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Starbucks: You don't have to buy coffee to sit in our cafes or use our restrooms

Seattle

STARBUCKS is now allowing people to use its restrooms and sit in its cafes and patios even if they do not buy anything.

The coffee giant on Saturday announced its new policy, which says that customers, including those who did not make a purchase, can come to its cafes and stay - as long as they behave properly.

The announcement comes about five weeks after a manager at a Philadelphia Starbucks called the police on two young black men who had arrived at the coffee shop early for a business meeting. One or both of the men had asked to use the bathroom but were told they couldn't use it because they had not bought anything.

Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz told Gayle King of CBS This Morning that the manager, who is no longer with the company, probably acted on her own "unconscious bias", and the incident raises questions about whether the men were racially profiled.

The two men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, reached a settlement with Philadelphia city officials. This month, they agreed to a symbolic payment of US$1 each and asked the city to fund US$200,000 for a grant programme for high school students aspiring to become entrepreneurs.

The incident placed Starbucks in a harsh public spotlight, resulted in days of protests and prompted rebukes from local leaders.

On May 29, the coffee giant plans to close more than 8,000 of its US retail stores to train its nearly 175,000 employees on "racial-bias education". "I've spent the last few days in Philadelphia with my leadership team listening to the community, learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it," Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson said in a statement. "While this is not limited to Starbucks, we're committed to being part of the solution." Starbucks said the curriculum will focus on how employees can recognise and address their own biases to prevent future discrimination.

Previously, Starbucks lacked a clear policy and largely left it up to individual locations to decide whether people who didn't buy anything should be allowed to stay. For instance, a Starbucks spokesman had said that at the Philadelphia location, the guidelines were that they "must ask unpaying customers to leave the store".

Under the new companywide policy, people who come to Starbucks locations without buying anything are considered customers and can stay. If someone becomes a safety threat, Starbucks employees should call 911. Depending on the circumstances, a disruptive customer can also be banned from Starbucks stores. WP

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