Starbucks is being accused of insensitivity after an employee in Philadelphia allegedly made fun of a customer with a stutter. On Sunday, Tan Lekwijit took to Facebook to relay an experience a friend had at the coffee chain, writing, “My friend Sam who is a stutterer stuttered on his name when ordering a coffee at Starbucks. The barista said, ‘Okay, S-s-s-sam.’ When he received his coffee, he was shocked to see that his name on the cup was written as ‘SSSAM’, which was disrespectful.”
The alleged incident took place at a Starbucks at 34th and Walnut streets on June 27. Lekwijit, who included a photo of the cup with his post, says Sam reached out to Starbucks customer service, receiving a “pretty standardized email” and a $5 gift card in return.
The store is located approximately a mile and a half from the Philadelphia Starbucks where two black men were arrested while waiting for a friend back in April, sparking protests and boycotts and leading the company to shutter stores for an afternoon of employee training on May 29.
Lekwijit’s Facebook post has garnered nearly 200 comments, with many users referencing the recent staff training: “Bias training was BS,” one wrote. “So much for that diversity training,” another user commented.
As news of the incident spread across social media, Starbucks appeared to sit up and take notice: “Our local leadership has reached out to Sam to better understand what took place and the specifics of his experience and apologize directly,” Starbucks said in a comment on Lekwijit’s post. “We have zero tolerance for discrimination and are addressing this immediately.”
Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges acknowledged that the company’s initial response to Sam’s complaint wasn’t ideal, telling Eater via phone, “Giving a $5 gift card is certainly not the way we want to handle these things... we obviously want everyone to walk into our stores and have a great experience and that wasn’t reflective of that.”
Borges says Starbucks regional vice president Camille Hymes reached out to Sam directly to address the situation, saying the customer was “incredibly gracious and... recognized people make mistakes,” and intends to continue patronizing Starbucks. The employee involved in the incident is no longer with the company.
While the staff training held at U.S. Starbucks stores on May 29 centered on racial bias, Borges said the company’s upcoming trainings would focus more broadly on how to treat customers in a way that makes them want to return to Starbucks. “When it comes to anyone that walks into our stores, training or no training, we want them to feel welcome,” he said, “and we want to have partners that understand the value of that.”