Free Markets, Faith, and Fired from Applebee’s

“Boy, that escalated quickly… I mean, that really got out of hand fast” – Ron Burgundy

A pastor walks into an Applebee’s with a party of eight or more. Upon seeing the 18% gratuity automatically applied to the check, the pastor snarkily responds (in writing, on the receipt) “I give God 10%, why do you get 18?” The waitress snaps a photo of the receipt and posts it to the internet. The pastor, having now been embarrassed by, um, let’s call it a momentary lapse of patience, complains to restaurant management … who then fires the employee. I know, you’re waiting for the punchline. Something like “let’s take all the tip money, throw it up in the air, and whatever God wants, He keeps.” But no, not this time – this actually happened at a St. Louis Applebee’s recently.

The pastor, is apparently one Alois Bell. The server, one Chelsea Welch. No word (at least, not in the story) about whether Welch has found employment. Bell has apparently since apologized … and also complained that her reputation has been ruined by the maelstrom. (Hmm, perhaps it wasn’t actually the hullabaloo that ruined that reputation … but I digress.)

Free Markets …

I believe in free markets. I happen to think they are the most efficient means of finding an optimal resource allocation. But this is not why I believe in free markets. No, I believe in free markets because I believe in freedom.

So, what do free markets have to tell us about the Applebee’s dust-up in St. Louis?

I don’t like the automatic gratuity. But this is a preference, not a moral objection. If Applebee’s wants to add a 18% gratuity to the bill for parties over a certain size – then that’s their business. If I object to such a policy, I am free to go to a different restaurant. I don’t have a right to eat at Applebee’s and determine their pricing structure; nor do they have a right to make me come to Applebee’s. Free market interactions.

And what about that poor waitress? Free markets extend to employee/employer contracts as well. I would hope that some manner of code-of-conduct was established in the contract of employment (or the employee handbook). Welch indicated there was nothing in the handbook about posting a photo of a receipt, but I haven’t exactly read the Applebee’s handbook, so I’m in no place to comment about the veracity.

That said, employers need and should have some manner of catch-all that says “we reserve the right to fire you”. In this case it could be nothing more than a business decision – perhaps Alois Bell has a significant following in the area and Applebee’s doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of the throng. (Yes, employees  need protection too … this is why we have [or should have] contracts.)

Play Nice Children …

As Ron Burgundy once noted, that really got out of hand fast. One thing after another, it really just escalated.

Should Miss Bell have left the note? I don’t know. It’s hardly an egregious crime to complain about company policy. Now, it wasn’t the waitress’s policy, so the note may well have been misdirected. (And, of course, drawing a relation between tithing and tipping is a bit off. )

Should Miss Welch have posted it to the internet? Well, probably not. I doubt it was illegal by any stretch. When you write a note, sign your name, and give the note to someone else, you must presume that it has gone public. Still, I suspect Miss Welch probably wishes she hadn’t gone public with it. Better to just let it go.

Should Miss Bell have called to complain? OK, here is where things started to really go south. Say what you will about the first two tit-for-tat offenses, things got “real” when a call was placed to the boss. Surely Miss Bell knew it could have ramifications for the employee – why else would you call but to get someone in trouble? Again, best to let things go. We all get our pride hurt from time to time, often over silly stuff that we started. Never miss a good opportunity to de-escalate.

I feel for both of these ladies. I suspect each wishes the whole thing had never happened. Bell would have avoided all the attention and embarrassment. Welch would still have a job.

On the other hand, think of all the blogging this made possible …

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