A homophobic diner visited the Applebee’s in Rice Lake last month, where he was waited on by out gay server Tim Phares. After slinging derogatory anti-gay epithets at Phares behind his back all evening – slurs that were overheard and reported by diners at nearby tables – the culprit called the following day to say he would not eat at the restaurant again until it fired Phares.
Instead of telling the bigot that he was no longer welcome at Applebee’s, the restaurant’s manager wrote up Phares over the incident. In effect, he was punished for being victimized.
A couple of days later, one of Phares’ co-workers drove up behind his parked car. Her husband leaped from the car, called Phares a “fucking faggot” and slammed him in the head with a 2x4 piece of wood. Phares was left unconscious on the pavement with multiple facial fractures that will require extensive surgery.
While her husband was charged in the attack, co-worker Shannon Hendricks was not. Neither was she fired.
Phares, on the other hand, was told not to return to work at the restaurant due to the negative publicity over the incident.
Phares did get his job back, but only after Apple American Group CEO Greg Flynn intervened, he says. The restaurant denies that claim but does acknowledge that Flynn became involved.
Applebee’s corporate marketing chief says the company has a nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. She also says Applebee’s provides domestic partner benefits in states where same-sex marriage and civil unions are legal.
But at large corporations and bureaucracies, official policies seldom make it to the trenches – unless they boost profits. Many companies treat their diversity initiatives as window dressing. Sadly, that appears to be the case at Applebee’s.
It was not until days after the story of Phares’ bashing went viral that Applebee’s offered a public statement on the incident. That statement failed to once mention the words “gay,” “homophobia” – or even “sorry.” It contained no concern or compassion for the victim. Instead, it stubbornly defended the company’s refusal to fire or reprimand Hendrickson.
This should not be surprising. Applebee’s is hardly a model corporate citizen. The company fails to meet even one of the five minimal guidelines tracked by the Diners’ Guide to Ethical Eating, a consumer report on working conditions in American restaurants compiled by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.
The company’s YouGov Brand Index, also known as the “Buzz,” tumbled from a decent score of 35 down to 5 after Zane Terkel, CEO of one of the company’s largest franchisees, announced that he would not build more restaurants or hire more workers due to Obamacare. He said that he should not be forced to provide health insurance to his workers.
With so many locally owned restaurants that treat workers fairly and even sponsor or host LGBT and other community groups and events, we urge you to think seriously about where you spend your money. The next time you’re dining out, ask yourself whether you want to reward companies like Applebee’s or support local eateries that put your dollars back in your community and share your values.