An email from a franchise executive caused a mass resignation at an Applebee’s in Kansas after the executive suggested lowering wages amid inflation and higher gas prices.
The email was sent by Wayne Pankratz, an executive at the franchise group in charge of the restaurant in Lawrence west of Kansas City in the eastern part of the state, the company confirmed. The message was sent to other executives and was later forwarded to the Lawrence location.
Mr Pankratz argued in the email that higher gas prices and inflation presented an opportunity to cut wages as workers would be living paycheck to paycheck.
“Most of our employee base and potential employee base live paycheck to paycheck,” Mr Pankratz wrote in the email sent on 9 March. “Any increase in gas prices cuts into their disposable income. As inflation continues to climb and gas prices continue to go up, that means more hours employees will need to work to maintain their current level of living.”
“The labor market is about to turn in our favor,” he added.
Former employee Jake Holcomb told Vice News that when he read the email, he quit immediately. Before leaving, he printed a large number of copies of the email, showed them to the other members of staff and put them all over the restaurant.
“I gave everyone in the restaurant their food for free. We didn’t even close the store,” he said. In the week that followed, the restaurant experienced a mass resignation.
Workers say that four of the restaurant’s six managers, as well as at least 10 other employees, left the business.
“This was kind of a straw that broke the camel’s back situation where everyone was feeling unappreciated [and] we were understaffed,” bartender Adrian Kelley told Vice. “And then this email was so atrocious that it kind of just tipped everyone over the edge.”
Former manager Jenna Willis, 23, said “Oh my gosh, I was so mad” after she read the email.
“I let the staff that showed up to open that morning read it, and they were livid. So I told them if we wanted to make money, we would open, but I didn’t really feel like we should at that point,” she told the outlet.
“How can we continue to work for a company that doesn’t care about us?” she added.
Applebee’s and the owner of the Lawrence restaurant – American Franchise (AFC) Brands – have criticized the email. Apple Central LLC is the subsidiary that operates the restaurant.
AFC Brands and Apple Central LLC spokesperson Scott Fischer told the Kansas City Star and the Lawrence Journal-World that the message was “embarrassing”.
Kevin Carroll, Applebee’s chief operations officer, said in a statement that the email was “the opinion of an individual, not Applebee’s”.
On 28 March, Applebee’s corporate office told Vice that Mr Pankratz had been “terminated”.
“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,” Mr Carroll said.
Mr Fischer told the Kansas City Star that Mr Pankratz “doesn’t have the authority to create policy for our company for the brand or anything”.
The Independent has reached out to Mr. Pankratz for comment.