Applebee’s leaked email exposes anti-worker views
During the past few months inflation has risen to levels not seen in four decades. Escalating the inflation pressures, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted an already tight oil market. As a result, average gas prices in the U.S. have reached their highest point since 2008. In the middle of this economic crisis, the popular restaurant chain, Applebee’s, has landed itself in hot water after an exposing email was leaked on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.
Mid-level executive Wayne Pankratz of Apple Central Group, an Applebee's franchisee, sent an email to employees expressing how soaring gas prices and inflation can work as an advantage to the company. In the leaked email, Pankratz disclosed that this will “increase application flow and has the potential to lower our average wage.” The email went on to say that most employees are living paycheck to paycheck and gas prices will cut disposable income, driving more potential employees into the hiring pool.
Pankratz's email was met with positive responses from some internal recipients who praised him for his “wise words.” However, after being posted on Reddit, the leak received over 75,000 upvotes with many vowing to boycott Applebee’s completely. At least three managers at the Kansas branch quit in protest of the offensive email. Along with gruesome media headlines, angry customers took to Twitter to voice their loathing for the company and condemn the anti-worker messages expressed in the email.
Large corporations like Apple Central Group need to be more considerate of what kind of people hold positions of power and send out messages to employees, possibly even requiring approval before mass memos are sent out. The situation with Applebee’s addresses the importance of company social responsibility, which includes being empathetic towards economic situations and valuing employees.
Brands should never treat employees as pawns for financial gain. Taking advantage of workers' hardships, especially when Applebee’s employees earn an average of $11.76 an hour, sours not only customer loyalty but relationships with potential hires. People in power expressing these unethical viewpoints can easily be exposed to the public and explode into a PR crisis.
Apple Central Group released a statement to the Kansas City Star on March 23, claiming Pankratz's statement was merely opinionated and does not represent the views of the company as a whole. Although there was no initial mention of whether Pankratz was let go from the company or would receive disciplinary action, he has since been fired. This is a vital component of Applebee’s regaining consumer trust and without this action, it would be more difficult for them to limit the reputational impact.
In situations like this, a proactive response is always necessary in order to begin to repair the brand’s image and relationship with consumers. People were furious with the appalling email and Applebee’s needed to permanently distance itself from Pankratz in order to fully demonstrate that the company does not stand with him. If similar situations arise in other companies, they should lead by this example and take concrete action. If Applebee's did not step up and show appreciation for its employees, it could have risked even further damage to employee morale.
Arianna is originally from the Bay Area but moved to San Diego to attend San Diego State University. Arianna is a third-year student pursuing a bachelor's degree in Journalism with an
emphasis in Public Relations and a minor in Spanish. After graduation, Arianna hopes to stay in Southern California and work for a PR firm or media company.