Applebee’s, hit with viral media storm, admits to racial profiling and fires workers

Applebee’s fired three employees and temporarily closed its Independence Center restaurant two days after a black customer’s online video complaint of racial profiling became a viral embarrassment.

Reactions continued nationwide in social media to the video, which by late Tuesday had passed 3.2 million views and was shared more than 500,000 times on social media.

Many hailed the turn of events as a warning to anyone who might engage in racial profiling.

“People are secretly video/audio recording you,” one Twitter post warned.

A St. Louis woman posted the video on Facebook Saturday afternoon, showing her and a friend being asked to leave the restaurant Friday night because some staff at Applebee’s believed the two women were the same customers who dined and left without paying the night before.

Her friend is heard crying while an Independence police officer, a mall security officer and a restaurant employee confront them and ask them leave.

“This is what black people have to deal with,” the woman who made the post — Alexis Brison — can be heard saying in the video.

Applebee’s conducted an internal investigation and then, saying it does not tolerate racism, bigotry or harassment, acted swiftly, announcing the firings and the temporary closing Monday night.

“We recognize the hurt and pain caused by the recent incident at an Applebee’s restaurant in Independence, Mo.,” an Applebee’s spokesperson told The Star in a written official statement.

“We very much regret this occurred and sincerely apologize to our guests and community. After an internal investigation and in-line with our values, the franchisee terminated the manager, server and another employee involved in the incident. We do not tolerate racism, bigotry or harassment of any nature, and we have taken additional steps to close the restaurant at this time in order for the team there to regroup, reflect, learn and grow from this.”

Brison and her friend Asia Hardy stopped by the Applebee’s in the Independence Center shopping mall to eat Feb. 9. The police officer, security guard and an Applebee’s manager approached them while they were eating with accusations of “dining and dashing” the night before.

Brison filmed part of the interaction, in which the two women can be heard denying the allegations, accusing the restaurant of racial profiling and repeatedly saying “we have not been here.” Hardy can also be heard becoming increasingly emotional and distraught at the allegations.

Reaction on social media rained from many directions.

Some thought Applebee’s had taken the right action in firing employees and closing the restaurant to assess and regroup.

“Well done,” one commenter said. “THIS is how you say ‘We do not tolerate racism, bigotry or harassment.’”

Some thought the company should go farther, looking nationally across the entire chain.

“Don’t just fix this location,” read one post. “Please be proactive!!”

Others thought the public reaction and Applebee’s response was too quick to blame racial profiling.

“Come on now — do you think if they (the two women) were white they wouldn’t do the same thing?…Blacks taking it too far,” read one Twitter post.

Many people were also debating the actions of the Independence police officer who supported the restaurant’s request to ask the two women to leave.

The Independence Police Department as of Tuesday evening, had not responded to several requests from The Star for comment.

Applebee’s in its initial written statement to The Star on Sunday Feb. 11, expressed regret over the incident, but said it found no evidence that the incident was racially motivated:

“Our team has been working throughout the weekend and will continue to work to determine what happened and what appropriate measures will be taken,” said Bill Georgas, CEO of Apple Central, LLC., Applebee’s local franchisee.

“We currently have no indications this was race related. We have a diverse workforce that is reflective of the community we serve. All are welcome at our restaurant, and will continue to be welcome.”

Restaurant staff and the police officer asked the women to pay their bill, leave and not come back. The women paid and left.

Brison wrote that she was offended at what she said was a racially biased false accusation — even more so after learning that it may have been based on a minimal description.

“After leaving, calls were made to the restaurant and the manager stated that our accuser remembered that there was a SKINNY girl and a girl who wore MAKEUP,” the woman wrote. “This is a clear example of RACIAL PROFILING that should not be stood for. Just because we are black does not mean we are all criminals and I will not be treated as such.”

Brison and Hardy’s attorney had no comments after learning of the restaurant’s firings and impending closing.

Aaron Randle: 816-234-4060, @aaronronel