Comment Overview: “Mutual Destruction At Applebee’s: An Uncharitable Pastor and a Vengeful Waitress Do Each Other In”

This post is approaching an Ethics Alarms record for comments, and as always in the case when my commentary strikes a nerve, almost never on the most serious issues [This earlier post from yesterday, for example, is one that matters, and that I wish would get wider distribution, since I appear to be the only one making these points], the later comments tend to re-iterate the earlier ones, which have already been addressed, and I hate explaining the same thing over and over. Also the trolls have come out to urinate on everything, and I’ve had to ban a few, which I don’t like to do.

Therefore, as I have done before, here is a summary of the thrust of the comments and my replies, as well as over-all observations about the issue and conversation generally. I wish any commenter would read this before repeating what has already been said:

1. Nobody is defending Bell, the cheap and arrogant pastor. Good, but if the update you’ll find at the end is correct, she is considerably less despicable than everyone, including Welch, presumed.

2. One clown, however, wrote an abusive comment accusing me of defending the pastor, insulting my work and character based on that accusation, which made about as much sense as accusing me of being Marie of Rumania. I banned her, and also told her why in intentionally unkind terms. I’m not sorry.

3. It continues to amaze me how many people feel they have to comment on commentary—often in abusive and indignant terms– when they haven’t taken the time to read the post. Unbelievable.

4. I expected some readers to defend the actions of the waitress, but not as many as turned up.

5. I am grateful for the assistance of texagg04, affectionately known as “Tex,” who jumped into the fray late last night when I was trying to deflect attacks left and right. I owe you, bro.

6. Facts:

  • It is not against the law not to leave a tip.
  • It is not against the law even it is a so-called “mandatory tip.”
  • It is not against the law even if the mandatory tip is noted in the menu.
  • It is not legally theft.
  • It is unethical to leave an inadequate tip when the service was at least acceptable, as it apparently was at Applebee’s that fateful day.
  • It is not unethical to leave less than the expected tip if the service was poor.

7. A server, or a server’s colleague, has no right to take any negative action against a diner who unfairly leaves an inadequate tip. That is the restaurant’s choice alone.

8. Applebee’s did nothing wrong whatsoever. The large number of posts asserting that Applebee’s or eating establishments in general mistreat their employees, justifying conduct like the waitress’s web-shaming are manufacturing rationalizations. Even if true, and I have no evidence of that in this instance, that is irrelevant to Chelsea’s duties as an employee, and subsequent misconduct.

9. There is no way to ethically shame the pastor without the participation and approval of the restaurant.

10. There are three  problems with what the waitress did: 1) She worked for Applebee’s, and embarrassed an Applebee’s customer in a manner that involved the restaurant and that directly related to a patron’s visit there. That is employee misconduct, anywhere, no matter what the provocation. 2) She was engaging in vengeance, which is unethical—“tit for tat” conduct which is virtually always wrong.  3) The vigilante punishment was disproportional to the offense,

11. A restaurant does not have to specifically inform employees that taking unilateral action against restaurant patrons is a firing offense. That said, I’d be shocked if the employment manual didn’t include language broad enough to cover this incident. It didn’t have to say, “Don’t web-shame cheap customers.”

12. I think Applebee’s should ban Bell from eating at any of its restaurants. I said that in the post. But that does not mean that it should “show some spine” and endorse an employee unilaterally harming a patron in revenge. She was acting personally, but doing so in a way that reflected on her employers, involved them, and harmed them. No employer should be expected to tolerate that, and those who endorse such conduct are foolish.

13. Dumbest and most irritating ethics-free comment, repeated many times: “If you ever waited tables, you wouldn’t take that position! You don’t know what you’re taking about!” Translation: “I’m biased, because I’m a server, sympathize with servers, and can’t be objective. You can’t analyze this without being biased too.” The underlying ethical issues–vengeance, vigilante action, violation of duties to employers—have nothing to do with waiting tables, and apply the same way in other professions.

14. The expropriation and publication of data on a proprietary document belonging to the diner, Bell, and Applebee’s is per se  unethical conduct. There is no defense for it.

15. A diner does not voluntarily put herself in the public eye by what she writes on a check that is between her and the restaurant.

16. An interesting spin-off was raised by a vengeful waitress who defended Chelsea and said that when she was stiffed on a large bill, she informed the mayor of the town that the diner, a city lawyer, was plotting against the city with his meal companion. Even if he was, servers are professionally obligated to keep the contents of conversations they overhear confidential. If she had done this as a whistle-blower, it is ethically defensible. She did it to get even, which is not a justifiable reason, and the restaurant would be justified in firing her for doing it.

17. Yes, I sometimes have typos and other errors in my replies to comments. As regular readers know, I have them in my posts, too, though I am constantly cleaning them up. The typos in the comments are mostly due to the fact that I answer a lot of them, in addition to the fact that I can’t type or spell. This does not, as one commenter asserted, mean that I did not graduate from the schools I “claim” I did. And what makes you think graduates of those schools  necessarily proof-read any better than I do?

18. As for the web-shaming fans who argue that Chelsea’s act was virtuous because such evil conduct should exposed, and anyone who acts so disgracefully deserves to be held up to disparagement across the globe: None of us should want to live in a society where every mistake we make is at risk to be preserved forever online, warping the opinions that others form of us for the rest of our lives. In Europe, it is called “the right to be forgotten.” The Golden Rule applies, not that Pastor Bell would recognize it. This is a perfect example of the kind of minor lapse–it’s 7 lousy bucks!—that the elephant gun of public shaming should not be used against.

19. Novel (and bad) rationalizations: 1) Because the waiter collected money, he became a co-owner of Applebee’s. Ugh, no. He is the agent of Applebee’s, and still just an employee. 2) The bill wasn’t proprietary, because it wasn’t copyrighted of trademarked. Wrong. “Proprietary” also means “property belonging to someone,” and the someone wasn’t Chelsea. 3) Bell’s comment on the bill slip was directed at the waiter personally, so the retaliation was only personal too. Ridiculous. First, it is unclear that the comment was directed at the waiter at all; I’d say it was directed at the restaurant that mandated the 18%. But even if it was directed at the waiter, it was directed at the waiter in his capacity as an employee, not personally….not that it would justify retaliation even if it was intended personally. 4) Applebee’s has an obligation to support retaliation for “blatant abuse” or an employee being “taken advantage of.” This suggests that every time a waiter is given an unfair tip, the restaurant should support web-shaming. The “blatant abuse” was withholding a seven buck tip—not nice, but “abuse”? This wasn’t even why Chelsea posted the bill—it was what was written on it that outraged her, and that didn’t “take advantage of anyone.” That was just someone being a mega-jerk.

20. This is not a free speech issue.

21. The Applebee’s employee manual has plenty of provisions prohibiting Chelsea’s conduct.

22. If you are tempted to argue, as one commenter did, that my use of an Applebee’s menu as a background on a day when I am getting nothing but comments related to this post suggests that I am endorsing the restaurant or otherwise a shill for it, heed this warning: Don’t. There are some insults I won’t tolerate, and this is one of them. UPDATE (2/2): The Applebee’s menu background was scheduled to be replaced today, but I’m leaving it up in honor of the cognitively damaged commenters, currently numbering two–one banned and one likely to be—who have accused me of shilling for the restaurant.


UPDATE (2/1): Now it appears that the pastor left a tip in cash, and only complained about it on the slip. And that Applebee’s charged her credit card with the tip anyway, meaning that it owes her money. If true, this makes Bell far less of a villain, and also makes her complaint to the restaurant more justifiable. It also makes Welch’s conduct look reckless and unfair, further justifying her dismissal.

46 thoughts on “Comment Overview: “Mutual Destruction At Applebee’s: An Uncharitable Pastor and a Vengeful Waitress Do Each Other In”

  1. “If its posted that a gratuity is included for parties above a certain size then why isn’t that theft if they don’t pay it?”

    Presenting a restaurant bill equates to presenting an invoice. Refusing to pay some or all of an invoice is a chalange to the provider to sue you (a civil matter) for the difference. Of course, if you run from the eatery and leave no information saying who you are then that would be a criminal act.

      • It’s not that cut-and-dried legally. In most cases, judges have ruled that an automatic gratuity is considered a tip and optional, but there have been cases where it was considered not optional. There have also been instances of people who refused to pay an automatic gratuity being arrested by the police until it got sorted out. So it’s not as simple as you make it sound.

          • Now, this doesn’t mean that it’s illegal, however, there are cases where people have been arrested for not paying gratuity.

              • It may not be illegal on the books, but in layman’s terms, it is an offense that is punishable under the law. If I refused to pay the gratuity and the wait staff call the police, I can be arrested and then put in jail (especially if the police officer is a friend or relative of the wait staff). Once in jail, I must pay a $750 “processing fee” that is not refundable and I can’t even sue to get it back, even if the arrest was due to mistaken identity.

                So, if I can be arrested and fined $750 for it, it makes it illegal from my point of view and the restaurant’s point of view, doesn’t it. It is sort of like getting a traffic ticket in Ohio. You have to pay the fine before the court date. If you win in court, they don’t refund the money. You may not have “technically” done anything illegal, but the law punishes you anyway.

                • Michael, with all due respect, are you seriously arguing that because someone might be illegally arrested due to a mistake of the law, that means it is proper to act as if what isn’t the law is? Outrageous! You do have recourse when the police arrest you for something that is legal, against both the the police and the restaurant. There are big settlements like this every day. The police cannot arrest you without probable cause, and without a law, there is no probable cause. I have checked with several lawyers on this. The restaurant is the one violating the law. They cannot legally make you pay a tip (or, I have been told, though I an still dubious,even a service charge), and they absolutely cannot legally charge you for a “tip” they put on your bill that you cross off. The law cannot “punish you anyway” unless you permit it—and we have an ethical, civic duty to fight that.

                  This has alerted me to a whole new area, and for that, I’m grateful.

  2. I too am astonished at the amount of comments.

    We certainly have flushed the Revenge Approving Wait-staff Lobby’s strongest adherents.

    No one from the Spite Approving Pastors Lobby has come forward, somewhat debunking that one original commenters notion that born again Christians are all jack-asses.

    Amusing though:
    as of this comment’s time stamp, in the main Post, “asshat” has been used twice. I think thats a record of some sort.

  3. I responded yesterday, but neglected to include my name. I agreed then — and now — with your five suggestions. Down deep I desise the tipping system for paying serving people — why not pay them a suitable salary and thus relieve the puiblic of this problem — but that’s like trying to do away with the Electoral College. Neither makes any sense. OldJerryB

    • If this was just an American thing, that would be more easily fixable. On cruise ships, which are internationally owned and employed, most of the cabin attendants and wait staff (who work 14 hours/day, 7 days/week, no joke!) only get a $50/month guarantee and survive solely on the tips they make. The tipping system will never change if corporations and restaurant chains can pay so little for the employees and have the customers make up for the costs.

    • You stopped reading before than, because I didn’t use the term “ethical facts.” I stated factual conclusions about what happened from an ethical point of view. There are clear ethical conclusions that can be made in may situations, as this one. If you think ethics is that up for grabs, you are 1) wrong and 2) probably untrustworthy.

      • Thank you for all of those valid points. When it comes down to it though, it did not become a public shaming until Alois Bell made it so. Only her congregation of 37 people would have known it was her, not the rest of the world, and nobody else would have known it was Applebee’s had they not taken the action to fire the waitress. It only became a mass shaming on the pastor’s and restaurant’s part once they revealed their identity. Had the pastor not been so self-absorbed to realize the consequences of her complaining to Applebee’s, her embarassment would not be worldwide. The waitress lapsed in judgment by keeping the signature legible but did not allow for the receipt to be identified as one from Applebee’s. But as a commenter said on another site: “The waitress will find another job. The pastor’s career will never recooperate.” So does that mean that she can now sue Applebee’s or the waitress for defamation of character? With her actions in the past week, she probably will without weighing out the consequences.

        • “Only her congregation of 37 people would have known it was her” That was public enough. And the shaming became public, which is a predictable risk when you post something like this on-line.

          Bell has no legal recourse, I would guess, though I wouldn’t be against her finding some lawyer who will try.

  4. From this article comes this overlooked quote:

    “What they didn’t show is the money that I left and that we all left on the table,” said Bell. She says she left $6.29 on the table and her credit card was also charged the tip amount. Everyone else at the table also left tips in cash.”

    So Bell, according to her statement, ended up tipping the server a total of 36%, which, if true, just makes this story even better.

    Ethics question: Should Applebee’s now refund her the tip amount from her credit card bill? It was apparently her intention to pay with cash instead of via credit card and she ended up paying double.

      • Exactly. We have nothing but her word that she actually left some cash on the table. If she was so put out by the 18% automatic gratuity that she needed to write a snarky comment on the bill, how likely is it that she changed her mind and decided to leave a tip in cash? She has already shown herself to be a person of poor character. I see no reason to trust her word on this.

        • JWO, I am glad you and Tex commented here. I was going to retract an earlier statement of judgment I made about the pastor. But now, I am convinced there is just too much “fog of war” to be sure about the facts of the course of events. The “dots” are just not connecting. It is impossible to discern the full culpability (or absence thereof) of the pastor.

        • It is entirely possible that the pastor left a tip in cash, particularly if everyone else at the table was doing likewise. I often leave the tip in cash when paying by credit card, as I then feel more sure that it will actually end up in the server’s hands. The pastor could reasonably have protested the restaurant’s service charge policy on the bill, while tipping the server directly at the same time. Whether she did or not only she, her companions and the server know.

        • The comment was rude and unnecessary. I have had a lot of people cross out gratuity, but it is always added to your bill if it is so stated on the menu or elsewhere in the store. By doing that they’re just being nasty, they are still going to be charged the tip. It is quite legal to charge them, as well, as I’m sure everyone has seen on the bottom of their credit card receipts, it is clearly stated, “By signing here the cardholder agrees to pay the above stated amount.” This includes the gratuity, which is very clearly printed on the check, credit card receipt and all copies of both. If she chose to leave extra cash, that is her problem, legally the restaurant has no obligation to refund her money since she signed her receipt and left the store. If it is your personal choice not to leave a gratuity, you can simply pull your server aside and let them know you would not like to tip them, say it out loud to an employee, or that gratuity is your lot, whether you want to leave it or not. It goes without saying but, if you are old enough to have a bank account and debit or credit card, you should ALWAYS read what you are signing, especially if there is but one measly sentence for you to read.
          I don’t believe that she did leave any cash on the table, simply because in my experience, people who react the way she did, never do.
          Serving sucks, and I have never worked at a restaurant where the management team were kind to all their employees, but that doesn’t mean that firing this girl was a bad decision. I am sure that they had plenty of legal grounds to do so, and even though I feel her pain, I can’t say that I would expect my management or any other to react any differently.

          • My only problem with analysis is this: “By signing here the cardholder agrees to pay the above stated amount.” This includes the gratuity, which is very clearly printed on the check, credit card receipt and all copies of both. If she chose to leave extra cash, that is her problem, legally the restaurant has no obligation to refund her money since she signed her receipt and left the store.”

            Wrong. She crossed out the amount she chose not to pa on tyhe slip. That is legal, and appropriate where the amount is either a “mandatory tip” or an error. She signed it after she changed the amount.

  5. I cant tell you ho much “I owe you, bro” tickled me. Seeing the lexicon of white college males in terms of an ethics debate is awesome in so many ways. “Naw, dude, the ethical imperative is with the waitress – dont make me get Kantian bro!” “No. Broseph, I’m telling you, the ethical chain here is dubious at best. The pastor is inappropriately cheap and the waitress resorted to public shaming on the web. O! like that time you made Stacy go ducth and she put you on blast on FB.” “Yeah… but Stacy was hot though” “Yeah she was!” *high five*

  6. Applebee’s corporate stated that no cash was left as a tip.

    It is an unsubstantiated conclusion (and likely an erroneous one) on your part to assume and claim the posting of the receipt was an act of vengeance.

    The receipt image did not indicate anywhere that it was from Applebee’s — therefore, it can’t be said that Chelsea was representing Applebee’s when she posted it.

    Chelsea has just as much right to vent her frustration as Bell had to write a comment on the receipt. if it wasn’t meant for a mass audience, Bell should not have added it to a receipt that many people will be exposed to and which becomes a legal document (for tax and credit card records).

    It is unethical for you to make so many unfounded presumptions, yet you do.

    • Huh? It wasn’t an act of vengeance? Retribution? Punishment? What was it, then, in your view? A compliment? A gift? What do you think “web-shaming” is?
      “therefore, it can’t be said that Chelsea was representing Applebee’s when she posted it.” because she was posting material that belonged to Applebee’s, not her. She worked for Applebee’s, and her conduct involves Applebee’s and the employment manual lays out very clearly the lind of things you cannot do while so employed, and this was clearly one of them.

      What? “Chelsea has just as much right to vent her frustration as Bell had to write a comment on the receipt. if it wasn’t meant for a mass audience”??? Nobody’s talking about rights, though the pastor had more of a right to be a jerk than Chelsea had to violate the condition of her employment. But what do you mean “wasn’t meant for a mass audience”—she put it on the Internet!

  7. I agree with you for the most part and have spent years as a server. Did I have people do things that were stunningly rude, boorish, and contemptible? Occasionally. Did I do anything to get revenge? Never. Not once. But I did come up with some really novel and potentially devastating ideas for how to enact revenge. But I was never rash enough to actually follow through. I believe that had the young woman in this story thought through the potential outcome she might not have done what she did. It was a poorly thought out act.

    One point, though: I think that the reaction that a lot of people had is based on proportion. What the pastor did was the worse of the two wrongs, yet the server appears to have received the greater punishment in loss of her livelihood. The pastor is embarrassed. As arrogant as she is she’s probably already over it. I

    also DO NOT BELIEVE the cash tip story. It seems a rather late add on. Why if she had left a cash tip as she claims, did she not simply note *that* on the receipt? That would have made more sense if she had left a cash tip rather than making the statement about 10% to God. It makes no sense and smells like BS.

    • I think what the pastor did speaks more poorly of her than what Chelsea did, though the waitress doesn’t seem to get it. But clearly stiffing someone a paltry 7 bucks and writing something stupid on a bill is far less harmful over-all than web-shaming someone and causing a major PR mess for your employer. Proportion is exactly the problem, and what the waitress did was far worse by that criteria.

      • I see your point. And no, the waitress doesn’t seem to get that what she did was also wrong. I don’t see how the restaurant could do anything other than fire her, honestly. Still, the pastor likely doesn’t get it either. I still absolutely don’t buy that she left a cash tip and my guess is, having been a server for a long time, that her behavior was *not* an anomaly, but habitual. This just happens to be the first time she’s been outed for something like this.

  8. NOTE: I am going to start banning posters like this, from commenters who neither accept the mission of the blog nor try to stay within its spirit. This is from “Andrew,” and to hell with him. I have put in a lot of work to engage people on this issue, and I don’t have to put up with every jerk who crawls by with a sneer for me.

    He writes:.

    “That first paragraph is some of the most self important drivel Ive ever read. Has it ever occurred to you that you’re getting comments, not because you “struck a nerve” with your commentary, but because its a hotly debated story? Sorry the important subjects are being ignored. If it makes you feel better..I didn’t read what you had to say about them either.”

    Good for you, Andrew, stay ignorant and trivial. It is a relatively trivial story, and yes, it is significant that so much of the public 1) can’t comprehend the ethics basics in a story like this, and get overcome with who they like and who they don’t, which is bias, and 2) are more interested in the clash of a pompous pastor and a presumptuous waitress than whether the country is going to crash and burn, and whether we no longer have a trustworthy media.

    Here’s the first paragraph:

    “This post is approaching an Ethics Alarms record for comments, and as always in the case when my commentary strikes a nerve, almost never on the most serious issues [This earlier post from yesterday, for example, is one that matters, and that I wish would get wider distribution, since I appear to be the only one making these points], the later comments tend to re-iterate the earlier ones, which have already been addressed, and I hate explaining the same thing over and over. Also the trolls have come out to urinate on everything, and I’ve had to ban a few, which I don’t like to do.”

    If anything, it is self-deprecating, not self important. You think it is inappropriate for me to flag what I think is an important post on my own blog—what do I write for? I’m not paid for this. It’s a service. Much of the work here is light, or informational, or of short-time frame importance. Some of it is in fact important, and yes, I know some things, and my duty is to use what I know to help others understand their world, life, and human relations.

    And once again, I don’t need abuse and snark for doing it. Go away, don’t come back

    AND, naturally, “Andrew” used a fake e-mail address, which is not allowed. Come on my site, insult me, and ignore the rules. Good plan. Why there have been such a large number of fools and trolls on this thread, I don’t know, but after two days, I’m sick of them, and my patience is gone.


    • You’re fighting the good fight as much as it ought to be a sideshow. I lost track of all this at work today. So many people here are representative of the lunacy that is our nation.

      We’ve expended so much energy on what ought to be a cut and dry boring side show of our culture war… A veritable battle of palmito ranch compared to the debt disaster, immigration reform, etc… All things which ought to garner the attention of battle of Gettysburg.

      It’s absolutely sickening how upside down our priorities are that we can’t think rationally. Our materialist/narcissist culture cares only about the most base things in life. We deserve the leaders we’ve elected and we deserve the mad nightmare we are consigning ourselves to while we excite our passions over vindictive squabbles that are cut and dry. Civilization takes work and we are lazy.

      I wonder if this is how Roman Citizens behaved around 350-476 AD?

  9. Dear Applebee’s:

    If you want to make it clear that the 18% is mandatory and can’t be changed, stop calling it a “tip.” A tip is a discretionary gift for good service, and by definition isn’t mandatory. A service charge, on the other hand, is like any other part of the bill. It says, we’re charging you this much for the service, no matter how good it is. That’s clear. I know what a charge is, and I’ll pay charges I know are coming. The word tip is ambiguous, and misleading.

  10. I was server for several years, for a place that had auto grats, for large tables. I always crossedout the auto grat on the bil. I even argued with my manager about it. But i always, every time; got more than the 18% and I was not a very good waiter. People don’t like being forced to tip. It would not suprise me if a cash tip was left on the table is all I’m saying.

  11. Wow !! You do realize the person who got fired and posted the reciept WAS NOT the waitress who helped Alois and her group of “Christians” , it was her coworker – so the vengeful waitress comment seems to be a bit off base. All theatrics aside – what would you do if someone came into your work and offended one of your coworkers – would you defend them ?

    • Yes, the post says that, actually, though it did not originally. Ethically, it makes no difference who posted the bill—whatever the provocation, it was still wrong to do so…Unfair punishment, but also a breach of the employee’s duty to her employer.

  12. I agree with your conclusions regarding this entire appalling incident, particularly about people’s mistakes enshrined forever on the Internet coming back to haunt them. Though much lip service is given to redemption, in practice, it seldom is allowed.
    As for Bell having left a cash tip, however, we have only her word on that, and her credibility is lacking.
    Neither Bell nor Welch behaved properly.

  13. I absolutely agree with ALL of your conclusions. Both parties were at fault equally. However, I thought I might shed some light on the “facts” that have been presented so far, considering that the other employees of this particular Applebees cannot confirm or deny them, or risk possible termination of their own jobs.
    Ms. Bell DID pay the 18%. It was on her bill, so it was automatically deducted from her credit payment,along with the rest of her bill.She did not,however, leave any cash tip on the table. Nor did ANYONE else in her party. They were charged 18%, and that is exactly what they paid. The server made only what the bill(s) called for.
    Ms.Bell’s complaint to the management essentially consisted of her demanding that ALL of the people involved be fired. Not reprimanded, not any sort of apology, but termination of employment. The server, whomever posted the receipt, the manager, pretty much EVERYONE who was working at the time. Although Ms. Welch acted on her own, the server nor the manager was none the wiser as to what she was doing/what she did, Ms. Bell was ADAMANT about what she wanted, and that was termination of employment for all.
    I understand Ms. Bell’s outrage.I wouldn’t want my name posted all over the internet either.
    I understand Ms. Welch’s annoyance. I wouldn’t want me or my coworkers livelihood to be compared/judged to God.Simply on the service or job that was performed.
    This is nothing more than people being people, with all our faults. And then,through use of the internet, being blown WAY out of proportion.

    • Great info, though I can’t confirm it. Is this personal knowledge, or do you have a link?
      Whoever took the 18% without authorization SHOULD be fired, because that’s illegal.

      “This is nothing more than people being people, with all our faults.” No, it’s really people being UNETHICAL people, who should know better.

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