To Serve (Wo)man

I worked in restaurants for most of a decade in oodles of capacities, from dishwasher to cook to waiter to busboy to driver to manager. I’ve worked in pizza shops, burger shops, sandwich shops, short-order restaurants (like, but not at, an Applebee’s, which is relevant), and others. Additionally, my degree is in management, and my specialty was looking at improving customer service as a means of performing a return to profitability for failing restaurants, and I have executed that strategy successfully.

I say all that by way of introducing my qualifications to comment on the latest Internet two-minute-hate: the firing of a server at Applebee’s, and subsequent PR failures of the organization.

Clearly, Applebee’s PR needs desperate help: they could be rescuing orphans from burning buildings and would come out looking bad. Pretty much everything about how they handled the fallout once this started getting attention is going to be a decent case study for management students for the next few years. However, that isn’t the interesting part. The better question, as I see it is this: we’re they right to fire the waitress who posted the snarky note?

First things first: the pastor was being a phenomenal jerk. A queen-size jerk, of the kind that everyone who has ever been in a customer service business has encountered at one point or another. There is a reason why sites like “customers suck!” exist, and it isn’t because people like that pastor don’t.

However, the existence of that site is a clear indication of the banality of jerkiness (as an aside, this is why I think all young people should work in retail before college, to teach them that employees are human too). This banality, the regularity of it, should be an indication that while it is not a pleasant experience, it’s a normal experience. So the server experienced a normal jerkiness, and then a different server posted the whole receipt on Facebook.. Yikes.

So, here you have someone who isn’t the wronged party reacting to someone behaving like a jerk. Now, when someone is rude, we are all diminished: we are all God’s creations, and if any of us are diminished, then all of us are, so there is an element of acceptable third-party reaction to rudeness. An example of a case where that’s completely okay is the waiter who recently stood up for a kid with Down Syndrome, kicking out a rude patron.

Is there a difference between the two? Well, in the first, the offense has happened, and the person is gone- the reaction is to shame after the fact. In the second, it’s a confrontation with someone who has just said something, and could continue to say more. Additionally, the second case involves the dignity of a human, while the first is about money. So, given those differences, I would tend to see the appropriate level of outrage as low rather than high, especially from a third-party.

So the restaurant, upon learning that the third-party server had posted the picture on Facebook, fired the server. This is apparently consistent with the Applebee’s code of conduct.

Before I say whether I would have done this, let me relate a story: I remember that when I ran a bagel shop, I had a rude customer who routinely complained that half-eaten sandwiches were not made right, and would demand that they be re-made. My response? Make another sandwich. It was not worth losing her, or worse, the other people she would tell, or the other people would would see a disagreement in progress, as customers over the cost of a sandwich. When I was a server or a driver, I occasionally got stiffed, and I would complain to the other employees about it. But we all knew that it was part if the job, and that there were jerks in the world.

So if I were running a restaurant, and I had an employee who did this, and it was covered in the code, she’d be gone immediately. It’s one thing to go online and say “I’m a waitress and hate it when customers stiff me” or more generally, “customers suck sometimes;” but it’s another entirely to post the person’s name in a name-and-shame moment and affiliate that with your employer.

This doesn’t mean that stiffing employees (or writing jerky notes) is okay, but customers are paying for the privilege, while employees are being paid. That, in a nutshell, is the difference. This isn’t an interaction between two people on the street, it’s between someone paying and someone being paid. Being paid comes with certain obligations, and those are entered into voluntarily.


About thegameiam
I'm a network engineer, musician, and Orthodox Jew who opines on things which cross my path.

3 Responses to To Serve (Wo)man

  1. Sarah says:

    Well said. I was a waitress in a family restaurant, and every Friday night the girls who father owned all the car dealerships in Memphis would come in, be total pains in the asses, and NOT TIP. We all just rotated who had to serve them, and complained about it until next Friday. I’m sure if we had an Internet back then we would have complained about it online, but it would not have been cool to post their names, and the restaurant should have fired us if we had done so. Losing one waitress (and a snarky one, at that) beats pissing off a whole lot of customers.

  2. AC says:

    But did you see why people were Angry at Applebees? It was because the company had itself posted things like this in the past when the comments were positive – including names and other identifying items. The idea was that the company might have had a right to do it, but that it was being hypocritical here.

    • thegameiam says:

      I did see that, although much of the outrage was less focused. Regarding that issue, this is simple company policy: the company does get to set the rules, and the employees’s choice is whether she wants to work somewhere with those rules. Posting a positive comment from someone is qualitatively different from publishing a nasty thing someone said. I stand by my argument.

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