On March 23 2022, Twitter user Rob Gill (@vote4robgill) shared images of a purported internal Applebee’s “gas prices” email — which included commentary about a spike in gas prices enabling Applebee’s management to sharply reduce wages:
Alongside two printed pages, Gill wrote:
Wayne Pankratz of @Applebees says that higher gas prices are great for business because most employees live check to check and hopefully they can start lowering wages.
A search for “Wayne Pankratz” did not return much content from before this particular controversy. The first search result in Google appeared to be a since-deleted LinkedIn profile for Pankratz mentioning Applebee’s:
Although several fields in the email were redacted in blue, Gill’s tweet suggested that the “Wayne P…” author was named Wayne Pankratz. The printout’s header demonstrated some forwarding activity and included a date of March 9 2022.
A similar submission appeared on Reddit’s r/antiwork on the same day:
Its subject header was “Fwd: Why gas increase is good for hiring,” and the email’s forwarder mused it featured “Words of wisdom from wayne!!!” Text of the original forwarded email read:
Everyone has heard that gas prices continue to rise. The advantage this has for us is that it will increase application flow and has the potential to lower our average wage. How you ask?
Most of our employee base and potential employee base live paycheck to paycheck. Any increase in gas price 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.
We are no longer competing with the government when it comes to hiring. Stimulus money is no more, supplemental unemployment is no more. This benefits us as prices rise, people who we relying on unemployment money, simply will have less money to spend. It will force people back into the work force.
Furthermore, other competitors (especially mom and pop companies or smaller businesses) will have to either raise prices, cut employee hours, or pay employees less hourly to hit their profit margins. Some businesses will not be able to hold on. This is g0ing to drive more potential employees into the hiring pool.
We all competed to hire out of the limited applicant pool and there was a wage war. We all saw businesses hiring team members at $18-20 an hour. They will no longer be able to afford to do this. Trucking is the backbone of America and as fuel costs rise, will the charges for shipping. If those costs cannot be passed on to the customer in terms of menu price, the only area they can cut sizable costs will be in labor.
The labor market is about to turn in our favor. What can you do?
Besides hiring employees in at a lower wage to decrease our labor (when able) make sure you have pulse on the morale of your employees. Your employees that live check to check are impacted more than the people reading this email. Be conscious of that. Many will need to work more hours or get a second job. Do things to make sure you are the employer of choice. Get schedules completed early so they can plan their other jobs around yours. Most importantly, have the culture and environment that will attract people.
According to the Lawrence Journal-World on March 23 2022, the email was intercepted by managers at the Lawrence, Kansas Applebee’s. The newspaper reported in part:
The restaurant on south Iowa Street [in Lawrence, Kansas] was closed for large parts of Tuesday [March 23 2022] because of high gasoline prices, but perhaps not for the reasons you would think. Multiple employees of the chain quit after seeing an email from a regional manager urging the restaurant to begin hiring employees at lower wages, under the theory that people are becoming more desperate to take a job as fuel prices increase.
When Jake Holcomb, one of several managers at the Lawrence restaurant, ended up seeing the email on Monday [March 22 2022], it upset him enough that he made copies of the email and distributed them to several employees of the restaurant.
When opening time arrived on Tuesday [March 23 2022], the manager who was scheduled to open the restaurant at 2520 Iowa St. declined to open the restaurant after reading the emails. She has since quit over the email. Holcomb has too. In total, Holcomb said three of the six managers at the restaurant quit in protest of the email.
“I was just stunned and disgusted,” said Holcomb, who had worked at Applebee’s in Lawrence and elsewhere since 2020.
The Lawrence Journal-World indicated that Pankratz was an executive director for Apple Central LLC, a Kansas City franchisee with 47 Applebee’s locations in the Midwest. Apple Central LLC’s communications director Scott Fischer told the news organization that Pankratz’s email was “embarrassing … it really is,” and refuted the content of the leaked (but legitimate) document:
“I know this probably sounds crazy, but I have no idea what this gentleman was even talking about,” Fischer said. “We are still scratching our head about what this gentleman was thinking.”
Fischer said he understood some of the comments about needing to accommodate schedules and keep a close eye on morale. But he said if that was the message the email was trying to convey, it failed.
“Our team is our backbone,” Fischer said. “We are nothing without the people who work for us and that are on our team. Even the thought that anything would be communicated that does anything other than put them on a pedestal and let them know they are the single most important component of our business is disheartening and frustrating.”
KUTV obtained comments from Applebee’s chief operations officer, Kevin Carroll. Carroll emphasized that Apple Central LLC was a franchisee, and added:
This is the opinion of an individual, not Applebee’s. This issue is being addressed internally by the franchisee who employs this individual and who owns and operates the restaurants in this market. 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.
On March 23 2022, an internal Applebee’s gas prices email spread on Twitter and Reddit; in the document, Apple Central LLC executive Wayne Pankratz appeared to advise franchise managers to leverage rising gas prices to reduce wages. Local reporting by the Lawrence Journal-World seemed to suggest the email was made public by affronted Applebee’s managers in Lawrence, Kansas, and that the document’s disclosure led to a walkout. A communications director for Apple Central LLC (the franchisee in question) and an Applebee’s executive disavowed the content of the email, but they did not dispute its validity.