New policy at Starbucks in US: People can sit and use toilets without buying anything

Starbucks' new policy comes after the arrest of two black men that turned into a public relations nightmare for the coffee chain. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES) - Starbucks is now allowing people to use its restrooms and sit in its cafes and patios even if they do not buy anything.

The announcement comes about five weeks after a manager at a Philadelphia Starbucks called the police on two young black men who had arrived at the coffee shop early for a business meeting. One or both of the men had asked to use the bathroom but were told they couldn't use it because they had not bought anything.

On Saturday (May 19) the coffee giant announced that "any customer is welcome to use Starbucks spaces, including our restrooms, cafes and patios, regardless of whether they make a purchase."

It added that employees should follow established procedures for "addressing disruptive behaviours," and call 911 in the case of "immediate danger or threat" to employees or customers.

Previously it might have fallen to store managers to decide whether people could sit or use the restroom without buying anything, The Associated Press reported.

"This is now an established policy for consistency across all of our US company operated stores," Haley Drage, a Starbucks spokeswoman, said Sunday.

Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz told Gayle King of "CBS This Morning" that the manager at the Philadelphia Starbucks, who is no longer with the company, probably acted on her own "unconscious bias", and the incident raises questions about whether the men were racially profiled.

The two men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, reached a settlement with Philadelphia city officials. This month, they agreed to a symbolic payment of US$1 each and asked the city to fund US$200,000 for a grant programme for high school students aspiring to become entrepreneurs.

The incident placed Starbucks in a harsh public spotlight, resulted in days of protests and prompted rebukes from local leaders.

On May 29, the coffee giant plans to close more than 8,000 of its US retail stores to train its nearly 175,000 employees on "racial-bias education."

"I've spent the last few days in Philadelphia with my leadership team listening to the community, learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it," Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson said in a statement.

"While this is not limited to Starbucks, we're committed to being part of the solution."

Starbucks said the curriculum will focus on how employees can recognise and address their own biases to prevent future discrimination.

"We are committed to creating a culture of warmth and belonging where everyone is welcome. . . . We want our stores to be the third place, a warm and welcoming environment where customers can gather and connect," the company said in a statement, referring Starbucks' claim to fame as a "third place between work and home" where people can spend their time.

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