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18 April 2013

God, Tips, and Privacy

By Diana Hsieh

Back in January, the internet was agog over the report that a pastor objected to the 18% gratuity added to her bill for being part of a large party by writing on the receipt, "I give God 10% why do you get 18?"



The proper answer, of course, is provided by Grumpy Cat:



Your waitress offers you a genuine service, in exchange for your tip... God, not so much.

However, what I find particularly interesting about the story from an ethical perspective lie in the details of what happened at the restaurant and afterwards.

[Chelsea Welch's co-worker [at an Applebee's in the St. Louis area] had waited on a large party hosted by Pastor Alois Bell of the World Deliverance Ministries Church in Granite City, Ill. As is common at many restaurants, an 18 percent tip was automatically added to the bill.

Pastor Bell crossed out the automatic tip and wrote "0" on the receipt, along with this message: "I give God 10% why do you get 18?"

Welch, who did not wait on Pastor Bell's table took a photo of the bill and uploaded it to Reddit where it soon went viral. "I thought the note was insulting, but it was also comical," Welch told TheConsumerist. "I posted it to Reddit because I thought other users would find it entertaining."

Bell, who did not see the humor in this, complained to the restaurant's manager. Bell told The Smoking Gun she did not expect her signature to be all over the Internet.

Applebee's confirms that Welch was fired. In a statement, the company says:

"Our Guests' personal information - including their meal check - is private, and neither Applebee's nor its franchisees have a right to share this information publicly. We value our Guests' trust above all else. Our franchisee has apologized to the Guest and has taken disciplinary action with the Team Member for violating their Guest's right to privacy. This individual is no longer employed by the franchisee."

Pastor Bell told The Smoking Gun she is sorry for what happened and points out that she left a $6.29 cash tip on the table.

"My heart is really broken," she told them. "I've brought embarrassment to my church and my ministry."

As this story makes clear, the waitress didn't intend for anyone to be able to identify the pastor in question, and she took measures to prevent that identification. Alas, the power of the internet was too great. Also, the waitress reports that the pastor "contacted her Applebee's location, demanding that everyone be fired, from the servers involved to the managers." (That's a quote from the article, not from the waitress.)

On the one hand, I understand why Applebee's fired the server who posted the receipt. The restaurant wants its customers to feel secure in their privacy while on premises, particularly in their dealings with their employees, particularly in their financial transactions.

Nonetheless, in this age of social media, people's expectations of privacy must change... or they will get burned. If you're in public, your antics might be broadcast far and wide across the internet for other people's amusement. Then, if you act petulant and bossy about that, as this pastor seemed to do, you'll be lambasted even more.

Ultimately, a person needs to be responsible for his own privacy. That requires thinking in advance about what he wishes to keep private or not. That requires attention to what he says and does in view or earshot of other people. That requires being selective about what emails or posts online. That requires providing appropriate context for public actions if he wants to avoid being misjudged.

A rational person does not broadcast his private activities to the world, then blame others for taking notice.

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