"I give God 10% why do you get 18?" the customer--revealed later as Pastor Alois Bell of St. Louis--wrote, scratching out the automatic large party gratuity and writing in "0." She also signed her name with the word "pastor."
Chelsea Welch, the waitress who posted picture on the Atheism page on Reddit under the name gateflan, was not in fact the sever at the pastor's table but her colleague.
“I took a picture of the note because I thought it was comically immature,” Welch said. “I thought it was humorously silly, the fact that someone would not only refuse to tip, not only make themselves out to kind of be a jerk but also play the religion card as an excuse.”
Bell alerted Applebee's to the photo Tuesday, after which Welch was fired.
"It was just dumb,” Bell said. “It was dumb of me and I can say that because I take responsibilities for all my actions.” She said she and the rest of her party left tips in cash on the table, and the original tip still came off her credit card.
Welch explained that Bell's party of 20 had run up charges exceeding $200 before tax and tip and asked for separate checks, hoping to avoid the standard 18 percent gratuity factored in for groups larger than eight people.
She also said the pastor--whom she deliberately described in her posts as an 'older black man' in order to try to prevent "a Reddit mob banging down [her] internet door"--picked up the entire tab despite the separate receipts.
Welch believes the trouble really started because the full signature was visible on the image she originally posted online.
"All throughout the comment thread on the Reddit post, I withheld any identifying information," Welch said, explaining that she thought the signature was completely illegible.
But with the word "pastor" clearly visible, that enraged Reddit mob began chasing down potential culprits--all wrong, Welch says.
"I had already started receiving messages containing Facebook profile links and blogs and websites, asking me to confirm the identity of the customer,” she told Consumerist.
“I refused to confirm any of them, and all of them were incorrect. I worked with the website moderators to remove any personal information. I wanted to protect the identity of both my fellow server and the customer. I had no intention of starting a witch hunt or hurting anyone—I just wanted to share a picture I found interesting.”
Welch, who said her relationship with her employer before the receipt incident had been good, expressed disappointment that Applebee's would "rather lose a dedicated employee than lose and angry customer."
"I didn't break any specific guidelines in the company handbook--I checked," she said. But her manager told her the customer--Bell--had complained that her reputation had been ruined by the picture.
A petition was started Thursday to get Welch rehired by Applebee's, and it so far has almost 4,000 signatures.
Applebee's, so far, seems to be sticking with its original decision, releasing the following statement:
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.
Bell, who leads the Truth in the Word Deliverance Ministries in St. Louis, has since spoken out about her new viral infamy.
“My heart is really broken,” she told the Smoking Gun. “I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and ministry.”
Pastor Bell also defended herself in an interview with the local Fox station: