Applebee's Franchise Executive Fired After Email Justifying Lower Pay

Days after the release of an email from an executive of a group operating several Applebee's, the executive was fired after his letter suggested inflation would push people to work at the restaurant for less money and longer hours.

The email, publicized on Reddit and which spread on Twitter late last week, was sent by Wayne Pankratz, executive director of operations for Apple Central, LLC, a franchise group that owns several restaurants.

In the email, he said higher prices will require more people to need money, so they may apply for jobs and be prepared to work for lower wages and longer shifts, which could benefit the restaurants.

On Monday, a spokesperson for Applebee's confirmed to Newsweek that Pankratz is no longer with the company, and reiterated that the opinion of one employee of a franchisee does not reflect the thoughts of the company itself. "This is the opinion of an individual, not Applebee's," Kevin Carroll, chief operations officer at Applebee's, said in the statement. "The individual has been terminated by the franchisee who owns and operates the restaurants in this market."

About 70 restaurants are owned by Applebee's, while nearly all of the other approximately 1,500 within the U.S. are owned by franchisees. Several of those are owned by Apple Central, LLC, including the one in Kansas where the email controversy began.

The letter was sent by Pankratz on March 9 and eventually forwarded to someone at the Lawrence, Kansas, location, where it reportedly spread among employees in a matter of days. At least one employee, manager Jake Holcomb, quit as soon as he read the email, according to VICE News.

Before he left, he told VICE, he printed dozens of copies of the email and distributed it among site employees, customers in the restaurant, and posted several copies on tables and doors around the building.

In the days since, four of the restaurant's six managers and at least 10 other employees have either quit or handed in their notices out of frustration after the email, VICE reported.

Holcomb told VICE that workers gave everyone in the restaurant their food for free last Monday. The manager who arrived to open the restaurant the next day allowed the staff to read the email and asked whether they also wanted to quit, which she was doing, or whether they wanted to open the restaurant to make money, she told VICE.

They decided to keep the store closed and several employees have since quit. The restaurant and others owned by the company American Franchise Brands (AFC), which in turn owns Apple Central, LLC, and operates more than 100 Applebee's and Taco Bell sites throughout the Midwest, have faced pressure over the email, according to The Kansas City Star.

"He doesn't have the authority to create policy for our company for the brand or anything. ... Maybe he wrote it in the middle of the night. I don't know," an AFC spokesperson told the Star about Pankratz's email. "The main message here is that this in absolutely no way, shape, or form speaks to our policies or our culture, or anything like that with our brand."

Update 3/30/22, 2:50 p.m.: This story's headline has been updated to reflect that Wayne Pankratz worked for an Applebee's franchisee, Apple Central, LLC, rather than Applebee's itself or its parent company, Dine Brands Global.

Update 3/29/22, 7:00 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional information.

Applebee's Fired Executive Wages Inflation
An executive at a company that owns several Applebee's franchises is no longer with the group after receiving significant criticism for an email about wages and inflation. Above, an Applebee's restaurant is seen on August 10, 2017, in Chicago. Scott Olson/Getty Images