A Starbucks worker's alleged request for police officers to vacate their table has made global headlines as millions debate whether the demand was justified.
The worker is alleged to have told the officers to leave after they began eating their packed lunches at an outside table without making an in-store purchase.
In a post to social media, one of the officers claimed the member of staff told the group eating outside was "not good for the company's brand image".
The incident occurred at a franchise in the Chinese city of Chongqing and quickly became a hotly discussed topic across the country this week, going viral on Twitter-like site Weibo.
The US coffee giant is one of several Western brands to enjoy widespread success in China's food and beverage industry.
But it's popularity took a hit following the incident with a wave of Weibo users criticising the chain.
"We can live without Starbucks but can't live without police," one person wrote.
Another user said it was "outrageous" to make such a request of police.
An unverified picture of four police officers eating outside the Starbucks has been circulating online.
The store is located in Ciqikou, an ancient part of the city popular with tourists. Images of the store show there is just one table located where the incident is alleged to have occurred.
State media even waded in on the matter, with the People's Daily branding Starbucks "arrogant".
Yet in an official statement, Starbucks responded to the furore insisting it was simply a misunderstanding and denied a staff member had ordered the officers to leave.
However they admitted the staff member had used "inappropriate" wording when organising seating.
Some people placed white flowers and broken eggs at a #Starbucks store in SW China’s #Chongqing to express anger. The store faces backlash from Chinese consumers after it reportedly drove out police officers who were eating their own food at the doorstep. https://t.co/oQjeNc5IbT pic.twitter.com/CsvSy6lBm0
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) February 16, 2022
Starbucks defended amid calls for a boycott
Despite the statement, there have been growing calls online for Starbucks to be boycotted – a move that has become increasingly common when a Western brand causes controversy in China.
Yet some online have argued it is clear the incident is "isolated" and Starbucks should not suffer as a result.
"Do you know how many jobs Starbucks has created for us?" one person asked critics of the company.
Another user defended the alleged request of the worker as warranted and asked people to imagine if they owned a restaurant. "Do you want people eating their lunch outside your door.. leaving crumbs.. it's inappropriate right?" they asked.
Surprisingly, the Global Times' former editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, a renowned critic of the West, said a mere accident should not warrant such a response and China should not deter the Western world in facilitating China opening up.
Starbucks faced criticism in December after it was reported two of its stores had used expired ingredients. The reports prompted further training for staff at its 5,400 stores across the country.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.