Washington (AFP) – Starbucks is adopting an open bathroom policy, dropping a requirement for customers to buy before they use the facilities, following the arrest of two black men that turned into a public relations nightmare for the coffee chain.
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks on April 12, sparking international outrage, protests and anguished soul-searching about America’s lingering problems of racial discrimination.
“We don’t want to become a public bathroom. But we’re going to make the right decision 100 percent of the time and give people the key,” executive chairman Howard Schultz told the Atlantic Council think tank on Thursday.
“Everyone is welcome at Starbucks,” he insisted.
After Nelson and Robinson stepped into the cafe, one of them asked to use the restroom while waiting for a third person to arrive for a business meeting.
Staff refused, on the grounds that he was not a customer. After the pair sat down to wait, the manager called the police.
Schultz said the previous policy had been “loose” — that customers should be able to use the bathroom if they buy something, but that it was up to the judgment of the store manager.
Both Nelson and Robinson reached settlements with Starbucks and the city of Philadelphia, which will endow a $200,000 fund to help public school students who want to become entrepreneurs.
The coffee chain has sought to repair damage to its image by apologizing and ordering all its stores and corporate offices across the United States to close for an afternoon on May 29 to conduct “racial-bias education.”
A video of the arrest, which went viral after being posted on social media by a customer, showed uniformed police officers questioning and then handcuffing the pair despite their offering no resistance.