Starbucks reconsiders tat ban

Discussion
Sep 12, 2014

Starbucks is looking for ways to improve working conditions for its baristas without breaking the bank in the process. Among the ideas being considered is allowing customers to add tips for workers on Starbucks’ Android payment app. Another, which seems to have caught the attention of the media, is relaxing the employee dress code, which currently requires workers with body art to keep their tattoos under cover.

Earlier this year, employees of the coffee chain were invited to share their ideas for making Starbucks a better place to work. Hundreds replied to a question about striking a balance between self-expression and professional appearance on the job. Current rules require that workers cover all their tattoos. Piercings, except for up to two in each ear, are not allowed on the job.

In July, Starbucks got some unwanted press when a barista in Michigan said she was in danger of being fired over a heart tattoo on her hand that was smaller than a penny. The woman, who told her story to a local TV station, said she had been hired with the tattoo five years earlier and used makeup to cover it. A manager decided that was not a good enough solution and gave her a choice of either removing the tattoo or losing her job.

Kristie Williams, a Starbucks employee in Georgia, created an online petition on coworker.org to get the company to change its policy. She wrote, "I can’t tell you how many times I have pumped a syrup of some type down my shirt sleeve on accident… Please let us get rid of our sloppy, syrup covered sleeves! We wash our hands to keep them clean, but what about those long sleeves getting frap roasted all summer long?"

More than 22,000 people have signed Ms. Williams’ petition to date. She told The Seattle Times that she was pleased the company is reviewing its policy. "The day I buy my first short-sleeved Starbucks shirt will definitely be a great day," she said.

Rochelle Rabold, a barista supervisor, told USA Today, "Starbucks is an amazing place to work. It would be even more amazing if I didn’t have to cover my tattoos."

Would Starbucks’ business be helped or hurt if it allowed employees to display their tattoos? What is your take on tattoos in the workplace?

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29 Comments on "Starbucks reconsiders tat ban"


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Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
7 years 9 months ago

Is this the 1950s? Do they all have to have hair that doesn’t brush the collar? Skirts that fall past their fingertips? As long as the tattoos aren’t graphically violent or filled with cuss words, do people really care? And if they do care, are those the kind of people that Starbucks really speaks to as a brand?

Frank Riso
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

Most of the time, I cannot see the baristas when they are working. So I do not have a real opinion one way or the other. However, I am not a fan of body art which is a nice word for tattoos. It may be a generation thing but they are a turn off for me and do not belong in the workplace for the most part.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
7 years 9 months ago

I think it would be a pretty big non-event, after the first day or so. Like ’em or not, tattoos are pretty much everywhere these days, and I can’t imagine a meaningful number of Starbucks’ customers would stop going there over this. I wouldn’t advise Saks or Neiman Marcus to allow them, but I’m sure that day is coming.

Don Uselmann
Guest
Don Uselmann
7 years 9 months ago

Tattoos, dress codes and other appearance standards such as uniforms should be related to the target customer audience and the brand image. Service providers should relate to the expectations of the customer in both appearance and mannerisms. You wouldn’t want your doctor to be wearing soiled coveralls. As to Starbucks, the target audience is very broad and diverse. While the appearance of cleanliness is critical in a food service business, body art is probably less relevant. A better standard would be the employee’s service orientation and perhaps their love of coffee.

Rick Moss
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

Ms. Williams writes, “I believe tattoos are a simple form of self expression and as long as they aren’t offensive or explicit, I think we should be able to show off our artwork proudly.” The rub here is the “simple” assumption. In reality, self expression can get complicated and, generally, doesn’t have a place in public-facing jobs. And so managers are going to have to make value judgments on which tattoos are purely decorative and which carry political or social statements that might offend customers.

While tattoos are a fact of life these days, this isn’t going to be easy. If allowed, I would imagine a long, complex set of rules for what imagery is acceptable and what isn’t.

Max Goldberg
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

Much as I wonder why anyone would want to get a tattoo, I don’t think it will hurt Starbucks to allow their employees to show their body art. For other companies, like Disneyland, this won’t work. Each employer should consider the potential consequences of tattoos and regulate accordingly.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

When we meet a stranger, we all play a sorting game. What is perfectly acceptable in an average department store is a step below in a Nordstrom. Dress codes were created because some employees don’t notice any difference.

And that’s a problem.

Because if customers don’t trust you and don’t feel you represent the brand, they won’t trust anything you say to them about fit, appropriateness or style. Instead, they’ll trust their friends on Instagram and cut the employee out of the buying cycle.

For Starbucks this is a generational thing and people trust their brand. For other retailers, dress codes are likely to stay more formal, as I wrote in this blog post.

David Livingston
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

Probably hurt business. It’s unprofessional and immature. While it might be a form of self expression, many see it as a cry for attention. Same goes for piercings and unnaturally-colored hair. In any type of retail or selling, the employees need to be approachable and be able to draw customers, not repel them. The bottom line is whether or not customers are offended. A good manager will be able to tell quickly if that’s the case. The best way to solve the problem is not to hire those with tattoos to begin with. Starbucks had the ban for a reason, because they know the psyche of the customer and what they want. One of the fastest growing businesses is tattoo removal.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

I admit I am not a fan of body art. That being said both my children have them—one has only one on her lower leg and the other has several.

At the time the oldest child got hers she was much younger and had no idea what she would be doing now—representing a major CPG company to a very large customer. Had she known I doubt the she would have gotten a tattoo. I assume this is the same for many young people. Got the tat and then got the job. I do agree with Rick that this means a lot of discussions around what is and is not acceptable.

David Dorf
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

Its a slippery slope. If you allow them, then how do you determine which ones are OK and which ones are not? It’s easier and fairer to avoid judgement calls and cover them all consistently. There’s a time and place for self-expression, and the workplace is not it.

Warren Thayer
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

It will make little if any difference to the Starbucks customer, and Starbucks should lighten up. But it all depends on the customer base/target. If your customer base is really turned off by tattoos, then don’t allow them. But society is changing quickly. Only a few years ago, I was turned off by tattoos, and I would not get one myself today. But I’ve met many, many really terrific young people with tattoos of all shapes and sizes, and I’m totally fine with it. It gets down to what you’re exposed to, and a good part of me roots for retailers to allow them all the time (except for racist or obscene ones) as a part of consciousness raising for all of us. But I respect it when some retailers, based on their customer base, decide it is necessary to ban or limit tattoos for fear of losing business.

Mohamed Amer
Guest
Mohamed Amer
7 years 9 months ago
No one should really care about my personal views on tattoos in the workplace. What I have observed is that increasingly, tattoos are making their way to all sorts of work situations including customer-facing ones. Starbucks ought to listen to their baristas. I am a die-hard Peetnik (Peet’s Coffee & Tea). I prefer their coffees due to their consistent high quality and rich flavor. The baristas there are true artisans who are passionate about coffee. They still manually pull their espresso shots versus Starbucks’ push-button efficiency machines that compromise on taste. Peet’s baristas do have visible tattoos, but as best as I can tell that has not turned off their customers or diminished the experience in their stores (note: all may not be so well at Peet’s according to this Berkeley Patch article). Starbucks employees would benefit from relaxation of their tat ban and customers are less likely to mind or go elsewhere, but for me that won’t change the more fundamental issue of a bias for efficiency (customer processing speed, ease of training new… Read more »
Paula Rosenblum
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

I have to say, I’ve become really amused at seeing women with entire tattoo sleeves walking kids around in strollers. And there’s an epic cartoon floating around Facebook that shows an old folks home in 2035, with people trying to guess what their tattoos once were a picture of.

Tats are a part of life now. Starbucks has to get over it. It’s like Footloose for the 21st century, or Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Plus, I love looking at a great tat. They’re real works of art.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
7 years 9 months ago

The right to expose your tattoos, ugly though they might be, is just another demand of the current overly-casual generation. They will appeal to some folks and repulse others even among the Starbucks cult. That seems a draw at best for Starbucks. My take: You paint your body for your reasons, not the customers’. Keep your tattoos to yourself.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

This is one of those battles where there is no winner and too many valid reasons for both sides. My personal opinion is I find too many tattoos offensive. but that will not stop me from making a purchase if the person on the other side of the counter is relatively clean in their appearance. Tattoos are not going away. But why they are so popular is beyond my comprehension.

Tom Redd
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

Well, most Starbucks customers are hip and overspend on coffee. Most probably do not mind tats. Does McDonald’s require them covered? They are a Starbucks competitor. Anyway, tats that are offensive may impact one store but not all stores. Let the store managers have the leeway to decide cover or no cover. ACT LOCAL—not GLOBAL. Certain stores are totally Millennial-focused and thus tats are fine. Most of those customers do not watch good TV—like Longmire—so it was cancelled yesterday.

In the future some tat wearers will wish that they had listened to us old farts and held off from more body art. It might cost them a job or massive embarrassment at their retirement home (as Paula mentioned). In time tats will be uncool and the regret will set in.

If I make it to 80 I am getting a tat: A UPC/EAN code linked to my medical data—no chips inside this packaging.

Steven Kuhlman
Guest
Steven Kuhlman
7 years 9 months ago

I may be speaking out of both sides of my mouth but I almost expect a coffee shop worker to have a tattoo. It’s like a worker in a tattoo parlor is expected to have some art. That said, a tattoo in an office environment? Not professional.

Jan Kniffen
Guest
Jan Kniffen
7 years 9 months ago

I love a good Starbucks coffee. I thought the CEO getting in the middle of a “firearms rights” battle was dumb. I think a ban on tats is even dumber. No, I do not have a tattoo, or a piercing, but I certainly do not have a problem with my barista (or my Genius Bar expert for that matter) having either or both. And, I certainly do not think the Millennial customer has a problem with either. This is another rights issue that Starbucks should just let take its own course. Why lose a good employee over a tat that will not cost you one penny in sales?

Jim Fisher
Guest
Jim Fisher
7 years 9 months ago

“Body art” should NOT be visible to patrons. Keep them under-wrap.

George-Marie Glover
Guest
George-Marie Glover
7 years 9 months ago

Tattoos and piercings are so common these days that it rarely stands out.

I have never found it to be a guage on how well someone performs on the job. I’ve received wonderful customer service from some heavily tattooed and pierced workers.

Relax Starbucks. You’re behind the curve on this one.

Mike B
Guest
Mike B
7 years 9 months ago

I agree with the policy requiring that tattoos be covered. It makes for a cleaner, more professional employee appearance.

Some people, even young ones like 29 year old me, find tattoos too often look dirty, unkempt, and unprofessional. Part of Starbucks image is a clean setting with clean cut employees and not everyone thinks tattoos look clean or professional in all cases.

I’m really tired of people making impulsive decisions then trying to get the rules bent to cater to them. If your employer states as part of a dress code no tattoos, cover them or go work elsewhere. Sorry.

Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
7 years 9 months ago

I have no problem with tatoos. They aren’t going to fall off in my food. But keep the piercing rule. I can’t stand when a server with a nose ring is taking my order or worse yet, cooking my food. I know they had their fingers in their nose at least once that day. And no matter how many times you wash your hands, that image is one I can’t erase. Same goes with lip piercings.

I’ll walk out before ordering something from someone with face piercings. And that’s not prejudice or old fashion, it’s just sanitary. I’m happy to buy a sweater from you, but not food.

Jocelyn Johnson
Guest
Jocelyn Johnson
7 years 9 months ago

In a former company, one of the best and most professional co-workers I had had a large artistic tattoo on one leg. This was an office environment and she often wore skirts, so it wasn’t “hidden”. It certainly didn’t have an effect on her professionalism or her performance. I don’t think it would have a major impact on Starbucks’ business either way, and might make for happier employees

Peter J. Charness
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

A dress code should enforce cleanliness, neatness, and safety (like who wants to see a barista dragged head first into a coffee grinder because dangling earrings got caught in the mechanism?). If someone has purple hair, piercings and offensive tat’s they probably don’t make it through the interview state to employee anyway. That’s where the control should be.

Martin Amadio
Guest
Martin Amadio
7 years 9 months ago

Tattoos are quite common today. Our daughter, a PHD in archeology has more than I think are appropriate, but I am not in my 30’s. I would expect that Starbuck’s baristas would be of the tattoo generation so It should not effect their business in the least.

Lee Peterson
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

Funny, I was just talking to people about this yesterday. Many other coffee shops allow tattoos, blue hair, body art, etc, on their associates, and in reality, we’re all pretty used to that now (or have it ourselves) in just about every facet of life so, no big deal IMO.

But Starbucks doesn’t. And you know what? Somehow it matters. Until we talked about it the other day, I don’t think I even noticed it, but since then, I can see what they’re doing with that “rule”: it’s not about the person, it’s about the brand. Hard to put a finger on that one, but the Sbux people, and consequently the brand, have the edge only because it’s invisible.

Of course, it helps that they hire better personalities to boot, but that’s a whole ‘nuther blog post!

Jerome Schindler
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

Except on the face and neck I am not bothered by tattoos, just wonder where these minimum wage workers get the money to pay for them. Body piercings are another matter—gross! In either case I think it is a bad personal decision unless they are satisfied being relegated to the lower-paid jobs for their lifetime as I believe mainstream people do not find either form of body art at all attractive. Maybe the government will eventually try to make that form of discrimination illegal as a violation of free speech. I’ll be dead by that time so am not going to worry about it. As for now, I think Starbucks is going to have to make a business decision as to such appearance criteria.