Applebee’s Franchise Exec: High Gas Prices Are Great for Hiring

“As inflation continues to climb and gas prices continue to go up, employees will need to work to maintain their current level of living.”
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A view of "now hiring" sign and logo at an Applebee's restaurant. (Photo by Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

An executive at a company that owns a string of Applebee’s franchises in the Midwest told other company officials in an email earlier this month that skyrocketing gas prices and inflation could be great for the company’s hiring prospects, because it could force people back to work and for lower wages. 

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Several employees at a restaurant in Kansas reportedly quit after seeing the email, which was leaked Wednesday on the popular Reddit forum r/antiwork

Wayne Pankratz, whose LinkedIn page described him as an executive director of operations for Apple Central LLC, sent an email on March 9 titled “Why gas increase is good for hiring,” suggesting skyrocketing gas prices will “increase application flow and has the potential to lower our average wage.” (Though the leaked email blurred out Pankratz’s last name, he was later identified by local media outlets.) 

“Most of our employee base and potential employee base live paycheck to paycheck,” Pankratz wrote. “Any increase in gas prices 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.”

Pankratz’s email went on to claim that the company is “no longer competing with the government when it comes to hiring,” due to the end of COVID unemployment and stimulus checks — both of which expired in 2021 — and says that “benefits us as prices rise, people who [were] relying on unemployment money, simply will have less money to spend. It will force people back into the workforce." 

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Pankratz also talked about how inflation’s negative impacts on “mom and pop” businesses and workers could help funnel workers into Applebee’s. 

“The labor market is about to turn in our favor. What can you do?” Pankratz wrote. “Besides hiring employees at a lower wage to decrease our labor [cost] (when able) make sure you have a 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.”

Before the email was leaked on Reddit, it made the rounds among workers in at least one Applebee’s location. Three out of six managers at a  Lawrence, Kansas, restaurant quit in protest, and the restaurant was closed for much of Tuesday, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. One of the managers printed out the email and distributed it to restaurant employees.

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“I was just stunned and disgusted,” former manager Jake Holcomb, one of several who has since quit, told the Journal-World

Applebee’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE News. A spokesperson for Apple Central LLC, which owns the franchise, distanced the company from Pankratz, calling the email “embarrassing” in an interview with the Lawrence Journal-World Wednesday. (A phone call to Apple Central LLC Thursday afternoon was not immediately returned.)

“I know this probably sounds crazy, but I have no idea what this gentleman was even talking about,” spokesperson Scott Fischer said. “We are still scratching our head about what this gentleman was thinking.” Fischer told the newspaper that the franchisee is investigating the incident but that Pankratz is still employed by Apple Central, at least for now. 

Fischer also told the Kansas City Star that Pankratz “doesn’t have the authority to create policy” at the company and that the email “in absolutely no way, shape, or form speaks to our policies or our culture, or anything like that with our brand.”

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