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Chelsea Welch, Applebee's waitress, fired. How do you handle mandatory tipping?

Chelsea Welch, an Applebee's waitress was fired for posting online a pastor's complaint about a mandatory 18 percent tip. Chelsea Welch's response aside, how would you handle Applebee's mandatory tip?

By Staff writer / February 1, 2013


You've been hit with a mandatory gratuity of 18 percent. What do you do?

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Well, Pastor Alois Bell left a biting note on her Applebee's receipt: "I give God 10% Why do you get 18?"

At Applebee's and many other restaurants, a gratuity becomes mandatory if the party is more than six or eight people. Do you have to pay it?

An Applebee's waitress posted a photo of Pastor Bell's receipt and it went viral online. The St. Louis pastor called the Applebee's manager to complain. Bell reportedly said her notation on the receipt was a “lapse in judgment that has been blown out of proportion.” “My heart is really broken,” said the 37-year-old Bell. “I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and ministry," she told The Smoking Gun.

Applebee's responded Jan. 30 by firing Chelsea Welch, the waitress who posted a photo of the receipt. In a statement, Applebee’s spokesperson Dan Smith reported that, “Our franchisee has apologized to the Guest” for violating the patron’s “right to privacy.” The individual responsible for the leak “is no longer employed by the franchise,” Smith added.

Chelsea Welch told Yahoo News that she was surprised that Applebee's fired her, "especially because there was nothing specific in the employee handbook admonishing this behavior."

"I had no intention of starting a witch hunt or hurting anyone. I just wanted to share a picture I found interesting," she said. “I come home exhausted, sore, burnt, dirty, and blistered on a good day. And after all that, I can be fired for ‘embarrassing’ someone who directly insults their server on religious grounds.”

Obviously, Chelsea Welch might have handled the pastor's snub differently, especially if she'd known that her job was on the line. But how else might Pastor Bell have handled the mandatory tip? When did a tip become something that a customer had to pay, instead of a reward for good service?

The legality of mandatory tipping varies from state to state, depending on how the tax code treats tips. But there have been at least two recent cases where restaurant customers have refused to pay a mandatory gratuity. In both cases, the restaurant management called the police and had the customers arrested. And in both cases, the prosecuting attorney's chose not to press charges, saying that any gratuity is by its nature discretionary or voluntary.

But are there other options when faced with a restaurant's mandatory tipping policy?

Personal finance blogger Len Penzo offers 5 ways to avoid the mandatory tip, including:

What do you think of Chelsea Welch's response to Pastor Bell's note? What do you think of mandatory tipping?

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