At the beginning of the year, we had a real donnybrook on Ethics Alarms over my contention that Applebee’s correctly fired a waitress for web- shaming a customer who refused to tip another server on the grounds, as the customer wrote on her credit card receipt, that the automatic tip of 18% was excessive since she (a pastor as well as a jerk) gave God only 10%. The indignant waitress posted the receipt on Reddit, which led to locals recognizing the pastor’s handwriting and appropriate antipathy being directed her way. Since the waitress’s conduct was a clear violation of Applebee’s employment terms and because publicly shaming customers who exercise their right not to leave tips is a poor customer relations strategy, she was sacked. Subsequently the unapologetic waitress received a lot of sympathy, while equally misguided observers vowed to punish Applebee’s for not wanting to be known for having waitresses on the payroll who are prone to misappropriate customer receipts and post them online to bring opprobrium down on the niggardly diners’ heads.
I think Applebee’s is looking prescient and wise right now. Ask Red Lobster, which did not fire Christina Jenkins, a 19-year-old African-American server at the Red Lobster restaurant in Franklin, Tennessee. Jenkins served a $44.53 order to Devin Barnes and his wife. Barnes wrote the word “none” by “tip, ” and, Jenkins claimed, wrote “Nigger” on the receipt as well. Jenkins then posted a photo of the racist receipt on her Facebook page, writing, “This is what I got as a tip last night…so happy to live in the proud southern states. God Bless America, land of the free and home of the low class racists of Tennessee.” Going the Applebee’s vigilante one better, Jenkins allowed Barnes’ signature to be visible on the receipt.
The photo, and story, went viral on the web and the news media gobbled it up. Mr. and Mrs. Barnes denied that they would write such a thing (they didn’t tip because the order was a carry out), but nobody believed them. After all, everyone knows that white customers in southern states are likely to write “nigger” on receipts, just as everyone knows that sort-of white neighborhood watch members racially profile black kids in hoodies for carrying bags of Skittles. Jenkins, in contrast, was besieged with sympathy and cash contributions: the latest tally was $10,749. A handwriting expert hired by Barnes, however, proved that “nigger” was not written by the customers, but by the waitress herself. Now Jenkins and Red Lobster are being sued by the Barneses, who have been subjected to harassment and threats.
And that’s not all…
Dayna Morales, a server at Gallop Asian Bistro in Bridgewater, New Jersey, also posted a photo on Facebook showing a receipt with a line through the tip. line and the scrawled statement, “I’m sorry but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle.”
As with Jenkins’ post, this inflamed the internet and sparked media interviews. Then the family contacted NBC 4 in New York claiming the receipt as theirs but altered. The husband and wife, who asked to remain anonymous, produced a receipt that appeared to be printed at the same minute, on the same date, for the same $93.55 total, except with an $18 tip. (See above) They also provided a Visa statement showing that their card was charged for the meal plus the tip, for a total of $111.55. The wife also pointed out that she filled out the receipt, and says and could not have made the slash through the tip line, which is drawn from the right, because she is left-handed. Moreover, the couple said that they both worked in restaurants and believed in tipping, and were not biased against gays. “We’ve never not left a tip when someone gave good service, and we would never leave a note like that,” the wife said.
Dayna, meanwhile, as is the new pattern, announced that supporters were sending her tips from all over the world, and that she was donating some of the money to the Wounded Warrior Project. She had identified herself as a former Marine. Now it is emerging that Morales was dishonorably discharged from the Corps, and has a reputation for spinning tales to gain sympathy and more.
Got that, Red Lobster, Gallop Asian Bistro, everyone? Restaurants receipts are not to be appropriated by vengeful, venal, dishonest, indignant, or even mistreated servers to garner sympathy for themselves (or their beleaguered minority groups) or to bring fury down on customers regardless of what they tipped, or what the may have written. This form of web-shaming is an invitation to abuse by liars like Jenkins and Morales, and will turn the simple act of paying a tip with cash into an opening to be vilified for profit.
Applebee’s was protecting itself, but also protecting us.