What Your Business Can Learn from the Applebee’s Drama

Roughly two weeks ago, a waitress at Applebee’s posted a picture of a receipt online.  On this receipt was a rather rude message from a customer.  What was meant to be an innocent (yet ill-advised) post on Reddit blew up and went viral in a matter of hours.

On the “Suggested Tip” area, which asked for 18%, the customer responded: “I give God 10%, why do you get 18?” The fact that the customer was a pastor makes the situation all the more toxic.

The series of results that followed are key examples as to how the conveniences of social media can quickly turn into inconveniences. The response from Applebee’s was essentially a course in How Not To Handle a Social Media Disaster.

Example 1: Once the story went viral, they clearly chose a side and fired the waitress in question. This naturally caused a nasty backlash on their Facebook page.

Example 2: The social media team for Applebee’s typically responds to about 90% of all customer inquiries on their Facebook and Twitter pages. However, for this instance, the responses basically consisted of copied and pasted segments of their corporate policy. Given the nature of what people expect of social media, this was not well received and dug the hole even deeper.

Example 3: Applebee’s spokesman Dan Smith responded to inquiries over the matter, stating: “Transparency matters to us. We want to hear from our guests regardless of the subject matter.” Through Facebook and countless comments threads in hundreds of article regarding the incident on the internet, he sure is hearing from his guests…just not in the way he’d like.

While posting the receipt online was indeed in violation of corporate policy (the receipt even showed the identity of the customer, after all), Applebee’s may have been better served to not fire the waitress. By getting rid of the waitress, the public felt led to rally behind her; she did, after all, fall victim to a rude and, some may say, self-entitled customer.

While there is no clear and decisive way to handle such a situation without some form of backlash, this entire incident shows why large companies need to have social media measures in place to handle internet controversies.

Applebee’s was clearly not prepared.

Is your business?

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