Applebees: Why an Apology is Not Enough

Tomorrow’s nurse-in, planned for multiple Applebee’s restaurant locations across the country, is making some people very uncomfortable.

On the one hand, most people, including Katie Couric, seem to sympathize with Dawn Holland, who was harassed while nursing her child in the Covington, Georgia restaurant.   A female manager of the restaurant asked Dawn Holland to nurse in the bathroom, and then called the police when Ms. Holland refused while stating her Georgia breastfeeding rights.    Perhaps mainstream America is getting better at seeing it from a mother’s perspective;  baby is hungry, bathrooms are filled with germs; calling 911 seems awfully extreme.

On the other hand, most people generally don’t like confrontation, and it’s not immediately clear why a nurse-in is necessary, or what purpose it serves.  Julia Stewart, the CEO and Chairman of DineEquity, Inc. issued a heart-felt apology:

“I wanted to reach out directly, not just as the CEO of our restaurants, but as a mom that nursed my own kids. I have my share of unfortunate memories from nursing in public and understand how you feel. I want to apologize personally for what happened. I also want to assure you the regrettable situation you encountered as our guest is unacceptable and completely contrary to how nursing moms are accommodated at thousands of Applebee’s on virtually any given day . . . While I know it doesn’t change what you encountered, I also wanted to let you know that the franchisee of the restaurant you visited took action to correct the manager’s mistake and she now knows better. We also took the opportunity to use this incident as a teachable moment and notified all Applebee’s restaurants about the proper policies and procedures for welcoming nursing moms to our restaurants – just to be doubly sure. While of course I can’t take back what happened, I can make sure we work even harder than usual to try and avoid anyone else having the same problem at any of our restaurants. Again, as a mom and the CEO, you have my promise that we and our franchisees will be even more vigilant on this issue.

 It’s an excellent apology and we commend Ms. Stewart; we wish Target had managed something only one-tenth as sincere last December.   And we have no doubt that employees and managers of Applebee’s  knowledge of corporate policy with regards to nursing customers has been duly refreshed.

So why the nurse-in?  Why can’t we all just agree that it was just one errant manager?

The reason is, because day in and day out, mothers continue to be harassed, humiliated and discriminated against for choosing to breastfeed.  Not just at Applebee’s, which had a major harassment incident 5 years ago, and not just at Target, where the harassment and  lack of a proper response precipitated what was perhaps the largest nurse-in  in history.   The truth is that “Target mom” and Best for Babes Volunteer Director of Activism Michelle Hickman is getting a call almost every other day from a distressed mother who was harassed on the bus, at the airport, at a fitness club, at school.    That’s a lot of mothers, and it’s not right that they should suffer maltreatment.  What if we only hear from the moms who are upset, and not from the ones who fear public disapproval, and decide breastfeeding is just too hard, giving up before they can reap the benefits, or before they reached their personal goals?

What this says to us is that repeat apologies and efforts to remind employees of corporate policy and breastfeeding law is not enough.  It indicates that there is a fundamental lack of priority, sensitivity, and thoroughness in training employees around this issue.  It indicates that senior management does not realize that their employees may have a personal bias against breastfeeding that is leading to violations of corporate policy and can not be changed by a simple memo.   Until employees have a chance to examine and especially, heal their own attitudes towards breastfeeding (perhaps coming to terms with how they themselves were boobytrapped), until employees themselves are respected for continuing to breastfeed and afforded proper pumping accommodations, we can expect little change.

Tomorrow’s nurse-in is not a boycott or an angry mob descending upon Applebee’s; it’s a peaceful demonstration that breastfeeding mothers and babies deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.  It is a call for more laws protecting mothers and babies, and hopefully someday a federal law.   It is a call for corporations and institutions to take responsibility for doing the right thing by mothers and babies, regardless of existing laws.   It is a call to action that benefits mothers, babies, employers, society and the planet, and we hope that it will be heeded.    The mothers we serve are passionate about this cause and won’t go away.   To get involved or find out about state laws or how to handle harassment, go to our Take Action page or contact Michelle AT Bestforbabes.org.

Best for Babes respectfully invites Applebee’s to take a leadership position and sponsor the creation of a model corporate policy and employee training toolkit that other companies can follow and utilize to protect and support their breastfeeding customers, along with a Best for Babes awards program that recognizes and rewards large national companies that implement it. 



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4 Responses to Applebees: Why an Apology is Not Enough

  1. Michelle says:

    The nurse in is more than a peaceful demonstration and it doesn’t have to be a confrontation with Applebee’s either. In fact, if Applebee’s was smart they would take the opportunity to offer a free something to every mom who comes in to nurse as part of the nurse in and get some positive publicity out of this while becoming recognized for the welcoming environment that apology letter seems to want their restaurants to be. Even a free coffee/tea/soft drink (aka soda) would show they really do want to welcome nursing moms.
    Just my 2c

    • Fanessa says:

      Tomorrow’s nurse-in is not a boycott or an angry mob descending upon Applebee’s; it’s a peaceful demonstration that breastfeeding mothers and babies deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. It is a call for more laws protecting mothers and babies…..
      If that is true, why not have mothers breastfeed their baby ANYWHERE between 1 and 3????? No matter how you spin it, by making it an Applebee’s nurse-in, you are targeting a company for a mistake made by one person… who by your own accounts apoligized…

      • Bettina Forbes, CLC says:

        Hi Fanessa, thank you for commenting. Applebee’s is benefiting tremendously from the nurse-in through increased media coverage and increased patronage by mothers dining at the restaurant during the nurse-in. Having the nurse-in at Applebee’s is also a way to engage the media in this issue.

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