Restaurants Brand Purpose Brand Strategy

Applebee’s fires franchisee exec who penned email that ‘does not reflect our values’


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

March 28, 2022 | 3 min read

Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill + Bar grabbed the attention of the world last week when a franchisee exec encouraged restaurant managers to hire staff at lower wages to take advantage of rising inflation. Now the company has acted.

Applebee's storefront from low angle

The Applebee’s franchisee exec whose leaked email urged managers to slash employee pay has been fired / Adobe Stock

An internal email from an executive at an Applebee’s franchisee leaked last week implored restaurant managers to hire at lower rates and slash employee pay to make the most of rising inflation. Penned by Wayne Pankratz, a leader at Apple Central Group, which operates a number of Applebee’s restaurants in the Midwest, the email acknowledged that many Applebee’s employees “live paycheck to paycheck,” but urged restaurant managers to lower average wages.

Amid the backlash that ensued – which saw a media frenzy and restaurant managers at a Lawrence, Kansas location quit on the spot – Pankratz has been fired.

“The individual has been terminated by the franchisee who owns and operates the restaurants in this market,” Kevin Carroll, chief operations officer at Applebee’s, told The Drum via email yesterday as an update to a statement sent Friday. Carroll stressed that the opinions shared by Pankratz in the leaked email, which originally surfaced on Reddit, do not reflect the corporation’s values or beliefs.

“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,” says Carroll.

It’s worth noting that, according to recent data from Payscale, Applebee’s employees earn an average of $11.76 per hour. Comparatively, the national average hourly rate earned by hospitality sector workers is now $17.22, per the latest government data.

Most of its restaurants are owned and operated by local franchisers, with the exception of 69 company-owned locations. PR and crisis management experts argue that although Pankratz was employed by a franchisee and not by Applebee’s itself, the incident will damage the company’s reputation among both potential employees and consumers.

“In addition to this happening to employees, customers are also watching what brands are doing, and may take their business elsewhere,” says Dr Karen Freberg, a marketing expert and associate professor of strategic communication at the University of Louisville. “Applebee’s has to communicate to their customers how they are treating their employees in these tough times.”

The first step in rehabilitating the company’s reputational damage appears to have been taken with the firing of Pankratz.

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