NEW YORK – Starbucks has told employees to let anyone use the restroom, even if they haven't bought anything, as it reviews its policies and tries to restore its reputation after the arrest of two black men at a coffee shop in Philadelphia.
The coffee chain said it wants all customers who come in "to feel welcome" and it's conducting a three-month review of its guidelines. That follows comments from Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz said he didn't want people to feel "less than" if they were refused access.
"We don't want to become a public bathroom," said Schultz, "but we're going to make the right decision a hundred percent of the time and give people the key."
The arrests in Philadelphia were a major embarrassment for Starbucks, which has long projected itself as a socially conscious company and has promoted its stores as a place for people to gather outside of their homes and offices.
Schultz said Starbucks had maintained a "loose policy" on bathroom access, though decisions were ultimately left up to store managers on whether someone could use them. At the Philadelphia store where the two men were arrested April 12, it was policy to ask people who hadn't bought anything to leave.
The men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, who were asked to leave after one was denied access to the bathroom. They were arrested by police minutes after they sat down to await a business meeting they had scheduled. The incident was captured by people using cellphones and went viral, leading to protests.
Nelson and Robinson settled with Starbucks earlier this month for an undisclosed sum and an offer of a free college education. Separately, they reached a deal with Philadelphia for a symbolic $1 each and a promise from city officials to set up a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs.
The company plans to close more than 8,000 of its U.S. stores on the afternoon of May 29 for racial-bias training for its employees.