell with O’Dell Restaurant Consulting is an independent restaurant consultant who offers operations and concept strategy consulting for independent restaurants and small chains. You can learn more about their services at www.bodellconsulting.com.

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About friendthatcooks

Food service consultant and owner/operator of an in-home weekly meal prep service in Kansas City, Chicago, St. Louis, Omaha, Des Moines, Denver, Milwaukee and Wichita

Posted on February 2, 2013, in Articles, Linked Articles, Questions and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. It is going a little overboard to terminate a server just for posting a receipt. There was no picture, no name of the patron, so no harm no foul. Had she mentioned the pastors name, Church or picture, than yes it could be construed as a personnel attack, but, if there is no policy in this technological age against this type of behavior, she should be warned in writing and a policy instated. This is the 21st century, cell phone cameras abound and corporations should in-act new policies into their practices to aid in these types of situations giving clear and concise guidelines.

  2. Thanks for the input Steve. The receipt originally posted did have the customer’s signature on it, which resulted in the customer and the church being identified and harrassed. The pictures of the receipt on the linked articles above clearly show the signature.

    I also agree that every business should have a policy protecting against employees putting out sensitive business documents on the internet, but is it necessary to have a policy for every infraction an employee could possibly commit in order to reprimand them? It’s impossible to have policies that cover absolutely everything an employee could do wrong. There has to be something left to the discretion of the business owner, shouldn’t there?

    In addition to the customer’s privacy, what about the privacy of the business? Afterall, the server has no ownership of the receipt. It is owned by the business and the customer. This server’s actions not only brought bad publicity to the customer (however deserved), but also to the business. In addition to the bad publicity, the business might also be liable for damages in a lawsuit from the customer had they failed to act swiftly and decisively. Keeping this server on staff may have opened them to the liability of a lawsuit, especially if this customer loses her own job, which she should in my opinion.

    • Thanks for the feedback. In this instance a lawsuit would have never got off the ground as there was no defamation or intent to bring harm to the Church or individual, I believe. As to the burning question should there be a broad policy on technology matters and this type of behavior, yes, yes, and yes! Look at other policies, sexual harassment is way overboard but works, discrimination, works, retaliatory termination, works, they are all very broad but they work. If one has an HR person then that is what they went to college for so write the new policies and do your jobs

  3. I think one of the best reasons to not allow employees to get revenge on social media is that no matter what is felt toward the customer, the message that gets out is “look what will happen to you if eat here and you behave this way.” Do you want customers to be afraid of eating at your restaurant? While the public may feel that certain customers should be punished for something like leaving too low of a tip, there will be instances in which there was a simple misunderstanding, and yet the check ended up on social media anyway. For example, what if the server simply misreads the comment on the check, takes it as an insult, posts it on social media, and the customer loses his job because his employer felt it reflected poorly on them? It would be best to have a zero tolerance toward posting on social media. Consistent with this, a manager needs to take comment on checks seriously. If a server brings a check to his attention, he needs to research it, and if the customer is in the wrong, they need to be fired or disciplined.

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