Over the weekend, Starbucks took a giant step forward in increasing its reputation as a community-focused brand—and a sizable step away from its more recent reputation as a racial-profiling establishment—by announcing a new policy that permits anyone to sit in its stores or use its restrooms, regardless of whether they have made a purchase.
“We are committed to creating a culture of warmth and belonging where everyone is welcome,“ Starbucks announced in a statement. The establishment and its nationwide chains will now “consider anyone who walks into his stores a customer,” whether or not they intend to buy anything.
The policy adds that any customer “behaving in a disruptive manner“ should be handled in accordance with company procedures, which will be updated with new guidance, according to a spokesperson. Although “disruptive behavior” was not defined in the policy, Starbucks employees are instructed to call 911 for any situation that poses a potential danger.
The new policy, combined with the racial-profiling training for all employees coming up next week, is a smart and productive move for the brand’s image, which has been under scrutiny in recent weeks since two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia store. Racist allegations and nationwide boycotting and demonstrating have dogged the brand ever since, and brand reputation experts warned Starbucks after the incident that it had a short window of time to take action.
CEO Kevin Johnson issued apologetic statements immediately, and flew to Philadelphia to meet with the two victims and apologize face-to-face, which were acknowledged as important first steps, but brand experts advised the company to do more. “We live in such a highly charged time that incidents like this can really spark a much bigger controversy and can quickly become a major problem for a brand,” Northwestern University marketing professor Tim Calkins said at the time.
We applaud Starbucks’ new policy, both as a reputation-restoring event and as a community template for other brands to adopt. Founder and chairman Howard Schultz said recently said that while the company doesn’t “want to become a public bathroom… we’re going to make the right decision 100 percent of the time and give people the key.“