PR disaster: Restaurant in soup over firing waitress

February 5, 2013, 12:17 pm Business Insider and Yahoo7

American restaurant Applebee's had its brand go through the wringer over the past few days after a controversy erupted about a receipt that went viral.

A waitress lost her job after she posted a picture of a receipt from a pastor who didn't give her a tip and simply wrote, "I give God 10 percent, why do you get 18?"

The restaurant claimed the waitress violated the privacy of its customer.

In a statement published on its website, the Applebee's said, "This unfortunate situation has nothing to do with work. The team member involved did not actually wait on the party and had no dealings with the guest. Regrettably, and without the restaurant's knowledge, she took it upon herself to take a guest's receipt, with the name clearly visible, and post it online with her own commentary. That is a clear invasion of the guest’s privacy, and also against the franchisee's company policy that the team member was provided when hired. We simply cannot accept behavior that compromises the safety and privacy our guests have every right to expect and deserve".

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The story let to a massive outcry on social media with the restaurant taking a massive public relations beating.

Customers and users let loose on the company’s Twitter and Facebook pages calling it “worst PR disaster in your history”.

The outrage didn’t end there. In a move that many are now labeling “social media suicide”, Applebee's published a comment to its Facebook page on February 1 – adding fuel to the fire.

“We wish this situation hadn't happened. 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. We value our Guests’ trust above all else. Our franchisee has apologized to the Guest and has taken disciplinary action with the Team Member for violating their Guest’s right to privacy,”

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The reactions to the comment were far from what Applebee’s may have expected. “This has to be the worst PR disaster in restaurant chain history. This will literally make it into textbooks”, wrote one user.

"I'm using this in not to handle internet marketing," wrote another.

Business Insider adds: Applebee's strategy

Ron Ruggless at Nation's Restaurant News spoke with Applebee's spokesman Dan Smith about what went down.

“The first piece is we’re trying to explain the situation in as clear of terms as possible,” Smith told NRN. “And we fully understand that some people might not agree with our position. Our simple goal here is to provide the public with the facts.”

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The second part of it is "the engagement piece," he said. That means answering as many people as possible over social channels.

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“The over-arching piece in this is we want to hear from people,” said Smith. “Believe me: every Tweet has been read; every Facebook message has been read. Our guest relations team is taking every phone call and responding to as many emails as they can.”

Applebee's responded multiple times on the company's official Facebook page. Smith said that no comments have been deleted, nor has anyone been blocked from the page.

Users are still calling for Applebee's to re-hire the server or face a boycott and the brand is still taking a persistent beating.

How to protect your reputation online

How to protect your reputation online

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