The Not-So-Happy Hour at Applebee’s: Three things we can learn from the Social Media Food Fight

Jeff Madden

I’m sure you heard the news. Maybe even followed the story. Applebee’s became another case study in the age of digital streaming news. If you missed it, here’s a quick snippet.

Large group at an Applebee’s in St. Louis stiffs a waitress with a bad tip and rude message on a receipt. Distraught waitress shares receipt with co-worker. Co-worker snaps a photo and posts on social media site Reddit. Co-worker gets canned due to releasing private customer information without corporate approval.

Then, all hell breaks loose. The public feels sorry for the stiffed waitress and her friend who got the pink slip. In a matter of moments, “boycott Applebee’s” fan pages appear online. Twitter news streams on the Applebee’s website go crazy like tweets during a Justin Bieber concert.

Applebee’s jumps in the mix with a comment that goes viral. Then it backfires because, after all, everything lives forever in the digital world and can go viral in microseconds. Within hours, more than 17,000 comments appear on Applebee’s Facebook page. A response is posted by Applebee’s at 2 a.m. It was like pouring gas on a fire by that point.

The crowd goes nuts. Comments are mysteriously removed, although this is denied. The corporate post gets tagged to various posts. Over and over again. More fuel. Bigger fire. Online arguments break out. It was like watching a food fight in an elementary school.

(I think I need a drink after watching this go down.)

There’s more if you want to check it out online.

Here are three key things we can learn from this event.

  1. Prepare. These things tend to happen in the middle of the night or on a weekend when you have fewer resources and less time. Follow your social media plan and flowchart. Hopefully you have one. If not, call us.
  2. Respond appropriately. Listen carefully. Understand what the trigger points are and plan an appropriate response. Acknowledge the issue, explain the facts and assure your audience.
  3. Maintain open lines of communication. Don’t remove comments during a firestorm unless they are obscene or vulgar. It will rouse the masses. Don’t tag comments with “canned” or “legal” responses. This is your opportunity to be more personable and compassionate.

I’ll admit that I like Applebee’s, although I don’t go there often. I think it is a good company and employs good people. I’m sure Applebee’s will evaluate this unfortunate issue to create better lines of communication with its customers.

Learn from this so you can keep the food off your face and happy customers coming to your place. It’s all good in the neighborhood.

– Jeff Madden, account supervisor

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One Response to The Not-So-Happy Hour at Applebee’s: Three things we can learn from the Social Media Food Fight

  1. I always remember being told that when tension is high, you are to never respond like a lawyer. Always respond with heartfelt emotion. It seems they could have gotten out of this mess with a little softer tone and by saying, “Yeah, what the customer did was wrong and rude, but what our employee did was also wrong.”

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