Romano: Here's a tip for fired Outback server

After being fired from Outback Steakhouse for posting about a church not tipping her on a $735 take-out order on Facebook, Tamlynn Yoder was finally compensated. [Courtesy of Tamlynn Yoder]
After being fired from Outback Steakhouse for posting about a church not tipping her on a $735 take-out order on Facebook, Tamlynn Yoder was finally compensated. [Courtesy of Tamlynn Yoder]
Published Feb. 15, 2018

And so the story has a (mostly) happy ending.

The church apologizes, the server gets her tip, and the Internet approves.

It appears we will all survive to order another Bloomin' Onion.

But what of the lesson learned in the story of the Outback Steakhouse server who was fired after venting on Facebook about a church that failed to leave a gratuity for a large takeout order?

The lesson isn't about bad tippers. And it isn't about heartless employers.

It's more along the lines of:

Stop that!

Stop treating the Internet as if it was a group of your friends. And stop posting without any thought to the consequences of sharing your angry/giddy/sad/sexy thoughts with a billion people.

I realize the appeal to the story — and it traveled from South Florida to Australia and everywhere in between — was the salt-in-the-wound factor of being stiffed by the church and then fired by the restaurant. But that narrative ignores the self-inflicted nature of this personal calamity.

"Young people have had social media for most of their lives, and that's where they turn to engage with other people or vent their frustrations," said Kelli Burns, an associate professor at the University of South Florida who recently published the book Social Media: A Reference Handbook.

"But most people don't take the time to think before they type. If you were upset or frustrated before the days of social media, you might pick up the phone and call a friend. Now you post it online where millions of people will have access to it."

This is not meant to pile on Tamlynn Yoder, the 25-year-old server who says she was fired from the Palm Beach Gardens restaurant after she singled out Christ Fellowship for stiffing her on a $735 order.

She had every right to be annoyed. Unfortunately, so did Outback.

A restaurant cannot afford to have its employees embarrassing customers on the Internet for the rest of the world to see. And Outback said it has rules covering that sort of thing in its social media policy.

Yoder may have thought she inoculated herself by not naming the restaurant, but she named the church, and it wasn't hard to connect the dots after that. When church officials contacted the restaurant (not to complain but to apologize, they said), Outback immediately refunded the $735.

For their part, church members put together a tip of at least $150 for Yoder and vowed to help her find a new job.

In that sense, everybody responded fairly well to an unfortunate incident. And perhaps it was good to shine a light on the low wages restaurants often pay to frontline staffers who depend on gratuities and the whim of customers.

But this story is larger than a rise-and-fall news cycle. It's a lesson about the Internet — it's a tool, not your friend. It's a lesson about the First Amendment — it protects your right to speak your mind, but it doesn't protect you from consequences. And it's a lesson about employers in the Internet age — the stakes are higher than ever when it comes to complaints.

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"Yes, you feel sorry for the little person who is not making much money and just had a bad day at work," Burns said. "But these social media policies are in place for a reason. Reputations used to be built by word of mouth from friends and family, but now you can go online and read about a problem with a server in California or a bad meal in Ohio. It's a challenge for companies to manage their PR, and they have to take it very seriously."

Come to think of it, that may be the best tip a server will ever get.