Marion - Circa April 2017: Applebee's Neighborhood Grill and Bar Casual Restaurant. Applebee's is a subsidiary of DineEquity, Inc. V


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Think twice before you type. It's advice an Applebee's executive probably wishes he'd followed now that a controversial memo has been leaked online.

Wayne Pankratz, an executive with Apple Central, a Kansas City-based company that operates Applebee's restaurants, has lost his job after sending an email to managers saying high gas prices could help them cut employees' wages.

Related: Applebee's Takes a Cue From Fast Food, Adds Drive-Thrus

In the leaked memo, Pankratz acknowledged that most Applebee's employees live "paycheck to paycheck," but instead of recommending a pay increase, he called for the opposite, saying desperate workers will be forced back into the workforce regardless of wages, giving the company the upper hand when it comes to compensation. 

Pankratz said competing restaurants had been raising wages to attract more workers, leaving Applebee's struggling to keep up. "We all saw businesses hiring team members at $18-$20 an hour. They will no longer be able to afford to do this," the memo says. 

Outraged Twitter users expressed disgust with the comments, with some saying they were enough to encourage them to spend their money at other restaurants. And at least three managers quit their jobs at a Kansas Applebee's over the memo, CBS News reports.

Related: Shoppers Threaten to Boycott 'Woke' Home Depot

Kevin Carroll, chief operations officer for Applebee's at parent company Dine Brands Global, said in a statement that Pankratz didn't speak for the company. “This is the opinion of an individual, not Applebee’s. We understand that the franchisee who owns and operates the restaurants in this market has placed the individual on leave. 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.”

While many big-name companies like Starbucks and Chipotle have raised wages to $15 an hour, not all workers have gotten a boost. 

Saru Jayaraman, president of One Fair Wage, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of restaurant workers earning subminimum wages, says more than half of servers making minimum wage left their jobs after the pandemic, vowing to return only if they received a livable wage in addition to tips. Tipped minimum wage is as low as $2.13 an hour in several states. 

Related: Which State Has the Highest (and Lowest) Minimum Wage?

While Jayaraman says some Applebee's restaurants do pay workers a full wage, that's only in states that require it. "Applebee's has always fought wage increases, arguing that they can't pay more than the minimum $2.13 hourly wage or they will go out of business." 

This isn't the first controversy Applebee's has dealt with lately. An Applebee's commercial featuring the Walker Hayes song "Fancy Like" and a man dancing in cowboy boots and blue jeans aired during CNN's initial coverage of the Ukraine invasion, stirring criticism as tone-deaf. Applebee's pulled its ads from CNN, apologizing to viewers and denying blame. "It never should have aired, and we are disappointed in the actions of the network," an Applebee's spokesperson said.

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