Industry Standard with Marsha Lynch

Social Media and the Restaurant Worker

Should a restaurant employee ever lose their job due to a social media post? Well, in a word – yes. But are there situations in which a cook or server should be able to vent a little on Facebook or Instagram without fear of retribution from their employer? Almost never.

Of course, there are clear-cut cases. Anyone posting photos or descriptions of themselves or co-workers adulterating food should of course be terminated immediately. We’ve all seen the photos of fast food workers licking stacks of taco shells or standing in bins of lettuce. Photos of people working in kitchens barefoot. Descriptions of spitting in customers’ food as retaliation for some slight, real or imagined. Tales of dosing beverages with eye drops to sicken consumers. I often tell people that in all my years of restaurant work, I never personally observed any of this behavior, but we all know it can occur where immature employees and inattentive management intersect. Those bragging about such hijinks on social media should and are often fired. That’s fair, and correct.

However, earlier this year an Outback Steakhouse employee in Florida posted to her personal Facebook page about a situation in which she spent several hours putting together a large takeout order for a local church. The bill came to over $700, and the church employee who picked up the order neglected to leave a tip.

The Outback employee didn’t name her employer in her post, but she did name the church. Naturally, the resulting opinions were all over the map, from “you shouldn’t expect a tip for carry-out” and “if you don’t like it, get a new job” to “the church should be ashamed of themselves.” The employee was subsequently terminated. Outback made a statement that they have a corporate policy prohibiting employees from posting on social media about customers. So, as much as I sympathize with the employee in question, who makes a less-than-minimum hourly wage and whose attention was diverted to this check, making it impossible for her to earn her normal table-tips for a portion of the day – she shouldn’t have posted about it on Facebook, period. She’s obligated to know the corporate policy.

Sometimes servers get nasty comments written on the tip line in lieu of a gratuity. These are stories we tell each other, but they should be kept off social media, and no one should ever post a photo of a check showing a guest’s name. Not even in a situation where there was a very generous tip rather than the lack of one. No restaurant patron should ever dine out wondering if their name will be splashed all over the internet, even on someone’s private Facebook page. This is a crucial point. Sometimes I think people don’t understand how open their “personal Facebook page” is to friends of friends you barely know. Let’s face it; your friends know where you work. And some of your friends, or one of theirs, are excellent doxxers. Posting about these situations just invites trouble, and in most cases it will come back to haunt you.

While corporate chain restaurants may have explicit policies against social media posts, many independent eateries don’t have their policies spelled out in an employment agreement. In that situation, it’s up to management to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to fire an employee or not. This may not seem fair, but it’s the way the world works – just like an independent restaurant may choose to fire someone the first time they no-call/no-show, or wait until the third occurrence.

In the end, the very best policy for restaurant workers is to keep their social media free of posts about their guests – either positive or negative. Rant all you want to your friends and co-workers in person or on the phone, but leave the social media shaming out of it. And that goes for posts about your guests as well as your management and co-workers. No matter how frustrated or drunk you are after a bad shift, nobody’s ever done themselves any favors by posting “My boss sucked today.”

Keep it real, keep it “100” – but keep it to yourself on social media.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, Café Lou Lou, Marketplace @ Theater Square, Fontleroy’s and Harvest.