The backstory: The Consumerist reported that St. Louis resident Alois Bell, a pastor at a small church, dined at Applebee’s and balked at paying the automatic 18 percent gratuity for her large party. Bell left these words on the receipt: “I give God 10 percent. Why do you get 18?”
The server who waited on the table showed the customer receipt to fellow server Chelsea Welch. Welch took a picture of the receipt and posted it on Reedit.com. Although Welch said she tried to hide the identity of the customer by providing a false description of Bell, you could make out Bell’s signature quite well in the photo of the receipt. Although Welch later edited the photo of the receipt to obscure Bell’s signature, her original posting had the identifying information. (You can view the original document posted by Welch on www.thesmokinggun.com.)
“I originally posted the note as a lighthearted joke,” Welch said. “I thought the note was insulting, but it was also comical. I posted it to Reddit because I thought other users would find it entertaining.”
The fallout: Online sleuths figured out who the customer was and began attacking her online. Bell found out from a friend that she was being berated. She called Applebee’s and complained.
Applebee’s fired Welch, the Consumerist later reported.
In a statement to Consumerist, Applebee’s explained the action: “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.”
In an interview with thesmokinggun.com, Bell apologized for a “lapse in my character and judgment.” She also said her note “brought embarrassment to my church and ministry.” She said she had left a $6 cash tip for the server.
An Applebee’s spokesman said Bell shared appetizers with eight or nine friends and that the cost for the meal came to $34.93, including the tip, which the pastor paid despite the comment she left on the receipt, the Associated Press reported.
“We have to protect our guests’ privacy,” Applebee’s President Mike Archer said in a phone interview with AP. “There’s a lot of private information on those receipts.”
Here’s a Yahoo story that has a video of the pastor who wrote the note.
A petition has been started on Change.org to get Welch her job back. Last time I checked, there were more than 5,700 signatures.
The incident in some context: Other servers have lost their jobs or been reprimanded after posting comments about miserly tippers. In another tipper tantrum episode, a waitress who wanted to get back at a customer who failed to leave a tip on his $28.98 tab had to apologize for her behavior. The waitress used her Facebook page to berate the non-tipper, who had left a scribbled a note on the receipt that said: “You can stand to lose a couple of pounds,” ABC News reported at the time.