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The 5 Things Starbucks Has Done Right This Week

Elisa Smith
3 min readApr 19, 2018


We’ve all heard the story by now — two black men were arrested last week in a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting for a friend. The manager called 911 for trespassing after they used the bathroom but hadn’t purchased anything (something I have done more times than I can count!). Like most of us, I believe the men were treated unfairly, but as a crisis counselor, I think Starbucks is handling the situation very well. Here’s a few of my observations:

1. The CEO immediately owned the issue and apologized personally.

Three days after the incident, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson sent a letter to his employees about what transpired, and a day later he issued a public video apology. I’ve learned that during a crisis you don’t want your top executive to own the issue unless you think it warrants it, and this case, it certainly did. Johnson comes off as compassionate and sincere in his apology. He doesn’t make excuses. He says he is sorry and calls the incident “reprehensible.” He says, “this is not who we [Starbucks] are, and it’s not who we are going to be.” And he is now proving it with his actions.

2. The CEO met with the men in person and did the right thing by keeping that conversation private.

Johnson made good on his word in the video and met with the two men this week to apologize in person and hear their concerns. Starbucks didn’t release the details of the meeting, other than to confirm it took place, which was appropriate. If they had revealed what was discussed in the meeting, it would have seemed that Starbucks was using it as an opportunity to save face and praise themselves for how they are handling the crisis. I hope the details will remain private, and that what was shared by the men is being taken seriously.

3. The manager of the store has left the company, and we don’t know why (and that’s OK).

In these situations, the public expects heads to roll, and they did the right thing by parting ways with the manager who called 911. It’s not clear under what circumstances the employee left, and it’s not the public’s business to know if they were fired or quit. It’s a personnel issue, and confirming the manager no longer works there seems appropriate. It offers accountability and satisfies the public. It may even help that individual out in the long run.

4. They made a bold move by announcing that they would close 8,000+ stores to offer racial bias training.

On May 29, Starbucks will close more than 8,000 company-owned stores to offer “racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination in our stores” to 175,000 employees. Unconscious bias training — which teaches people about the bias they have toward groups of people whether they are aware of it or not — has been around for years but is now being offered more by companies and organizations. Even I went through an unconscious bias training last year at Sacramento State, and found it made me more mindful of how I interact with others. Some are criticizing, however, whether it will even make a difference, but I still believe it’s a step in the right direction.

5. It’s clear they had their crisis counselor(s) at the table.

Often crisis counselors aren’t brought into the fold until a crisis has turned into a full-blown dumpster fire. But, in this case, it’s clear that the executive team at Starbucks was heeding the advice of their crisis management team by jumping on the issue right away and responding. They are by no means out of the woods yet but seem to be managing the crisis appropriately.

That sums up my initial observations. I look forward to seeing how this crisis continues to unfold over the next few weeks. Do you agree or disagree with my observations? How do you think Starbucks is doing in their crisis response? Please feel free to hit me below in the comments!



Elisa Smith

First shift: PR professional | Second shift: Wife and boy mom | Find me at: