Anger Directed at Applebee’s Is More Likely to Hurt Than Help Workers

Admit it. The Web campaign against Applebee’s is getting gratuitous. It all began when a St. Louis pastor who dined there got upset at the tip added to her bill. “I give God 10 percent,” she wrote on her receipt. “Why do you get 18 percent?” Waitresses were understandably offended and amused, and one uploaded a photo of the receipt to the Internet, where it went viral, causing the customer to be harassed after Internet sleuths deciphered her signature and identity.Like a lot of people, I find the customer’s behavior objectionable, and I’m sympathetic to the waitress who was fired for uploading the receipt. Even granting the restaurant chain’s legitimate interest in protecting customer privacy, a sanction short of termination would’ve sufficed.

But the anti-Applebee’s rage is arbitrary and out of all proportion to the events that transpired, and that’s problematic for reasons that transcend unfairness to Applebee’s, a chain that could disappear tomorrow without me minding. The extraordinary anger being generated has more to do with the incident’s viralness than the magnitude of the company’s bad behavior. As a result, corporations across America aren’t thinking, “We’d better avoid perpetrating really bad behavior,” they’re thinking, “We’d better avoid any situation that involves our company getting viral publicity.”

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