Following the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks that ignited protests and boycotts, the coffee giant is changing its policy on who can use store bathrooms. On Thursday night, at an event in Washington, D.C., founder and chairman Howard Schultz said the company wants everyone to feel welcome, the Washington Post reports — regardless of whether or not they’ve made a purchase.
“We don’t want to become a public bathroom, but we’re going to make the right decision a hundred percent of the time,” said Schultz, saying that going forward staff will “give people the key because we don’t want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving access to you to the bathroom because you are less than.”
While Starbucks’s official bathroom policy is still pending, a company spokesperson shared the directive that’s been given to staff: “Policies are still under the 90-day review, but ensure all customers coming in feel welcome. If someone needs to use the restroom, please let them, but if the safety of that customer, other customers or partners is in jeopardy, use your 911 quick reference guide for guidance on any action to be taken.”
Last month in Philadelphia, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were denied access to the bathroom as they sat and waited for a friend to arrive without ordering anything, and were then arrested for trespassing after the store manager called 911.
According to Schultz, the company previously had a “loose” policy that only customers should be permitted to use store bathrooms, but decisions were ultimately left to the store manager. Starbucks has long marketed itself as a “third place,” a venue besides work and home where people are encouraged to linger. But the incident in Philadelphia revealed that some customers are seemingly less welcome than others.
Following the incident in Philadelphia, Schultz met with Nelson and Robinson face to face to apologize on behalf of the company; the company later announced it reached an undisclosed financial settlement with the two men. The chain is slated close 8,000 of its U.S. stores on the afternoon of May 29 for staff to undergo racial bias training.