Should Starbucks end its open bathroom policy?
Starbucks may end its open bathroom policy as the challenges its stores face dealing with the mental health crisis now outweigh the risks of racial bias.
“We serve 100 million people at Starbucks and there is an issue of just safety in our stores, in terms of people coming in who use our stores as a public bathroom,” said Starbucks founder and interim CEO Howard Schultz last week at The New York Times’ Dealbook D.C. forum. “And we have to provide a safe environment for our people and our customers. The mental health crisis in the country is severe, acute and getting worse.”
He added, “We have to harden our stores and provide safety for our people. I don’t know if we can keep our bathrooms open.”
Starbucks established its policy that allows anyone to use its bathrooms in 2018 after a manager in Philadelphia called the police when two black men, who didn’t purchase any items, refused to leave the location. The two claimed they were waiting on an associate. A video of the arrest went viral and led to protests and calls for a boycott.
Starbucks apologized and closed all of its stores for a day of “unconscious-bias” training for employees.
Like many other quick-serve establishments, Starbucks previously allowed the occasional non-customer to use the bathroom but enforced the “customers only” policy for chronic and problem users.
As learned from anti-maskers during the pandemic, enforcing a bathroom-limits policy poses risks for baristas. However, many may welcome steps to limit the disruptions caused by vagrants.
The discussion comes as homelessness and its alleged link to rising crime rates has become a hot button political issue in many major and minor cities.
In a column for INC, tech columnist Jason Aten wondered if turning away a portion of customers aligns with Starbucks’ “third place” positioning. However, he concluded that a major lesson from the pandemic was that the health and safety of associates comes foremost, and that extends to customers as well. He wrote, “If limiting the number of people who come in your store allows you to better serve your customers, that’s, well, good for your customers.”
- Howard Schultz: Starbucks Is Battling for the ‘Hearts and Minds’ of Workers – The New York Times
- Starbucks’s C.E.O. Howard Schultz: ‘I don’t know if we can keep our bathrooms open.’ – The New York Times
- Starbucks says it might close bathrooms to non-customers, for safety – The Washington Post
- Starbucks may close its bathrooms to the public again – CNN
- Starbucks CEO Says the Company Is Considering a Major Change That Will Make Some People Uncomfortable. It Highlights a Growing Challenge – INC
- Should Starbucks stick with its open bathroom policy? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should Starbucks shift from an open-access bathroom policy to one limiting or prohibiting access for non-customers? Would a more restrictive bathroom policy create too much bias risk or possibly drive a consumer backlash?