Starbucks Apologizes, Again

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Two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks. Witnesses say they were just waiting for a friend and asked to use the restroom. The reason for calling the police seemed to be the same: that they were just waiting for friend. But because they didn't order anything, they were asked to leave and did not. Other customers say this is common at Starbucks, and the only reason the police were called was because the two men were black.

The company, at first, gave a weak apology using unclear pronoun references (see "this" and "these"). A longer apology came from the CEO Kevin Johnson later. In the statement, he identified steps the company would take and closed with this paragraph:

Finally, to our partners who proudly wear the green apron and to customers who come to us for a sense of community every day: You can and should expect more from us.  We will learn from this and be better.

Johnson also posted an apology video.

In a video statement, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross explained the situation from his point of view and defended the officers' actions. He also said that all officers get implicit bias training and gave an example of a police sergeant who was also denied access to a Starbucks bathroom. Ross's conclusion was that "they are at least consistent in their policy." Of course, not everyone agrees.

Image source.


  • Analyze Johnson's statement. Who are his primary and secondary audiences? What are his communication objectives, and how well did he achieve them?
  • What organizational strategy does Johnson's statement illustrate? How do you assess his tone and writing style?
  • What is an unclear pronoun reference, and how are they used in the first apology?
  • What's your view of the situation? Did Starbucks do wrong? If so, at what point(s)? Are you boycotting Starbucks, as some promote, as a result?
  • Which leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this example?