After Pastor Alois Bell left the message "I give God 10% Why do you get 18" on a credit card slip for her waitress, another server named Chelsea Welch posted a picture of it on Reddit. Outraged internet sleuths managed to decipher Bell's name and outed her online.
But by exposing Bell, web vigilantes also ended up getting Welch fired. That had two consequences. First, Welch is -- of course -- unemployed. Gut Check spoke with the Tower Grove South resident about what her plans for the future are. Second, it unleashed the internet's fury on Applebee's.
To make a bad situation even worse, whoever handles the chain's social-media accounts compounded the damage by allegedly deleting comments, releasing several shrill, panicked-sounding responses and basically not knowing when to quit.
When Gut Check spoke with Welch on Friday afternoon, she seemed in good spirits about the debacle but also had practical things to worry about.
"At this point this isn't even about the receipt anymore. It's not about the story. It's not about this pastor -- I need to find a job," she said. "I have no bad feelings toward this woman."
Welch was raised in southern Illinois and says she started waiting tables hoping to earn enough money to go to college without taking on debt. She says she knows that going to college is the only way she's going to get out of the service industry (at the same time noting ruefully that one of the kitchen workers at her former job had a master's degree).
"Restaurant workers, at the end of the day they want out," she said. "They hope for a job where they're going to be respected, paid a predictable wage, where they can count on it."
Since the story went viral, Welch says, she has had job offers from businesses in California and Canada, but nothing local. Several Facebook groups and petitions are demanding that Applebee's hire her back (this one has over 8,000 signatures) -- Welch wouldn't say whether she'd take her job back if it was offered. She says she has had sympathizers offer her money.
"As a broke kid trying to get into college it's certainly appealing," she said. "But I would much rather people hold on to that money for the next time they eat out."
She says the outpouring of support has been "astounding" but emphasizes that this Applebee's is not the only restaurant where servers are getting stiffed.
"I do want people to know my situation is not that uncommon and while it's garnered a lot of media attention, this happens to service workers everyday. Harsh notes, bad tips, getting fired to keep a customer happy. This happens to all of us, all the time, everywhere," she said.
Meanwhile, it seems that while heat is easing up on Pastor Bell and Welch, Applebee's is getting torched on social media. And the company isn't doing itself any favors with its response.
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