Diners Are Threatening to Boycott Applebee's—Here's Why

Patrons are calling for a boycott of the restaurant amid an ongoing controversy.

Referred to as "your local restaurant," Applebee's congenially welcomes diners to "the Neighborhood." The chain is known for maintaining a casual dining atmosphere, offering choices ranging between salads, burgers, wings, and even steak. According to the company's website, there are nearly 2,000 locations across the U.S. and the world, and their widespread customer base is accustomed to being served the American-style cuisine they've come to know and love—all at a reasonable price. But recently, Applebee's has faced backlash and calls for a boycott on social media. Read on to learn more about how the recent events have landed the beloved chain in hot water.

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People are threatening to boycott Applebee's after a controversial email was leaked.

Applebee's restaurant sign and logo
Ken Wolter / Shutterstock

With the current state of the world, many Americans are still reeling from the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to mass unemployment and financial hardship. Issues have been compounded as of late with inflation and gas prices rising at an alarming rate. Many companies have opted to lend a helping hand to employees during their time of need, but one email from Wayne Pankratz, an executive director of operations for American Franchise Capital (a franchisee of Applebee's restaurants in the Midwest), seems to express the opposite.

As reported by Forbes, a leaked email from Pankratz to colleagues, dated March 9, ended up on Reddit on March 21 and was then shared on Twitter. In it, the executive seemed to be gloating about the benefits that inflation and the discontinuation of unemployment benefits may have for the company. "Most of our employee base and potential employee base live paycheck to paycheck," the email reads, adding that increasing prices will require employees to up their hours in order to maintain their lifestyle. According to Pankratz, rising gas prices are also advantageous as the surge "will increase application flow and has the potential to lower our average wage."

"We are no longer competing with the government when it comes to hiring. Stimulus money is no more, supplemental unemployment is now more," Pankratz wrote. "This benefits us as prices rise, people who [were] relying on employment money, simply will have less money to spend. It will force people back into the workforce." According to Insiderthe email allegedly pertains to an Applebee's location in Lawrence, Kansas.

The hashtag #BoycottApplebees is trending on Twitter.

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In the wake of the leak, Twitter users have been using the hashtag #boycottapplebees, urging diners to avoid the restaurant. Users have been loudly voicing their complaints, with one user tweeting, "We didn't need another reason not to go to Applebee's, but lowering their employees wages because of inflation? Cmon #BoycottApplebees."

Applebee's has responded to customers' direct complaints about meals and service on Twitter, but there is no reference to the controversy on the social media account.

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Pankratz has been fired as a result of the email.

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Following the uproar generated by the email, Pankratz was fired by the company, the Springfield News-Leader reported on March 29.

"This is the opinion of an individual, not Applebee's," said Kevin Carroll, chief operations officer at Applebee's, in a statement to Insider. "The individual has been terminated by the franchisee who owns and operates the restaurants in this market. Our team members are the lifeblood of our restaurants, and our franchisees are always looking to reward and incentivize team members, new and current, to remain within the Applebee's family."

The Lawrence location temporarily closed on March 22 when several employees quit after reading the email. The manager of the location, Jake Holcomb, shared the leaked email and quit immediately. "I printed a couple dozen copies of the emails, distributed throughout the restaurant, putting them around places so servers could find them," Holcomb told the News-Leader. "Then, I gave everyone in the restaurant their food for free and we just left; we didn't even close the store."

The Lawrence location reopened on March 23, the News-Leader reported.

This is not the first time that Applebee's has been involved in controversy.

the exterior of an Applebee's restaurant in Saugus, Massachusetts
QualityHD/Shutterstock

Applebee's recently faced backlash for a different reason, halting ads on CNN in Feb. 2022 after one of their commercials aired directly after coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As reported by Newsweek, the clip made its way around Twitter, and Applebee's reported concern and disappointment with the network's timing of the ad.

"We are deeply concerned about the situation in Ukraine," an Applebee's spokesperson said in a statement to Forbes. "When we were made aware that our ad was placed in this manner, we immediately reached out to CNN to pause our advertising on their network. It never should have aired, and we are disappointed in the action of the network."

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