Oh, the drama.
On Friday of last week, Pastor Alois Bell of the St. Louis-based Truth in the World Deliverance Ministries went to a local Applebee’s with the rest of her 15-member congregation for dinner. After paying the bill and leaving, their waitress found the receipt. She had crossed off the 18% gratuity, entered the original total, and left a message implying that donating money to the church apparently absolves you from the responsibility of tipping your server:
Chelsea Welch, one of the other servers at the restaurant, took a picture of it and uploaded it to Reddit, with the title “My mistake sir, I’m sure Jesus will pay for my rent and groceries“, clearly taking issue with the idea of a pastor – whose mission in life is to promote charity, compassion, and love to and among the members of the community – completely stiffing a waitress out of a $6.00 tip.
“We make $3.50 an hour. Most of my paychecks are less than pocket change because I have to pay taxes on the tips I make,” she explains. “After sharing my tips with hosts, bussers, and bartenders, I make less than $9/hr on average, before taxes.
In her job, Chelsea says she skipped bathroom breaks when things got busy, went hungry when she had to work several tables at a time, would work until 1:30 a.m. and then come back in at 10:30 a.m.
(As an aside … I remember waiting and bussing tables for a couple of summers. It was ridiculous. I had enough after a few months, and was ready to go back to school. I don’t see how people have the patience or the energy to go longer than that, or even make it a career. That’s tough work, and I know that many places don’t even offer any benefits to make it a little more worthwhile. Every time we go out I make sure to tip at least 20% … I make enough, and they need every little bit.)
Anyway, back to the story. Welch gets a picture of the receipt, posts it on Reddit. Well, some of the stories that end up on Reddit go viral. This was one of them. Soon enough, it hit the regular media, the identity of the pastor was revealed, and the shit hit the fan. The pastor’s response to the situation was to call the Applebee’s on the following Wednesday to demand that the entire staff – including management – be fired.
Applebee’s immediately took action: they fired Welch, who had posted said receipt. Their reasoning was that she violated company policy by posting the receipt on line, which supposedly contained personal information.
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. This individual is no longer employed by the franchisee.
In the initial posting, she attached a larger image, which included the entire signature. She made the mistake of assuming that the signature was illegible enough to retain the privacy of the customer; however, the people of Reddit soon found out despite Chelsea’s best efforts to stonewall them, and changing the image to the cropped one I have above. Seriously, though, that’s the first thing you do. Especially when it’s not even that illegible. “Alois” is hardly a common name and it might be difficult to decipher from the image, but the “Bell” sure as hell wasn’t.
Still, the original image contained neither credit card information nor the individual’s name. Leaving the signature on was a mistake, but there’s apparently no clear documentation that told her what she did would be in violation of company policy.
Welch still isn’t sure what exactly she did wrong.
“I didn’t break any specific guidelines in the company handbook – I checked,” said Welch, who had no complaints about her service prior to this week. “Because this person got embarrassed that their selfishness was made public, Applebee’s has made it clear that they would rather lose a dedicated employee than lose an angry customer. That’s a policy I can’t understand.”
The fact is that even if there was no specific policy, it should be pretty intuitive that you shouldn’t post a customer’s receipt on line without at least taking off the signature. It was pretty easy to read, and with a group like Reddit, it’s bound to get deciphered. For as much as I dislike Applebee’s, they were right to consider this a violation of their code of conduct.
That said, I also think that firing her for doing this – especially in the absence of any specific policy and in light of the customer’s profound moral incongruity – was a little excessive. This young lady had a clean record. She’s a student putting herself through school. She made a mistake and should be punished, but they should still let her work. Maybe spend part of an afternoon making sure she knows not to pull that kind of thing again … or if she does, to white out the signatures.
“I am expected to portray a canned personality that has been found to be least offensive to the greatest amount of people,” she tells Consumerist. “I come home exhausted, sore, burnt, dirty, and blistered on a good day. And after all that, I can be fired for ‘embarrassing’ someone who directly insults their server on religious grounds.”
Clearly that’s why Bell got angry and raised a stink. It wasn’t specifically because her privacy was being violated (in other words if there were a more innocuous message on the receipt); it was because she was called out for being a cheapass and now everyone knows about it. Later on, the pastor was interviewed by the Smoking Gun, and had this to say:
Bell … said her notation on the receipt was a “lapse in judgment that has been blown out of proportion.” Despite scratching out the tip added to the bill, Bell claimed that she left a $6 tip in cash, adding that she subsequently discovered the 18 percent gratuity had been charged to her credit card.
We’re never going to know whether this is true. Her intentions were pretty clear on the receipt, though.
Bell said that the online firestorm created by the receipt has left her stunned. “My heart is really broken,” said the 37-year-old Bell. “I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and ministry.”
There’s always a chance that upon seeing your behavior from a distance, you realize you made a mistake and feel remorse. I remain extremely skeptical, however, that in the course of the last day or two, her attitude changed purely as a result of some kind of personal reflection. It’s far more likely, in my opinion, that she’s simply sorry she got caught doing something that actually represents a regular pattern of behavior.
Here’s an interesting couple of tidbits about her story:
A mother of three, Bell heads a 15-member church that rents a storefront space. Bell said she has a separate full-time job–which she declined to describe–and tithes 10 percent of her earnings to the church.
According to her biography, Bell “gave her life to Christ in 1997 while she was pregnant and homeless with her youngest son.” Living at the time in a Catholic homeless shelter, Bell recalled that she was laying in her bed one afternoon when “the Lord touched her heart and she invited him in.”
This part further adds to my confusion about how someone who knows poverty and homelessness would deny the equivalent of pocket change to a server who’s just interested in making ends meet with a grueling job. Instead, she turns it into an opportunity to show that even the most outwardly “godly” of us can still be selfish jerks.