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Applebee’s Social Media Snafu
By: Dana Severson
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Social media is a fickle, fickle friend. When you’re “besties,” she’s right there helping you get the word out to generate leads and to develop some real loyal fans. But she can turn on a dime, and the increased exposure you once enjoyed no longer benefits you or your business. That’s what happened this past week to Applebee’s.
A waitress posted an image of a receipt from a customer who declined to leave a tip beyond the 18% gratuity already included on the bill. At the bottom of the check, the customer left a note, saying:
“I give God 10% why do you get 18?”
Not the friendliest of remarks, but no reason to share with the rest of the world.
In response, Applebee’s fired the waitress for violating the guest’s right to privacy.
Word got out, as it always does, and social media users took to Facebook, Twitter, and other sites to voice their displeasure for her termination.  
Trying to resolve a potential PR nightmare, Applebee’s issued a statement of sorts:
“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.”
It should come as no surprise that this did nothing more than fuel the fire, and the post received over 17,000 comments — the majority of which were negative.
Instead of leaving well enough alone, Applebee’s commented on its original status with a very lengthy statement. 
Anyone at all involved with social media knows that the comments section isn’t the place to post a statement. It’ll be buried within the thousands of other comments in mere seconds.
But it gets worse. Reports start surfacing that Applebee’s is allegedly blocking users and deleting comments. And then, whoever’s in charge of their social accounts starts tagging people, issuing another statement:
“We can understand why you are upset. But the details circulating about this story do not represent all the facts. For example the team member who posted the receipt WAS NOT the team member that waited on the group…This is an unfortunate situation but please let us reassure you that Applebee’s and every one of our franchisees values the hard working team members…”
And this statement is repeated again and again and again. Of course, people are even more outraged.
Unfortunately, this prompts Applebee’s to start arguing with people, telling them to read the comment posted above their own, and things just continue to spiral.
If you were to visit Applebee’s Facebook page on that night, you’d be subjected to a number of “he said, she said” statements. But that’s beside the point…
The reason I bring this up at all is to demonstrate how easily and quickly things can deteriorate on social media sites, especially when a business is left reacting.
Yes, social media requires immediacy, but responses need to be at least somewhat calculated when dealing with bad press. Knee-jerk reactions just won’t cut it, and they often create more of a problem than the reason people are talking about your business in the first place.

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About the Author
Dana Severson is a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant in the Twin Cities area. Find him at his website for a little downhome advice. 
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