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On January 29th, 2013, Saint Louis resident and Applebee’s waitress Chelsea Welch, known as “gateflan” on Reddit, submitted a photograph to the atheism subreddit in a post titled “My mistake sir, I’m sure Jesus will pay for my rent and groceries,” showing a receipt that a customer had left for another server at the restaurant. Along with the customer’s signature, a note on the receipt read “I give God 10%, why do you get 18,” referring to the automatic 18% gratuity added on to parties of 8 or more. In the comments, Welch explained that the receipt was issued for a table of 20 people who all asked for separate checks to avoid the automatic gratuity. The post received 12,861 upvotes and 3599 points overall.
Although the signature looked illegible to Welch, Redditors began parsing the image in the comments in an attempt to track down the pastor in question. Welch stated that she received a large number of messages and comments with Facebook profiles and other personal information from people wanting her to confirm the identity of the customer. She told the Guardian that she worked closely with Reddit moderators to remove all personal or identifying information from the thread in order to protect everyone involved. On the 29th and 30th, the photo spread across many internet culture blogs and news sites including the Consumerist, BoingBoing, Yahoo! News and Gawker.
Chelsea Welch’s statement
On January 31st, Consumerist and other news sources reported that Welch had been fired from her job for violating the customer’s right to privacy. In an interview with Consumerist, Welch stated that she initially posted the image as a “light-hearted joke” because she thought other Redditors would find it funny. She also asserted that she did her best to protect the identity of all parties involved and checked the company handbook prior to posting the image to assure that she did not violate any policies. Applebee’s countered this in a statement on their Facebook page, arguing that it violated the customer’s privacy as the check itself is personal information. However, a screenshot of another, positive check that was posted earlier the same month on the official fan page for the Applebee’s Welch was fired from began to circulate online. As of February 1st, this image has been removed from the Applebee’s page.
The link to the Consumerist article was subsequently posted to the news subreddit, where it earned 1578 upvotes and 1146 points overall. Welch’s termination was covered on Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post, the Daily Dot, the New York Daily News, Yahoo! News, Raw Story, and BoingBoing, among many others. Welch also detailed her experience for the Guardian Comment, where she stated her frustration with the situation as an employee who makes $3.50 an hour and depends on tips to survive. She also stated her confusion over why Applebee’s would rather side with a disgruntled customer over a dedicated employee who had high sales and had never previously violated a policy. Her statement gained more than 4300 notes on Tumblr in just a few hours.
As the image and news of Welch’s termination began to circulate, people began voicing their opinions on the situation on the Applebee’s Facebook page and on Twitter with the hashtag #BoycottApplebees, which was used nearly 500 times on January 31st. A handful of Facebook comments threatening to boycott the chain were highlighted on The Daily Dot on February 1st. Also on Facebook, the group Hire Back Chelsea was launched on the 31st, gaining nearly 5400 likes in one day. Additionally, the staff members of Huffington Post Comedy launched an online petition stating that the signers would eat at an Applebee’s at least once in 2013 if Welch was rehired. It gained more than 5200 signatures in a day.
The Smoking Gun Interview
Also on January 31st, Pastor Alois Bell (shown below) was interviewed by The Smoking Gun where she stated that she had brought embarrassment to her ministry and that the comment was a “lapse in judgement that has been blown out of proportion.” When she was informed that the reciept with her signature was on Yahoo! News, she called the Applebee’s restaurant to complain. She learned later that day that the waitress who posted the image, Chelsea Welch, had been terminated. Gawker noted that Bell asked to have other employees working that night fired as well, requesting “a brand new staff” at the location by the next time she visited.
Official Statement from Applebee’s
In the early morning on February 1st, Applebee’s responded directly to concerns on their Facebook page, summing up the events that led to Welch’s termination. Gawker quickly commented on the official statement, again drawing a comparison to receipts that have appeared on the official Saint Louis Applebee’s Facebook fan page.
The Smoking Gun – Pastor Apologizes For Snide Remark On Meal Receipt
Huffington Post – Applebee’s Waitress Fired For Sharing ‘I Give God 10%’ Tip Receipt
The Daily Dot – Applebee’s fires waitress after being stiffed by pastor
The Daily Dot – After sour Applebee’s apology, Facebook users boycott chain
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