Applebee’s Tries To Spin Back Into Consumers’ Good Graces

After what could only be considered a massive public relations nightmare last week, Applebee’s is trying to spin its way back into customers’ hearts. And wallets.

Fox Business Network reported recently that Zane Tankel, CEO of Apple-Metro, an Applebee’s franchisee group for the New York City area, said that Applebee’s “won’t hire more people” because the Affordable Care Act would cost the company “some millions of dollars.” Consumer anger erupted nearly immediately and brought with it a Twitter hashtag calling on consumers to #boycottApplebees. And it’s not just this unfortunate business: Papa John’s CEO is under fire this week, as well, for saying he is going to cut all employee hours due to mounting costs (mounting costs of 14 cents per pizza) from the Affordable Care Act.

Now, Applebee’s has released a statement in a desperate move to distance themselves from Tankel:

Recent public comments by one Applebee’s franchisee about the possible implications of the ACA on jobs within his individual company were not the views or opinions of either Applebee’s or other franchisees, although we respect his right to speak freely as an American. 

Applebee’s International President Mike Archer also claims the company recognizes that “affordable health care is a critically important issue facing our country” and continues:

Because final regulations and guidance are still pending from government agencies regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), exactly how our franchisees will implement the law when it takes effect in 2014 is still uncertain. However, we do know that our franchisees will comply fully with the law and take every measure possible to continue doing right by their employees — the lifeblood of their businesses. Applebee’s franchisees have always led their companies as responsible, caring employers, and implementation of the new law will be consistent with that commitment.

To the more dubious eye, this simply seems like a case of public conservatism gone horribly wrong. Maybe Tankel did speak completely of his own accord. But then again, maybe Applebee’s recognized that some serious damage control needed to be done to maintain their customers and even more importantly, their bottom line.